Monday, March 31, 2008

Who's In Charge Here?

It occurred to me a moment ago, as it does from time to time, that I am a father. You may reasonably ask me where the revelation in this is, being that I have two children, the oldest of whom is six. Fair enough, but it’s not that simple. Or maybe it is.

I become accustomed to things very fast. This can be both good and bad. I go to a hotel in another city for a weekend, and on the second day, I feel like I’m home. That funny smell in people’s houses? It doesn’t bother me for long. These are good things.

But I am usually in a state of anxiety about parenting. From time to time I catch myself just kind of rolling with it, taking it as it comes, and this feels good, although not in an entirely conscious way. Then something hits me, something reminds me of how foggy and uncertain life is, and the weight gets piled on. This is such a moment.

My wife and I just got finished watching Gone Baby Gone . We had spent the whole time trying to figure out who the killer was, and were both kind of surprised how we had misjudged the whole point of the movie. The ultimate meaning of the movie--at least insofar as we could tell--was that good and bad decisions are not always so clear cut, and that the world can be a scary place.

This tapped into an anxiety I often carry around with me. I am someone who wants yes or no answers on everything, and yet I have very few. In spite of myself I believe in God, and yet I find it hard to believe anything anyone (including myself) tells me about he/she/it. I certainly have not received any discernable revelations. I don't trust people who wear moustaches.

This inability to accept received wisdom and to follow the lead of authority figures without question has left me,uneasily, with the conclusion that any meaning that is to be found in my life must be carved out by myself. Which is unfortunate, because I am not that experienced with a knife.

I know it’s trite, but I’m starting to understand where my parents are coming from. There is no one that can tell you for sure how to do things. You kind of have to play it by ear in the parenting game, and none of us have all of the equipment to make the right decision all of the time. Does anyone really know what they are doing?

It gives me some comfort to know that everyone is operating on their own best guesses to some extent, with the shoddy equipment found in their own rusty toolboxes. This is mildly alarming, but it makes empathy a little easier. It makes it easier to ease up on yourself a little too: Woody Allen is fun to watch in movies, but he's not as fun when he's perched on your shoulder all the time.

I have no idea what I am doing, and yet I am in charge of this most important project, and overall, things seem to be going well so far. My kids are intelligent, creative, compassionate, and well adjusted. So maybe the kind of uncomfortable soul searching that I do is appropriate for the role I've been given. I don’t know. I’m just going to assume that God is better at making appointments to high office than George W. Bush is, and try to act in good faith towards my kids.

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