Despite the fact that I’m more likely to classify myself as a realist, most people would probably say otherwise.
They consider me a pessimist, especially people who don’t know me well, or don’t share my sense of humor, and a cynic. Which is fine. I turn 40 this year, I’ve long stopped worrying about other people’s misconceptions.
But I do worry about how my children see me. And about the potential negative impact my personality might have on them.
At least it was, before I became a father.
When Mom and Buried got pregnant, I vowed – we both vowed – that parenting wouldn’t change us. We weren’t naive; we knew it would, in ways both big and small. But we also wanted to be wary of how much, to protect certain aspects of our lives and our personalities against the atrophy we saw befalling so many of our newly-minted parent friends.
So many parents let their parenthood redefine them, and let it erase the person they were. I was uncharacteristically optimistic that it wouldn’t happen to me. I would still be the guy who found humor in misfortune, the guy more quick to see the downside than the silver lining, the jerk more likely to criticize than to praise. (But, ya know, in a fun way!)
I’ve managed, I think, but not without some compromise.
Once you realize that every choice you make has the potential to impact the tiny, impressionable versions of yourself that you’ve spent your life waiting for (without even realizing you were waiting), you can’t stubbornly cling to things that might affect them detrimentally, no matter how adamant you once were about hanging on to those things. It’s called growing up.
A few years ago, I worried that I’d have nothing to pass down to my kids. Now, as I watch my five-year-old exhibit signs of my personality, I worry that I’ve passed down the wrong stuff. The last thing I want to do is be responsible for my kids seeing the world in a negative light, or for them to grow up thinking their dad is a curmudgeon and a misanthrope.
When an adult doesn’t catch my sarcasm, I shrug it off as their loss. When a child doesn’t understand that the horrid thing I said was meant to be sardonic and not taken literally, it might have a negative impact on their opinion of me. When that child is one of my own sons? It might impact their opinion of the world, and that’s the last thing I want.
My outlook on the world hasn’t changed, not immensely. Again, I’m too old, and I’ve lived too much, to suddenly start looking on the bright side of life. But having children has not only helped brighten my view of things – it’s hard not to occasionally be taken in by their unadulterated enthusiasm for everything – it has also given me a different awareness, a different perspective on my perspective. With great power comes great responsibility.
I won’t mind if my children grow up to be cynical and sarcastic like their father – it’s worked out fine for me! – I just don’t want to be the reason they do. I want each of my sons to start with as blank a slate as possible, to enter into every experience with the same untainted, blissfully
ignorant innocent view they naturally have, before the world – and people like me – imposes itself.
Again, I’m a realist; my children are probably going to end up like me, whether they like it or not. I’d just prefer that they come upon their worldview independently, as free from my corrupting influence as possible!
I want them to earn their negativity by living, not to obtain it by the arbitrary circumstances of their births. I want them to have every chance at being happy-go-lucky optimists who skip through life without a trace of melancholy, cynicism, self-consciousness, or doubt.
Obviously, being who I am, I have a hard time seeing it happen. But I’m trying to be optimistic about it.