Winning the Parenting Game
Ever see the movie Parenthood? It's got a really great cast: Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest, Jason Robards, Keanu Reeves. There's a poignant scene in which Robards talks about parenting with his son, played by Martin. I replay it often in my mind, and every time I do, it occurs to me that I'm overwhelmed with the gigantic responsibility of being "Dad."
Robards: You know when you were 2 years old, we thought you had polio. You know about that?
Martin: Yeah, Mom once said something.
Robards: Yeah, well, for a week we didn't know. I hated you for that.
Robards: I did. I did. I hated having to go through that—the caring, the worrying, the pain. That's not for me. You know, it's not like that all ends. It never, never ends. It's like your Aunt Edna's ass. It goes on forever and is just as frightening.
Martin: That's true.
Robards: There is no end zone. You never cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your touchdown dance. Never.
I was in college when I saw Parenthood, and it totally changed my perspective on my relationship with my own parents. It has always stayed with me, even when my wife and I were first considering having a kid. It was part of my "I'm not emotionally equipped for this" reasoning to put off having children. Even through Robards' own anger and unwillingness to be a parent was something I didn't share, the helplessness of his love and devotion was totally overpowering.
Frankly, it scared me.
These days, I love being Dad. I wouldn't trade it for anything. And yet, it totally freaks me out, too. My 6-year-old son reflexively reaches for my hand all the time, filling me with a natural urge to grab him tight and squeeze. Of course, I know that I can't hold on forever. Sometimes I have to release his hand and let him face the world on his own. That's part of being a good parent.
And yet I don't know if I'm emotionally equipped for the worry this causes. Maybe no parent is. The worry is always there, a dull roar in the background, almost drowned out by giggles and squeals. But it's ready to howl forth with a call from a teacher, a visit from a policeman or an angry "I hate you!" and a slamming door. It's worry I can never quite get away from.
There is no end zone. I see my friends with teenagers and it's more of the same, the joy and the worry. My mom calls, wondering whether I'm feeling OK after a cold. I'm almost 40 and she's close to 70!
No, I'll never make that touchdown. But I love the game of parenting just the same. I grow to love it more and more every day, even though it still scares the hell out of me. I wonder if all parents feel the same way.