Joe DeProspero has two sons and a wife, and he is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as "outrageous," "painfully real," and "downright humiliating." Author of the dark comedy fiction novel "The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt," Joe is also writing a parenting humor book. He will be posting twice monthly and his previous posts can be found here. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook and on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
I was asked this question during a recent interview about my work as a writer and father. I sat silently and fidgeted with my pen as I searched for some poignant, poetic line to say. "Use an analogy. No, no, a movie quote!" I thought to myself. But still, nothing came to mind. Then, it came to me. And very much like the time I was searching for my eyeglasses while they were on my face, the answer was right in front of me.
"I anticipate that my job as dad will be done when I've breathed my final breath," I said with a devilish grin. The more I thought about it, the more it became obvious.
There's a piece of dialogue from the 1989 comedy "Look Who's Talking" where the George Segal character claims he isn't interested in being a father to his child with the Kirstie Alley character because he was past that phase of his life and had already "raised his kids." To which the Kirstie Alley character replies, "Raised them? They're 11 and 9! Don't tell me they've moved out and gotten jobs!" And it fits right in with what we're talking about today. At some point, at any point in your parenthood, will you feel like you've completed your mission? Will you feel like you can label the job as "complete?" I'm anticipating the answer is no, and here's why.
When your child is a newborn, your job as a parent is to feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads, and provide care for them 24 hours a day. That's the part of the job that's the most physically demanding, but also often the least complex.
When your child is a toddler, your job is to teach them the basic differentiators between right and wrong, encourage them to start using a toilet instead of their diaper. You also are tasked with ensuring anything remotely dangerous is out of their reach, and assuming one is needed, scout out the appropriate daycare center. Oh, and also to feed them, clothe them, and put a roof over their head.
When your child has reached school age, your job is to guide them through their homework (without helping too much), teach them the importance of socializing and forming bonds with friends, without letting that socialization distract them from their work. This is also the time you are tasked heavily with refereeing their language, choice of entertainment, and the clothes they venture into the world with. And of course, you're still responsible for every drop of liquid, every bite of food that goes into their mouth. Oh, and the roof over their head. Can't forget that.
When your child is a teenager, he isn't a child anymore, and he starts to make some of his own decisions, for better or worse. He likely will start to firmly believe that he has all the answers to life's questions. It's your job to either tell him the real answers, guide them to find the answer on their own, or simply allow them to fail and learn from their mistake. He will probably begin venturing into the dating world and start forming actual opinions. They may not believe it, but your role in their life is perhaps more vital now than it ever will be. And of course, there's the food, clothes and roof.
When they become full-fledged adults, there's debate on whether or not the parents are still "on the hook" for raising them. I may feel differently when my children are grown, but I believe your job as a teacher, nurturer, and friend goes on. And I know this because I still look to my father for advice. To me, he remains the unimpeachable, larger-than-life entity he was when I was six. I still seek him out to discuss health insurance, career decisions, family history, etc. I will always be his boy, he will always be my protector, and I will always sit atop his proverbial shoulders.
That said, I don't believe I'll ever be able to say the words, "I've done a good job as a father." I might be able to say, "I'm doing a good job," or "I'm on the right track." But as a parent, my job remains perpetually unfinished, with that check box in the complete column happily and appropriately untouched.
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Please add your comment below! Or follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
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