About a year ago I was asked by Chris Lewis, proprietor of the DadofDivas blog, to write a guest post for his Dads in the Limelight series. It originally appeared in edited form on Chris’s blog in March 2012. Here’s the unexpurgated version. I think it sums up my feelings about parenthood as well as anything I’ve ever written, so I present it here as my ‘Danifesto’ — a summary of how I feel about being a dad, and kind of also the reason I decided to write this blog.
My name’s Dan Tynan, I’m a writer based in coastal North Carolina. I write a lot for national magazines and Web sites (most recognizably Family Circle, where I’m a contributing editor). I write mostly about technology but also about education, parenting, privacy, politics, and humor. I’ll tackle pretty much any topic somebody throws at me, so long as the checks don’t bounce.
As a writer, I live a big chunk of my life in public (which is also ironic, given my bent toward privacy). And because I often write in the first person about my family — as does my lovely and talented wife, a blogger and columnist for Family Circle – that means our children are also semi-public figures, whether they want to be or not. I’m not sure this qualifies as “limelight.” I see myself just outside the limelight, making shadow puppets with bunny ears.
My daughter and son are becoming increasingly aware of this now that they 13 and 15, respectively. My son recently Googled his name and found some articles my wife wrote about him a few years back. She wrote these mostly as a way of trying to figure him out — my son is extraordinarily smart and even more stubborn, which has posed all sorts of problems in school and elsewhere — and writing an article about these things is a good way to talk to experts for free.
My son was not happy. Well, he ought to see the articles I’ve written about him recently. It’s not that I’m being mean, but teens can be frustrating as hell, and I think I ought to get something out of all this angst, let alone the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve spent on food, clothing, and housing.
For example: The time my son tried to convince us his Facebook account had been corrupted and that he had to create a new one, when of course he was creating a new account just for us (his “idiot parents,” he informed his friends on his real account) so we wouldn’t hassle him about being a total jerk online. And he might have gotten away with it, if he hadn’t logged into his real Facebook account on my computer and forgotten to log out one day.
When your child gives you that kind of material you can’t just ignore it. So that story became the lead for an article I wrote for Family Circle about how to deal with your kids on social networks. And there are half a dozen just like it.
The biggest challenge for me as a father has been, well, everything. Like a lot of men, I don’t feel like I got very good training in how to be a father from my father. We didn’t do much together. We didn’t go fishing or camping. He didn’t teach me how to change spark plugs or tie flies or solve differential equations (which, being an engineer, he should have been able to do). We played catch… occasionally. But mostly he was a ghost — working the swing shift, coming home after I’d gone to bed, sleeping through school mornings, around on the weekends mostly to mete out punishments for crimes against the family fabric recorded throughout the week by my mother. A not atypical scenario, I suspect. And to be fair, he had even less training in parenting than I did — all I know about his father (my grandfather) was that he left when my dad was small. My father basically got screwed.
So I entered fatherhood in a state of sheer unbridled terror. Which is pretty much where I lived for the first few months, until I discovered that being a dad was actually kind of fun. Kids are vastly more entertaining than anyone talks about, at least when they’re little. Sometimes it’s even worth the sleep deprivation and complete evisceration of one’s sex life.
Then they become teenagers and the fun is mostly over. The biggest challenge since my son turned 13 has been dealing with what a total **** he occasionally is. And, by extension, how much he has come to resemble me in this regard.
There is something about seeing one’s own genetics in action that can be particularly humbling. “So that’s what I look like when I do that. Damn.” It has made me reevaluate much of my own behavior. Whether I’ve reevaluated it enough, well, you’ll have to ask my wife.
Of course: My son is a great kid. He’s smart and funny and talented and much better looking than I ever was. Girls are on him like the white on rice. Lord knows that never happened to me as a teenager. And being a pain in the ass is developmentally appropriate for his age. I get that. But that doesn’t make it any more fun.
My daughter and I have a different relationship. She is, of course, insane, as all tween/teen girls are, and she’s only just entered the high-hormone occupancy lane. Things are going to get much worse before they get better. But my daughter and I have a good working relationship. She wants something, she says “Daaadddy” in that way girls have, and …. that’s pretty much it. Game over. She saves most of her screaming “I hate you!” battles for her mother.
My advice? Hang on with both hands, because you’re in for the ride of your life. Accept that you’re going to suck at it, much of the time, and focus on the times when you don’t. And remember it gets better: Eventually you’ll be allowed to sleep more or less when you want to. You might even start having sex again.
Bottom line: Being a father is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the best thing I have ever done. I felt that way back when my kids were small enough to lift, and I still feel that way today.
We recently enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with some some slightly older adult friends of ours, along with their college-age son and 24-year-old daughter. It was the first time our kids have shared a major holiday with people they barely know, so they were pretty quiet (and unusually well behaved) throughout most of the meal. I got a glimpse at what they must look like to people who are not their parents. They were smart, polite, articulate, sweet. I thought, I guess we didn’t do such a bad job after all.
At one point my friend Tom turned to my son and asked him, point blank, if he thought I was a good dad.
“Oh, he’s not that bad.”
In my house that qualifies as high praise. I’ll take that any day of the week.