Read an Excerpt
Why Is This Book Necessary? One of the greatest things about shopping for food on a day when it’s one hundred degrees outside is that moment when you walk through the doors of the supermarket and first feel that charge of icy air wrap around your entire body. From that moment on I look forward to a pleasurable shopping adventure, as my senses are tantalized with the crisp coolness of the air, the bright new colors of the seasonal fruits, and the seductive aroma of the freshly baked bread and pastries. It’s no wonder I always spend more money than I plan to.
On one occasion like many others, my wife and I were shopping together in midafternoon. Phaidra began at the top of the shopping list she had diligently prepared, and I let my nose do the leading, which invariably led to feelings of guilt about things that should not have gone into the cart, and a reprimand from my wife as she patted my gut. My rationalizations about working out enough to compensate didn’t hold water with Phaidra, but I tried to sway her by showering her with affection, telling her I loved her and how great she looked. I finally sealed the con with a tender kiss, hoping that this would take her mind off my indulgence.
As I stood in the middle of the aisle showing affection to Phaidra, out of nowhere came a little kid running at a hundred miles per hour. He dashed by and stepped on my foot. Hot on his trail was a vexed mother with blood visibly pumping through the veins in her forehead and neck, her steely eyes fixed on her prey. She was gaining on him, the back of her right hand poised to strike the kid into oblivion. I turned to Phaidra and said, “Yeah, we’re having kids real soon.”
My wife and I have had this conversation many times. We ask ourselves why we would want to exchange a relatively stress-free life for one filled with diapers, runny noses, public embarrassments, sleep deprivation, medical costs, worry, and the destruction of personal property and clothing, not to mention sprints down the supermarket aisle like a ferocious African wildcat after its victim. Why does anyone have children? Is it because everyone else does? Is there a religious motivation? Maybe there are those who have never imagined not having children and look forward to the promise of some real or imagined measure of fulfillment.
I was raised as the second eldest of eleven children in Victoria, Australia. I cannot even begin to comprehend what raising us must have been like from my parents’ perspective. What I can tell you is that my mother was and is an angel in human form. She was always available when I got home from school; she listened to my stories of the day and helped me with my homework. Mother was there to mend a broken heart and wipe away the blood from all the cuts and bruises that I seemed to get on a daily basis. She showed, then and now, the care and concern of a compassionate nurse and the tenderness and patience of . . . well, a loving parent. She fits the very definition of selflessness, having devoted her entire life to her children. While some mothers say, “I need my own life,” my mother declared that we were her life. She gave and gave and still continues to give, for her evolved nature and great interest in ensuring a sense of humaneness in her little part of the world mean that she knows no way but unconditional devotion. If you need a measure to determine greatness in a mother, in a woman, she is it! In my mind, all great mothers must be compared to my Mum.
My father, in turn, was the breadwinner. He worked long hours, only to come home to misbehaving children that he had to discipline. We weren’t always bad, but when we were it was his duty to mete out the punishment. Even so, he always hugged us and expressed love afterward. I respected that as I thought about it later in life. What my dad was telling me by doing this was that I had done something wrong and here was my punishment, but he loved me very much.
What stands out most about my father, though, was the affection he had for my Mum and for each of his children. He always wanted to spend more time with us than he could. When we went on vacations together as a family, we children were all thoroughly spoiled. I also remember the occasions when my dad spent time just with me, talking to me and listening to my concerns, hopes, and dreams. That meant a lot to me then, and it does now.
Even as I consider my own upbringing, I continually find myself asking the same questions about starting my own family. Do I want to go through the trials and hardships I saw my parents go through? Could it be that I focus too much on the difficult side of parenting and not the joyous side? Perhaps there is no negative side, just a side that forces you to grow. Am I getting closer to the truth? Could it be that what I am really facing is a resistance to growth and change? Do I want to exchange a world where everything is predictable for one in which I must surrender control? Am I just plain selfish? Maybe it’s not my calling in life to be a parent—but how do I know?
There are other issues to consider beyond my own mind-set. Is the relationship my wife and I have secure enough to introduce parenthood into the mix? Is there a certain length of time a couple should be together before undertaking parenthood? What if a couple has been together too long—is there a danger that they will be too set in their ways to make room for a baby? Could it occur that I will want children before my wife does, or vice versa, and what happens then? There is so much to consider, it is difficult to know where to begin.
Don’t get me wrong; I do see myself as a father. I know that when I hold my child for the first time, I will lift it high to present it to the heavens as I beam with a tender sense of emotion. I will reflect on my dad’s best piece of parenting advice: “If you don’t become a better man than I, I have failed as a father.” When my dad said that, the burden of responsibility fell on his shoulders, and when I usher a child into this world that weight will be mine to bear. What an overwhelming sense of responsibility this presents.
The fact is, I am not prepared to rush into parenting just because my peers are doing it, or because my family and friends want me to. At the end of the day it is my wife and I who must raise our child, not those exerting outside pressure, as subtle as it may be. I am resolved that when the time comes I will be equipped for parenting in every way that a prospective parent can be equipped, and I say that with the understanding that nothing can prepare someone for parenting like parenting.
Yes, there is the fear of change and growth and the heartache that may come with being a parent, but it’s so much more than that. Some of my hesitation comes from the knowledge that we will be entirely accountable for a pure and innocent child. Given that I am not a fan of surprises and that I take this mantle of parenting very seriously, I want to make sure that I consider all that needs to be considered before making the imperishable commitment of parenthood.
The next step, then, is to answer this question: How can I be prepared for parenthood in such a way that I do not repeat the mistakes of other parents and can also benefit from their triumphs? As I pose this question I think forward to the time when I will tell my own child, If you don’t become a better person than I, I have failed as a father. What characteristics and resources can I offer my child to ensure that he or she does become a better person than I? Moreover, am I prepared for the day when my child begins to realize that I am a man prone to weakness, that I possess traits that are less than desirable or even unsavory?
From the Trade Paperback edition.