I’m a parent – no, really, it’s true – and let me tell you, no-one could be more shocked than I. Does every father live as I do, in constant dread of the hand on the shoulder and the words “Sorry sir, been a bit of a mix-up”? Or the inevitable letter from the Department of Ensuring All Destinies Run As They Should (DEADRATS), clarifying that only individuals of the highest mental and emotional calibre are permitted to have children, and that as a Grade-3 Minor Idiot (Category B), I unfortunately don’t qualify?
The lament is often heard that children don’t come with an instruction manual. That sounds reasonable, but it’s total BS coming from a dad. Because dads don’t read manuals anyway. We just pick up the DVD recorder, hedge strimmer, or 15-month-old baby girl, and expect it to operate within specified manufacturing parameters.
But being a dad is incredibly hard. Since I never seem to hear any other dads saying this – they’re too busy romping off with their sons on 6am camping expeditions, or teaching their daughters kung-fu – I assume there was some sort of no-complaining clause in the paperwork that I never received because of the whole mix-up by DEADRATS. Or else those other dads are just better than me.
Maybe, though, they’re not: maybe they’re more like icebergs, just 10% showing above the surface, but underneath, they’re paddling like crazy. Or do I mean swans? Possibly ducks? Hard to say. What is an analogy, after all, but a pig with five legs? The point is, possession doesn’t automatically confer expertise. Just because you own a few kids doesn’t mean you know how to operate them. That takes years – and even then, you’re probably only familiar with a fraction of their functions.
Of course the rewards of parenthood are among the most wonderful experiences this world can offer (and I speak here as someone who has seen the Northern Lights dozens of times, on Youtube). Every evening when I get in from work I’m greeted by stampeding feet and the giddy, affectionate sounds of happiness. But that’s enough about the dog. The kids might look up briefly from the TV too, if I’m lucky.
Sadly, though, there are no DEADRATS watching over us. DEADRATS don’t exist at all, unless, possibly, maybe in the health service somewhere. It’s entirely up to us to make sure things Run As They Should. But as the philosopher-poet Ralph W. Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Hard as it is to take advice from a guy whose middle name is Waldo, I think that where parenting is concerned, there’s no other choice.