For a man, one of the perceived perks of having a son is the opportunity to raise “a little you.” Often times, men will remain neutral when discussing their expectancy. They will outwardly root for a healthy child of either sex but deep down, many men are pulling for a boy. It is in this vein that men are not anticipating a baby, but anticipating what the baby will inevitably become…a young boy and eventually, a man.
This represents the desire of a man to mold a child in his own image of masculinity. It seems only natural that a father would teach his son to be like him. As men, we too often get caught up in the pomp and egocentrism of being a man. It comes with the territory…or at least culturally we are taught to believe this is the case.
But as a new father, the prospect of raising a “little you” can be painfully revealing. Is it truly in the best interest of the child that he become like you? Sometimes it is only through this lens that a father can observe his own shortcomings as a man.
I can only look at this from one perspective, my own. Inevitably, this requires a level of introspection not readily available in this frivolous exoskeleton known as my emotional wellbeing.
When pondering the prospect that one day my son could be just like me, my mind drifts towards the darker corners of my life. The drug use, the arrests, the deceit and separation my malfeasance caused my family, and of course, the financial and personal strain of things like collegiate failures, a DUI, a near divorce, and the ever-present emotional gridlock my mind is trapped within. I use such memories to categorize myself as an individual. This is how I manufacture my own lens for viewing myself as a role model to my son.
These forgettable events in my life are the ones that make me question whether I’m a suitable template from which to mold a new human. Most of these items are not sought after qualities. In fact, one could argue that I’m the antithesis of adequate role models everywhere. I’m the bizarro father figure.
Periods of negativity haunt my desires to teach my son to be like me. But when I truly examine who I am, I realize that the soft underbelly of my upper-middle class upbringing is admittedly, my soft underbelly. I never faced any real conflict. I wasn’t raised on the streets. I’ve never really struggled. I was afforded all the benefits most parents could only wish to bestow upon their offspring. I drank champagne from crystal stemware on a beer budget.
Although I understand where things went wrong for me, there are many aspects of who I am that I fear I will not be able to prevent my own son from becoming. The havoc I wrought and the wreckage I left was my own doing. I made my own choices. I wonder if the same choices will manifest in his life…and which road he will take.
In drug addict and alcoholic support groups, the leadership encourages attendees to say a prayer. I’ve never been one for praying…or religion…or synchronized group chanting, but the prayer goes like this:
[insert mythological diety], grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
The group leaders will often encourage the addicts to stand in a circle and hold hands while reciting this. As a collective display of camaraderie and solidarity, it’s a little over the top. But the verse makes a strong point and it is the final line of the serenity prayer that is the key. The wisdom to know the difference. This is applicable in any aspect of our lives, not simply when begrudgingly abstaining from drug usage.
I’ve created lots of roadblocks in my life. I’ve built a lot of walls and torched countless bonds of trust. I’ve had my share of poignant moments but none are sufficient enough to claim that a baby boy will benefit from learning to be like me. It is in this way that I’m not teaching my son to be like me, I’m struggling to show him how I should have been. I’m yearning to afford him all of the benefits I had without succumbing to the poor decisions.
I want my son to see me as an example. Someone he can look up to and learn from. However, at a certain point, I can only show him the path towards being a good man since I’ve not walked it myself. This where I invoke the only wisdom I possess.
The wisdom to know the difference.
The wisdom to know the difference is an understanding of when I am the example versus when I should be guiding towards the example. It is embracing a hands-on approach to fatherhood but realizing the moments to observe without interceding. It is viewing my son’s life as a microcosm of my own and seeing it analytically as if I had a second chance to correct past mistakes. It is providing a doorway without opening the door. It is acting as the spoke of a wheel but not the force behind which it will eventually roll.
There is no template from which I can work. No stencil to place on the canvas of his life. I’m an infant otter endeavoring to crack a clamshell but I’ve yet to discover my tools. Training my mind to discern the moments that require the courage to change versus moments to embrace the things I cannot change is my white whale. I’m an average father at best, but I relentlessly hunt for the wisdom to know the difference, and in doing so, attempt to guide my son to be both an image of me and the good man I never was.