When I was without children, back in my young adult days, I was appalled when a child threw food in a restaurant or walked through the mall with a hairdo straight from the Bride of Frankenstein.
Oh, how I would judge those parents. "How can they let their child go out like that?" or "There is a child with no discipline at home. I would never let my kids do that."
I was convinced that my children would be able to recite Shakespeare from the womb and not only be able to feed themselves, but also know which fork would be the right one to use.
It was with the birth of my son, Kyan, that reality decided to hit me upside the head with a shovel. Whap! He didn’t recite Shakespeare, he didn’t even know algebra. What’s up with that?
My first taste of real parenting came while we were still in the hospital. I was poised for that fatherhood rite of passage—changing my first diaper. My wife warned me he might tinkle, but I took the warning in stride because father always knows best.
No sooner had the diaper come off when a fountain erupted from my child. I positioned the diaper to block the flow, but a second torrent came from the realm of number 2.
Shocked at this sudden turn of events, I dropped the diaper and frantically backed away from the urinary and fecal deluge, muttering to myself "Too much, too soon. Too much, too soon."
It was from this dubious beginning that I gained a respect, appreciation and understanding of those parents brave enough to visit restaurants with their children, knowing well the chaos that would most likely ensue.
When the child acts up, parents around the restaurant turn and share that knowing glance and smile. They know you have eaten macaroni and cheese for five days straight and this was the first time either of you have left the house for something other than work for two weeks.
In my few short years as a parent, I have realized there is no such thing as a perfect father. No matter how many books you read or how many plans you have, children will be children.
The little bundles of joy who can brighten my day with a simple smile and make all the bad things in the world go away with a hug are the same ones who will cry and scream at the top of their lungs because you didn’t get the string cheese to them fast enough.
The key to raising children isn’t necessarily always knowing what’s best, but always trying one’s best. You will have those days when doughnuts and soft drinks seem like the perfect dinner meal and you’re sure you can get another hour out of that diaper before you have to change it.
Realize that Ward Cleaver lived in a fairy tale world—let’s face it, June really did all the work—and there will be times when you are angry and there will be times when you are sad, but there are far more times when you feel like the luckiest man in the world.
My 2-year-old and 1-year-old have changed so much from those little blobs that needed me for everything. I can already see some of my traits and habits nestling into their psyche, creating the men they will become.
Thirty years from now when they visit their old dad and mom with the grandkids—I have already learned the art of the guilt trip from my own mother—we’ll sit around the kitchen table and talk about the good ole days.
I’ll sit and watch as the grandkids try to ride the dog or use the kitchen door as their own personal crayon canvas and realize maybe I really did know best.
Brock Cooper is a former journalist. He lives in Peru with his wife, Jessica, and two sons, Kyan and Jaxon.