Some reflections on the sudden responsibilities of fatherhood on Father’s Day 2020

Father’s Day 2020: Sudden Responsibility and Slowly Accumulating Wisdom

‘The hardest part of raising children is teaching them to ride bicycles. A father can run beside the bicycle or stand yelling directions while the child falls. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs both support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard.”
Sloan Wilson “Things I learned in a Half Century of Living” New York Magazine May-24-1976
an excerpt from “What Shall We Wear to This Party?: The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Twenty Years Before & After

I can remember my father running alongside me and while I pedaled my first bike; I fell as soon as he let go. After a particularly bad fall with two skinned knees, he said, “Let’s put the bike up for a while.” A few months later, I was suddenly struck with the desire to try to ride again: for whatever reason, my inability to peddle, steer, and maintain my balance at the same time was gone. It was a strange experience to be on the other side of the transition and have no idea why I had been unable to ride a bike.

It’s hard to remember a state of confusion. I have many happy memories of riding my bike when I was young, but I cannot recall why riding a bike had been so hard when I first tried. I do have a clear memory of a rafting trip in high school when our two-man canoe overturned. I spent more than a few seconds clawing at the gravel in the river bed, unable to understand why I could not break the surface and breathe again. Suddenly I realized I was upside down: I went up instead of trying to dig down and broke the surface.

When my older boy was born I found myself somewhat disoriented by the end of the delivery when a crying baby suddenly appeared. I had seen movies of women giving birth, but it’s not quite the same as being there. They put my son on a scale, and I kept looking at the numeric readout, trying to puzzle out what 3995 meant. For the longest time, I could not figure why they had put a price on him until I finally realized it was grams.

'Natural Parenting' from XKCD 674 for Father's Day 2020

Fatherhood is like that. A trap door that you wander through. Afterward, it’s hard to remember what it was like when you were not responsible. Not knowledgeable, but responsible nevertheless . Knowledge takes time. Responsibility is immediate. I can remember pacing back and forth in the hallway carrying my son, he was crying and I did not know what was wrong. You learn to run a simple checklist–diaper, bottle, hug, rock, check for fever–but he had exhausted my limited repertoire of diagnostics. Finally, I pleaded with him, “Just tell me what’s wrong.”

A few months before my son was born I left Cisco to start what became a web design company. This was in 1994 when the web was young and we were still figuring out the rules. In the midst of opportunity…we chose poorly. When I went back to Cisco four years later, my co-workers were impressed by how much more patient I had become. I think this was a polite way of avoiding the need to mention what a hard charging jackass I had been earlier. Rearing two small children and persevering through a business failure had allowed me to practice patience until I had gotten reasonably good at it.

“Nothing is so irrevocably neglected as an opportunity of daily occurrence.”
Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

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Image Credit: Natural Parenting from XKCD # 674