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Thursday, March 23, 2006 | Mark me down in favor of chasing ducks.
I am sure that my two kids chased a duck or two in their time, and I am sure that I let them. I know I didn’t coach them to do this, as Voice of San Diego columnist David Moye has done, and has caught some flack for. I know I would have been surprised if my kids didn’t take out after any duck, or gull, or goose or eagle that came closer than 20 yards to them.
I was also confident that if a kid managed to get too close to a duck, the duck would know what to do. Then it would have been me, chasing out to shoo the duck off the kid and coo over her that it was just a duck and there was no need to be traumatized for life. Of course I would be preaching to the choir, because there would be no chance of the kid ever again chasing a duck. Likewise, I would assume that a traumatized duck would never again come within chasing distance of a kid. So many of them do, though, that I wonder if they think about it at all.
I am glad this publication has someone who writes about kids. He reminds me of writing about, and fathering, mine. I am reminded deliciously of the kind of secret love that exists only at an objective distance, such as is felt by a father in a dark bedroom, standing with a hand on a crib in which his child is soundly sleeping. The father must make a contract with himself, not to share the moment with anyone, so personal is its power.
Kids complete us, you know. When my daughter was born in 1974, I became a parent. Obvious as that statement seems, it is also worthy of the greatest respect. Parents are everywhere, but the only way to become one is to have a child. It is like joining the oldest and most revered guild.
A human being can’t know anything distinct about being a parent until he becomes one. Before 1974, I walked among fields of parents, socialized with them, befriended them, visited them in their homes, without the slightest clue about who they were. In total ignorance, I made judgments about them.
When I became one of them, that started to change. It took a child. Watching this child, and later her brother, cute, fat, little babies with their raging appetites for love and knowledge and independence, I started to see someone else, another child. Me. Parents can almost see through their kids’ eyes, because they have been there. Hanging out with these kids provided me the opportunity to revisit my own childhood, but with the experience of all my accumulated years.
It was enlightening. Through my kids, I came to a totally new and original understanding of a childhood that I had already lived. It was like a circle closing. A parent’s children complete his childhood.
When that happened, of course, I had to reconsider my parents. Who were they? I thought I knew. They were loving, autocratic, opinionated, inconsistent, nosy. But those were only my judgments of them. I lived with parents, bonded to them and shaped by them, from the day I was born until the days they died, and there were such vital things I never knew about them.
Until I became one. Then, watching my children, I saw myself as a child. Through those eyes, I saw my parents in a completely new way. A second circle was being closed. For the first time, I thought I could understand my parents. To understand did not mean to accept. I am not the parent that my parents were. Many of their ways, I have rejected, and modified others. What I came to understand was how those decisions were made. Many times, my parents were flying by the seat of their pants.
Then, looking at my parents, through this new childhood perspective that my children had provided me, I saw someone else. Me, again. This time as a parent. A third circle was closing. Having kids let me see my own childhood more clearly, my parents more clearly, and myself more clearly as a parent. Dr. Spock himself could not have taught me that.
Here was some new understanding that I could use. Growing up, my kids were living with a father they didn’t really know. They had judgments of me, but they were their judgments. There were vital things they didn’t know about me, and couldn’t until one day they walked in my shoes.
The best I could do was provide them clues about me, let them know me as best I could. Much of that I did by writing about them, and about me. Now this publication has a father doing that very thing, and I am glad.