In the comments of a recent post, a dad blogger friend (Neal Call, at the awesome Raised By My Daughter. There’s cartoons!) wrote the following:
“Such an irritating truth: that I desperately await those unlikely moment of quiet in the day, and then once they arrive, all I can think about is small dead things.”
Hmm. Morbid much? And yet I know exactly what he means.
Since I’ve become a dad, all day I dream about death.
Fine, I’m exaggerating. It’s not all day, and it’s not dreaming, and it’s not even death. It’s more like “Frequently throughout the day I find myself considering worst-case scenarios regarding my son.” This is the dark side of parenting.
As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t spend a lot of time discussing the touchy-feely aspects of fatherhood. Yes, I love my son, he’s the light of my life and the apple of my eye and despite all the inconveniences and hardships that surround owning a child, I’d never even consider not being his dad. I just find writing about that stuff to be boring and I find ONLY writing about that stuff to be bullshit. But I also stay away from anything too heavy, partially because I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any hardcore tribulations and partially because while that may not necessarily be boring, it isn’t funny. And I like funny.
But there are a lot of aspects of parenting that aren’t funny.
For example, now that I’m a parent, not a day goes by without my mind generating some ghoulish reason for why my son seems to be sleeping later than normal, or why he and Mom and Buried aren’t back from Target yet, or why that fire truck is heading towards his preschool. Fear for my son’s safety is always on my mind, and it often takes on bizarrely extreme and paranoid dimensions. I assume this tendency is equal parts necessary biological instinct and irritating personality trait, handed down by centuries of human nature and also by my parents.
I remember my mom and dad waiting up for me and my brothers whenever we went out for the night, and “remember” may be a strong word for something that happened two weeks ago (I’m nearly 40). As a kid I found it annoying, as an adult I found it ridiculous, and as a parent I totally understand it and I’m sorry for judging my own parents for doing it. I know now that there is no way to not do it.
You don’t know stress until you have kids. Becoming a parent both re-prioritizes your pressure points, by making the small stuff less significant now that you have something real to worry about, and blasts all the small stuff with gamma rays, making it bigger and scarier and more intense than before. I didn’t suddenly stop worrying about the trivial stuff that consumed me before I became a parent, it just fell behind the new leader in the clubhouse, whom I like to call “Detective Munch.” He hopped to the front of the line and it’s pretty safe to say that he won’t be relinquishing the pole position anytime soon.
But his presence at the front doesn’t make the stuff behind him any less stressful just because he trumps it. Not at all. In fact, it makes it more stressful. Suddenly my marriage isn’t just a marriage, it’s a family. Suddenly my job isn’t just a job, it’s the way I provide for my son. Suddenly a flu shot isn’t just something I can skip because I don’t like needles, it’s something I can’t afford NOT to get because the health of my child could be at stake. And there I go again, worrying about the worst.
So far I’ve been able to manage my morbid, overwhelmed-with-worry side without becoming paralyzed by fear, but I can’t keep my mind from painting perverse pictures. I thought I was a psycho, but I’m beginning to realize I’m just a parent (witness this post from just this morning, about the same exact thing). Mom and Buried has similar fears – maybe they’re not as vivid, but they’re certainly as intense, if not more so. I know this because she shares them with me every night, right as I’m about to fall asleep.
Love is a scary thing. You are tying yourself to another human being in a way that offers as much opportunity for pain as it does for joy, which, of course, is what makes it so meaningful. But also so terrifying. Stakes is high with any such relationships, but stakes is higher with kids.
Children make everything mean less and more at the same time, and occasionally the heavy realization of how much your child means to you brings in some darkness. It’s strange and creepy and I wish I could stop myself from imagining some of the crazy things I imagine, but it’s also oddly comforting to know that those dark fantasies are a direct byproduct of my overwhelming love for my son.
We all go a little mad sometimes. Parents more than most.