Each of us picked things up in childhood. Because of how our own parents were. Because of the experiences we had. Because of things we did…or didn’t do.
We all have issues. We have baggage. We know this—because we’ve seen it manifest itself in relationships. At work. With that person we lost it at in traffic. But since this has long been our life, those issues have been our problem. We could decide to bear the costs of them. We could decide to white knuckle our way through them. Or, as most of us do, we could simply deny they existed. What do you mean? I don’t have an intimacy problem. I don’t have attachment issues. My parents were great! My drinking is fine. I have a fantastic work ethic.
The decision to have kids means that all this has to stop. We talked to Jessica Lahey, the wonderful author of The Gift of Failure (a great book for parents and teachers), about what she’s learned being a mother. Her answer provides something worth chewing on for all parents, but fathers especially:
Having to face the flaws I thought I could keep secret and buried from the world because I wanted to be better for this new person. Early on, sure, I’m the sun and the moon and the stars to this infant who looks to me for every element of survival—for those early days, I get to be perfect and smug in my oxytocin-soaked love and deep denial. Really quickly, however, the flaws in me I’ve been so good at hiding through excelling academically or being charismatic start to poke through because it matters to someone other than me and the guy I tricked into marrying me. For me, those flaws are defensiveness around my potential flaws (go figure), my tendency to disconnect and be distracted from whatever is happening right in front of me in favor of whatever is next, and notably, substance abuse. If I’d never had children, I probably could have kept that stuff buried, but parenthood demanded that I deal with it. My kids are 21 and 16 now, and I am still finding out about new flaws I have to face in order to model a healthy, loving, productive humanity to my kids.
If you want to be a great dad, you’re going to have to deal with your shit. You can’t be in denial anymore. You can’t carry baggage around—it’s too dangerous with a kid around. You risk dropping it on them. There can be no more white knuckling, no more deferring. The bill is due and you have to pay it: in therapy. In conversations with your spouse. In the pages of your journal. In setting goals for yourself. In committing to better habits.
You have to face your flaws. Because there is a little fellow following you. There are little people who did not choose to be stuck in the same house with you, and should not have to be trapped with a monster or a brick wall for a dad. Get serious. Get working.