Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Learning to Parent

In the end, a boring cliché is a parent’s guiding truth: you do your best

My son, Fisher, turned 6 months old last week. Already, it’s hard to remember my life without him, even though he wasn’t around for my first 32 years. I fall asleep worrying about him, dream about protecting him, wake up overjoyed to see him, and then request texted photos of him from my wife throughout the workday. I can’t recall what I spent all my time thinking about before.

Of the many activities I share with Fisher, not one holds his attention longer than when I play guitar and sing to him, which I do almost daily. He smiles and giggles, or stares with his mouth slightly open, totally absorbed. Children have that capacity for genuine, unfiltered awe. Whereas I see music as the product of a process, he hears a sonic mystery. I’m learning from him, which is to say that I’m growing by going back in time.                                    

To view the world through his eyes is to retrain, or at least remind, myself to recognize and appreciate everyday miracles; to hear whispers of poetry in the mundane sentences of our daily lives. A few months ago, Fisher couldn’t see farther than 12 inches in front of his face. Now he sees more than I do.

When I was little, I had no doubt that my mother and father had mastered the art of parenting. There’s a biological purpose, of course, to kids placing full trust in their parents. Along with food and water, we need shelter and safety, and it’s a scary world for a 4-year-old who doesn’t think his guardians are equipped to offer those necessities.

As I grew older, it became clear that my mom and dad didn’t always know what they were doing. No parent does. But I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of this reality until I became a father.

There are various sayings that all essentially conclude: “There’s no manual for parenting.” In fact, there are bookshelves of manuals, plus an overwhelming sea of information online. But the point is that it doesn’t matter how much you read or hear, once you have a child, you discover regularly that you really don’t know much. Just don’t tell your child that you’re winging it.

In the end, a boring cliché is a parent’s guiding truth: you do your best. I’ve developed a four-pronged mantra: be there, be loving, be patient and be open-minded. That obviously oversimplifies this most difficult of human endeavors, but I find comfort in its simplicity. You and your child are both constantly learning.

Fisher can’t move from one spot to another without help, nor can he speak, count or generally comprehend most of his surroundings. But he knows that music is magic, that a mirror is a world of possibility, that a pine tree swaying in the wind deserves our attention. That’s what I want him to know right now, and that’s what he’s teaching me all over again.

I also want him to know that his mother and father do everything in our power to make him comfortable and happy, even if we fall short at times. We are figuring it out as we go, and the sheer force of his light is our guide, our inspiration to do our best, to strive for something greater than ourselves. It’s not about the myth of perfection, but rather the fact of unconditional love.

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