I never wanted kids. At least that’s what I told everyone up till the age of about 25. And it’s not that I don’t like kids… Actually that’s not true, I don’t like kids. They’re dysfunctional works in progress at best. They don’t understand how their bodies work, they need constant assistance and their stench can linger for days. I once disapproved of kids so much that I blamed them for climate change and wholeheartedly believed that universal entropy was accelerated exponentially just by their mere existence. But despite their shortcomings, I guess I can understand how they appeal to some people.
I grew up in a semi-unique situation. After my dad remarried, when I was nearly 10, my parents were blessed and I was burdened with having my first sibling- approximately 10 years my junior. While on one level I was excited to finally have a sibling, the reality was less than stellar when I saw the results. In the beginning, he might as well of been a feral cat wandering the house, occasionally puking in the random open tennis shoe. And when he wasn’t leaving a wake of drool, not unlike the silvery trail of a slug in the early morning, he was impregnating the smell of sour milk and expired peas in everything he touched. But, things slowly improved as children often do, becoming more mobile and independent, although still a pain in the ass for someone just entering early adolescence as I was, especially since being a decade older somehow qualified me to watch over the young fellow on a regular basis. I know this is a common scenario in families. The eldest children often end up watching over the younger ones, but for me, it felt more like an anchor than a mark of maturity and responsibility. And the final nail in the coffin was placed 3 years later when the process started all over again with another baby in the house. So at the age of 13, I felt like I was drowning in a pool of Elmo printed diapers, sippy cups, and testosterone destroying crying.
Having two siblings who were so much younger than I, deeply sullied my perception and tolerance of kids. Each brother was a wad of Double Bubble stuck to the bottom of my shoes. If anything positive, it did function as an incredibly effective form of birth control: I mean what girl wouldn’t be attracted to a hot guy with the look of defeat and two pieces of spaghetti with legs trailing behind. But it also fueled my desire to get as far away home as possible so that I could finally break the “big brother” chain of responsibility that my parents were so kind to constantly nag me about, “You can’t do that.” “Stop thinking about just yourself, that’s not a good example for your brothers” were the guilt trips thrown at me in hopes of forcing me to not take part in the typical teenage experiences that I so desperately wanted. By the time I graduated high school, the experience made such an impact that I felt like I had spent years as a teenage parent; this of course is not even close to accurate, but it is how I felt at that time.
My sour attitude towards the little barnacles continued for quite some time after high school. While my younger brothers were older and slightly less of a nuisance, my responsibility towards them nearly led me to a self induced vasectomy; yes that is how strongly I felt. But time does pass and 6 years later things started to change. The young ones entered adolescence and no longer needed a nanny, but more importantly- a young curly haired woman, whom I first met in high school, sent me a letter to say hi, which quickly turned into regular conversations and eventual face to face meetings. And without going into all the steamy details of this friendship, quickly turned relationship- my then girlfriend and eventual wife, slowly peeled away at the years of crayon melted layers of discontent to reveal just the slightest bit of a desire to one day be a father, which first happened in the fall of 2009.
The anticipation of parenthood forced me to rethink and reflect on all of my preconceived notions of kids, especially since my initial feelings were based off of my own experiences as a teenager and most of our perceptions of the world during those hormonal induced years are, well…wrong. And my adult attempt at trying to approach new situations devoid of emotion to allow for more rational thought, failed horribly because when it was finally time, there was no holding back my emotions. Nervousness, excitement, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty were all compressed into one stomach wrenching feeling. And when the doctor first held up that little shriveled creature for the first time, my wife and I welcomed parenthood with a good honest cry. What solidified it even more was the hour I spent in the nursery alone with my son while my wife was in recovery, watching him as he laid on his side gazing at me with his then gray blue eyes (they have since turned to a light brown). Talking with him as he tried to grunt and coo in response to our very first father and son conversation suddenly placed a weight on my shoulders never felt in those years of taking care of my brothers and I finally understood the inherent difference between looking after someone and being the sole reason for someone’s existence and it was all motivated by an overwhelming feeling of love.
It’s been nearly 9 years since my son first
burst, launched, shot onto the scene made his world debut and quite a few of those old emotions still linger, but the relationship is quite a bit different now, as would be expected. Instead of having to worry about soiled diapers, flying carrots, and reruns of Bubble Guppies, we (my wife and I) are now concerned with playing what is that smell coming from your room, who’s going to cut their feet on Lego today, and can we get to Little League practice on time? And now that he is on the precipice of early adolescence, the real work is trying help set the best combination of challenges and opportunities to make sure that my son is prepared for whatever comes his way in the future. This approach has invariably made my role as a father [this also applies to my wife] extremely multifaceted since I must also function as a police officer, teacher, coach, medical technician, army drill sergeant, art critic, and CSI investigator.
The last 9 years has taught me a lot about being a father, but I also know that the journey is far from over. And while rewarding, it does have its difficulties, especially when having to enforce consequences for certain actions like not finishing his dinner, hiding dirty clothes under his bed, or singing the diarrhea song in church. But in the process of trying to be strict parents, which my wife and I try to maintain- there’s an inherent fear of being too strict or too overbearing. And about 3 months ago, I thought our relationship took a turn because he started referring to me as Lord Garmadon.
Now, for the uninitiated, Lord Garmadon is the name of the primary villain from the Lego Ninjago tv series, who is also the father of one of the show’s heroes. Additionally, Garmadon is a sort of omnipresent character who has a Darth Vader-esque appearance.
So when I first heard this it made me a little sad- wondering if he was just making fun of my prosthetic leg, but it also gave me pause. Did he see me as the villain in the house? Have I been so hard on him that he now sees me as a bad guy? This strange association had me spinning for a few days, until I finally asked him to explain what he meant. What he ultimately told me could not have been more innocent and funny. His exact words were, “well… Garmadon IS Lloyd’s father… and you’re kind of big and tough like Garmadon and we like to wrestle and do battle”. The response definitely brought a small tear to my eye, along with a strong sigh of relief. And while I think this was resolved for both parties in a relatively unscathed manner, I know that entering and exiting the teen years will be a battle all its own, especially since friends who have older kids have repeatedly told me that I have no idea what I’m in for… and it’s usually fear of the unknown that is responsible for our greatest anxieties and uncertainties, but I look forward to those coming adventures with my son… and with my daughter as well, but that is for another story.