Fairly recently, we had a big family get-together at my parents’ house with a lot of my cousins and their kids. It was a huge, loud, overwhelming mess, much like any time my whole family gets together, and for whatever reason, I volunteered to keep an eye on my little cousins, who are both around 5 years old. After about an hour of chasing them around the house to make sure they didn’t break anything or scare the dog to death, I’m absolutely certain I’m not ready to be a dad.
There’s a big difference between being a dad and being a father. I’m sure I could easily make a series of poor decisions that leads to me knocking someone up. Hell, my weekends are often enough of a slow-motion car wreck of questionable game time calls that ESPN would probably try to call a play-by-play and debate it on Pardon The Interruption if they could, giving me yet another reason to hate that godforsaken network. I could very easily end up a father after one weekend gone wrong, but I’m in no way qualified to be anyone’s dad yet.
I feel like being a dad is one of those things you have to be ready to do. The most complicated lifeform I’ve had to care for in the last six years is laboratory bacteria in bio-chem. From what I can tell, they don’t need love and affection, though maybe that would have made my experiments work better. Who knows? In any case, I still wake up at noon on Saturdays, drink my way through the last few days of the week and weekend and then wake up not always ready to do it all again on Monday. The idea that I would have to provide 24/7 on-call care to another living thing than myself still kind of terrifies me, and I know I’m nowhere near ready to do that in my early 20s, especially with my own kid.
Being a dad requires things like discipline and maturity. How many people in their 20s are actually there and ready for that? One of my friends from high school just posted on Facebook the other day that he and his wife are about to have their third child. Their third. He’s younger than I am. I applaud his efforts though. As much as the constant barrage of kid-related Facebook updates and religious posts from him irks me, I can’t help feeling a little jealous that he has his shit infinitely more together than I do when it comes to being an adult and having a family.
I guess a lot of this comes down to my expectations of what being a dad should be, a lot of which I got from my dad. He has spent the better part of 23 years kicking my ass when I did something wrong, helping me back up when I fell, and congratulating me when I got it right. He wasn’t there handing me participation trophies, he was there telling me what I needed to do better to get ahead next season. He isn’t perfect, but he did his best, and I think as a result, I’ve set the bar pretty high for myself. At the very least, I can probably take a few plays from his playbook, because everyone knows I’m not an imposing authority figure. I still eat Spaghetti-O’s on occasion, for Christ’s sake.
When it really comes down to it, I’m almost sure no one is actually ready to be a dad until it happens, because I think we all have these ideas that we need to either live up to our parents’ parenting legacy, or avoid their mistakes. It’s like some kind of weird game of telephone, but with parenting skills. You start out with an idea and then by the time it gets to execution it’s completely different that you thought it would or should be, and occasionally you dial the wrong number and end up with a kid who starts drinking freshman year of high school. This is why I’ve always assumed multiple children was just a safety mechanism to ensure one of your kids succeeds.
Being a dad is such a complete shift of mindset and responsibilities that I don’t think you can practice for it. Owning a dog or a cat is not the same thing as raising another human, or set of humans, no matter how many diapers you put them in. I just hope that when I eventually end up having kids of my own, I can be as good a dad as my dad has been, while learning from his mistakes.