[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here!]
Our oldest turned 10 this past Thursday, the 17th of Tammuz, and the milestone set me to thinking about what a decade of fatherhood has tried to teach me.
The following will be old-hat to parents who are ahead of me on the chronological curve, as well as to many who simply figured things out long before I did, but it’s a short list of ways that parenting can mature us:
Parenting forces total responsibility.
This is beyond being reliable; I’m talking about something greater here. I’m talking about changing your life around in order to fill a responsibility. I’m talking about taking full responsibility for others’ actions and for the events of their lives, the buck stopping here.
If your six-year-old stuffs a ball down the bathtub drain and the plumber charges you $70 to get it out, you can't take it out of his allowance. If your two-year-old ruins something, there is no recourse. It's all on your head.
Parenting forces flexibility.
I can honestly say that I am more flexible now, by several orders of magnitude, than I was ten years ago. I don’t get as upset about the foiling of plans, or about not knowing what’s happening until the last minute; it’s a natural part of life with children.
I learned this especially in shul, regarding davening. When my rebbitzen was expecting our second, and the first was still under 2 years old, I brought him to shul on many occasions. As a rule, I ended up standing outside and doing the bare minimum of davening. I wasn't used to that, but he taught me.
I’m not sure people who share my life think I’m that flexible, but I feel the difference between what was and what is.
Parenting tries to teach us that we don’t need to stand out.
Anyone who survives a dozen years in the rabbinate must harbor an element that appreciates the spotlight (even if you’re nervous about being center-stage), but being a parent often means turning the spotlight to your child.
Having your child perform on stage or play a game or write a story is a great way to learn to stay in the background and keep your ideas to yourself. Balancing being visible enough to be a role model, while not so visible as to be intimidating, is real work.
Parenting makes us feel ignorant, which is not the same thing as being able to admit ignorance to others.
When I say, ‘feeling ignorant,’ I mean being willing to hear and embrace an entirely foreign point of view, recognizing that we know nothing. Trying to raise a child and recognizing you know nothing at all about how to do it was a good learning experience.
Telling a laughing pediatrician that you don't know how to get medicine into your stubborn child ("There are two of you and one of him, and you're bigger than him!"), or studying an off-colored diaper and wondering whether the weird shade of green means anything, is a good way to realize just how much you don't know.
The above is just a short list; much more could be said.
I wouldn’t say I’ve absorbed any of the above ideals 100%, but I’m definitely a world different now from the way I was in the Labor and Delivery room in 1999. I cringe to think about the person I once was… and I can’t wait to see what I will become in the next ten years, Gd-willing…