July 31, 2005

Photographic Memory

For a long time - even before finding out we were going to have Mia - I've been trying to figure out parenthood, specifically fatherhood. I realize I was at a decided disadvantage not actually being a father. But now that I am one, the search goes on.

You see, I have a great relationship with my parents but, like all of us I hope, there are some things I want to improve upon, some things that I hope Mia never thinks about me or things I hope she embraces more than I have with my own parents.

My grandfather - my dad's dad - wasn't a nice guy or a particularly fantastic father. He's still alive but in a vastly different state. He's been suffering from Alzheimer's for the better part of three years. He mellowed over time. He was always wonderful to me. When Beth and I got married, he was ecstatic and treated her like royalty. Of course, he also stressed his desire for us to have a boy and carry on the family name. Not that he wouldn't have loved Mia...

Growing up, my father was pressured to be perfect while his sister was largely ignored. My dad had to be the best in everything. And he really was. But the pressure was immense and I think it caused him a lot of suffering.

In the late 1950's, my grandparents took my dad and his sister on a drive across the country. In the Tetons, outside of Yellowstone in Wyoming, my grandfather took a marvelous picture. You see, if you camp out at the right spot, you can catch the Tetons reflecting in Jackson Lake. On a perfectly still day, with the sun at the right angle, the lake acts as a perfect mirror. The mountains not only stretch up but down in the picture. It's a beautiful sight.

Every year, from the time I was nine until I turned 18, my parents and I would drive to Wyoming for two weeks during the summer. During each of those nine years, my father attempted to duplicate that same shot. Without fail, one or two mornings during the trip each year, he was up before dawn, making sure his camera was loaded and ready to go, making sure the wind seemed right, trying to get the same shot. And he did quite a few times.

As I mentioned, my grandfather wasn't a nice guy. None of them had fond memories of that cross country trip. And while my father largely reconciled with his father many years ago, while he loved him, he still didn't particularly like him. So why did my father strive so hard to duplicate that image, that success of his father? Was it competition? Respect? That's probably something I'll have to ask him. In the mean time, it makes me realize that everything you do as a parent has an impact.

Posted by Chris at July 31, 2005 08:27 AM

Chris, you are such a gifted writer. What an insightful post!

What makes the psychology of parenting so much fun is that there's no way to predict what will have the most impact on the kid(s). And no way of knowing what they'll put in that highly embarrassing tell-all book they write years later! (Kidding, kidding...)

Posted by: Amanda at July 31, 2005 09:05 AM

I am the eldest of six children. The next-to-the-last-born were twins. More or less out of necessity, my father took care of Baby A and my mother took care of Baby B. (Baby B was a high-maintenance baby.) Don't know if this gives you any insight or not but Baby B grew up to be EXACTLY like my father in every way possible. I think there is some sort of inborn desire to be accepted by a parent and if you don't see/feel that acceptance, you strive for it however you can. Then again, it could completely depend on the child and the circumstance.

Posted by: JuJu's Mom at July 31, 2005 09:29 AM

What a story, Chris. And now we know that your talent for photography is in your blood. My father has his own very strong issues with his father, who is a stubborn, selfish man, but of course I adored him as a child - our whole family struggles with this issue. One of my deepest desires is for my dad to cut himself free from his anger and resentment.

Thank God I'm marrying a man who thinks his dad hung the moon and stars.

I know you bring all of your best intentions to the table when it comes to parenting Mia - and I think she's blessed to have a dad who is so articulate about his role in her life.

Posted by: samantha at July 31, 2005 10:25 AM

maybe taking that picture, or the picture itself, is the one thing your father enjoyed about that trip. the only tradition he wanted to carry on. because, even when we realize the rolls we've been forced to play all our lives, it's sometimes hard to give them up.

Posted by: jodi at July 31, 2005 11:30 AM

Geez, the last sentence just terrified me!

Posted by: jen at July 31, 2005 11:58 AM

Fatherhood is a new and sometimes difficult experience. I have a teenage daughter, but watching my father become ill and pass away this summer has given me a new perspective on being a parent. I listened to all of the things people said about my dad at his funeral. I was glad to be his son. I hope my daughter will feel the same way about me. Both my grandfathers died before I was born, so Dad was my only male role model. But he was a good one. I hope I can live up to his standard.

It sounds like you are a wonderful father to Mia.

Posted by: ken at July 31, 2005 12:25 PM

It really is amazing how much *everything* you do has an impact one someone. Every thought, every word, every action... And, you must realize that - no matter how hard you try to be perfect - you won't be. And there is absolutely no shame in that. Being a father (or a parent in general) isn't really about being perfect, I don't think. It's more about showing your child that mistakes and learning is what life is about. She'll love you no matter what. I have no doubt about that.

Posted by: Jessa at July 31, 2005 05:38 PM

Everything does, but I've found with my son, and I'm sure most other kids are the same, he loves having his Mommy's complete attention and focus.

Now the reality? Is that know this, and also knowing all the things that constantly fly through my mind while I'm with him? A source of guilt all on its own.

Posted by: Queen Of Ass at July 31, 2005 08:25 PM

I've a mother for whom I am never good enough. Eventhough I love her, I don't particularly like her. Despite that fact, I seem always to be overcompensating to trying to be good enough (which, I assure you, is impossible with this woman). I don't have any idea why it's so important to me and your dad might not either.

It's good you recognize that in your parent/grandparent relationship so you can fight the perfectionist mindset.

Posted by: hr mommy at July 31, 2005 08:35 PM

At the same time, there are things our parents try their damnedest to do that we kids always forget. My parents like to remind me about stuff i don't think ever happened. Or, ok, it did happen, but it wasn't that important to me.

Just saying that they pick the moments to pay attention to. And that's ok. Because you aren't in the driver's seat, you're just the navigator.

Posted by: alektra at July 31, 2005 09:29 PM

My parents have always said it's their responsibility as parents to do a better job raising their children (1 out of 4 isn't bad) than was done the previous generation. Not that theirs wasn't bad either but they've said there's always room for improvement.

The fact that you recognize this as well shows you're always ahead of the game.

As Chris Rock says, as the father, it's your job to keep her off the pole. Good luck!

Posted by: Grace at August 1, 2005 01:16 AM

The impact, holy Christ, the impact. Just wait until Mia starts mimicking you guys, talking, oh and I really CAN'T WAIT for those teenage years. Impact, my friend, doesn't even begin to describe what parents do to their children. It is indeed terrifying.

Posted by: RockStar Mommy at August 1, 2005 09:44 AM

It's amazing the things you think of when you become a parent. I have so many things in my life that I don't want Princess to experience, and I strive hard to be a better parent than my mother was, while still stressing how much I love Princess, because that is the one thing my mom did right, she always told us she loved us. I try to do that, but most important I stry to SHOW Princess how much I love her. You'll make mistakes, it's a given. But if you are the kind of parent you WISH to be, then you have succeeded. I think you will succeed immensely.

Posted by: Nina at August 1, 2005 10:45 AM

do you wake up in the morning with the goal of making bloggers across the globe get all teary-eyed? or does it just happen?

Posted by: laura at August 1, 2005 11:17 AM

For me the important thing will be acknowledging that my children will have their own perspective on how things are in our relationship, and the things that are extremely important to me, might not matter that much to them and vice versa. It always seem to stress my mom out when I say things like "doing a better job" than she did. When that's not necessarily what I'm trying to do. What I am trying to do is be as effective a parent as I can and I may do it differently than she did it. I have no idea if it will be better or not, and it will and does definitely incorporate many of the things that she did and still does as my parent. What I know for certain is that it is a thing that starts afresh daily, if not hourly, and requires more energy than many of us have. It is equally thrilling, fulfilling, exasperating, frustrating and mind-boggling.

Posted by: Amy at August 1, 2005 12:16 PM

The one constant in parenthood is self-doubt, and for good reason. None of us are a hundred percent certain we know what we're doing, but our children will inevitably decide there is something we should have done differently.

Posted by: Mike at August 1, 2005 12:57 PM

Beaufitul post! Thanks!

Posted by: Sweety at August 1, 2005 03:35 PM

At my granddaughter's day care there is currently a special needs child who is in foster care. She wails heartbreakingly for those who deserted her, although we would wonder why, perhaps. A 3 year old compatriot says, "she just needs her mommy". The child is forming an attachment to my daughter as she comes and goes and clings to her as long as she can. My daughter, who has always been known for her very tender heart, is thinking that foster parenting is something that she needs to look into. And then she said to me, "you should do that Mom, you'd be good at it." This moment brings tears to my eyes each time I think of it. This is the moment of acknowledgement that a parent waits for. I was lucky enough to get it. May your attentiveness to parenting reward you as richly. And, yes, it's true what they say, the grandchild makes it all worthwhile.

Posted by: at August 1, 2005 07:58 PM

Wow, you are so right. I think each generation takes something from the one before and improves upon it.

As my kids are getting older, I am becoming more and more like my mother. And that scares me a little. Children learn what they live. So maybe your father's reasoning for striving to be so much like his father was that he didn't know of any other way to do it. So he went with it, and improved upon it. Just as you will take all the good and some of the bad out of the relationship with your parents and improve upon it with Mia.

Posted by: molly at August 1, 2005 08:03 PM

all parents make mistakes and impact their children, both positively and negatively. it can't be helped. but you're off to a good start and you and beth are both fantastic people (at lesat, so it would appear to those of us who read your blogs....) so i'm sure you're gonna be fantastic parents. just do the best you can.

Posted by: suze at August 1, 2005 10:39 PM