Memory is fascinating. Mine, for instance, focuses mainly on the most hideous and embarrassing things I’ve ever done and replays them at completely inappropriate times. I enjoy a good involuntary flinch and outburst sometimes. (I try not to call myself an idiot… sometimes I fail)
How could I have been so stupid? Why did I steal that pack of garbage cigarettes from my friend’s house, and why did I think this one girl in high school would want them? I didn’t smoke, and I didn’t really want to date a smoker girl, but I did want to be accepted.
Why did I egg on my best friend that one time, that nearly caused us to run someone over?
Why can’t I stop my brain from this weird, off-kilter recall?
There are others who seem to recall a rose-colored past, where all the current woes are really hard and it was so much easier back then, before, in the past. I remember some awesome times, sure. I remember a pickup game of soccer in the blazing summer heat of Kalamazoo Michigan (and the straw-yellow, rain-thirsty grass on the uneven field) where I deked out some noobs and scored a goal all by my lonesome. Since I played well so seldom, I grab onto this, and 44 sweet ounces of Powerade from the local convenience store (for a buck twenty-nine) afterwards, and how it was so good after ninety minutes of sweltering soccer.
I also remember being left alone while my best friend went to sleep over at his girlfriend’s one of those trips. I mean, heck, it was a three hour drive out there, and I went only once every six months or so… though at one point, it was monthly, with another buddy, and we were cranking out comics in my best friend’s creaky, drafty K-zoo house. But when I drove out there alone, why did he abandon me? I guess it’s not a big deal, sleeping in an awful dorm room hours away from the familiar, just for a few hours, but these things are stuck with me.
It’s important for writing; I want to capture exactly the right feeling, the discomfort of Halloween carrying around a real, heavy rapier when I should’ve just left it at home and had two free hands. I want to remember what the devil I was thinking, what happened later, and how everyone reacted. This sort of recall is great for scene-setting and making characters come to life.
As a dad, it’s crucial. Here it’s important, because you only have so many modes of comparison for your parenting. Parenting blogs are mostly sanctimonious garbage, preachy and self-righteous. I don’t trust any parenting blogs that sound like they know what the hell they’re talking about; childhood is so different for people who live across the street from each other, let alone across the state or across the country. And here’s the crucial part: I live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial family where all my childhood choices and challenges have to be carefully re-examined for any value and judged against the current context in order to try to produce a good kid.
So my parents. I have to remember the good and the bad. Don’t get me wrong, they’re phenomenal people, I love them, they love me. My father is an introvert who’s not shy, a weird paradox that makes for a man who can talk your ear off alone or at a quiet card table, but who turns into a phantom at large family get-togethers. He worked 12-16 hour days throughout the spring, summer and fall, then was laid off each winter and spent almost every day at home. My mother is harsh, excitable, caring, energetic, a workaholic, and at once a terrible teacher and an amazing teacher. Weird right? How could she teach me to do dishes or laundry or being a decent human being to others perfectly well, but skip out on politics, or money management?
Now that they’re on the table, I will say that I understand everything they failed to do. Nobody can be perfect, nobody should aspire to be perfect, and they had three other children on their hands, along with me. I understand the ‘I have never been so embarrassed’ or the threats to have me wait in the van outside Ponderosa if I couldn’t behave like a civilized human being.
I remember some good times, but the bad is crucial too. Reconstructing my childhood and the influence of friends’ parents on me helps me to consider how I’m doing with my son, and what is important. Should I follow in my parents’ footsteps on discipline? They rarely ever raised their hands against me or my siblings. My mother was so busy I had days and days of free time, outside riding bikes and breaking glass bottles and getting yelled at by strange adults and climbing trees. The times trying and trying to participate in sports, even though I was seriously uncoordinated and not very interested. The quest to earn an Eagle Scout patch because my father had been unable to do so thirty plus years before (and my brothers were unable to do so… it looked like I was the only one who might make it).
Lucky for me, none of this has turned into hideous trauma. I’m going to see my folks over the summer and it will be incredible. But along the way, I use my parents’ talk to inform myself that I shouldn’t use guilt on my son. I use my mother’s patience to tell myself I ought to remain patient as well. I use my father’s silence as a tool at times… my son doesn’t need me constantly prattling in his ear. There are silent, observing times.
It’s crucial to me to explain why whenever I bark at him to stop right now! It’s just as important for me to explain unfairness, when other parents give their children heaps of praise or toys that my son cannot have due to money, or the silliness of praising him for tying his shoes. He needs congratulations for thinking outside the box, constructing unique LEGO things, sharing with his friends when no adult asked him to beforehand. He doesn’t need me shaking pom poms whenever he points out a flower or sees an airplane.
No one can tell you exactly how to raise your children, nor should they. However, my wife and I routinely have conversations about the correct way to raise my son, and the potential impact of some seemingly tiny occurrences. So he started sitting at the back of the kindergarten bus? So what? Does it mean anything?
I helped a lady edit and format a book recently, an author, I guess I ought to call her now. She’s written a book on relationships, and in there is a term called the ‘good-enough’ parent. It may belong to her, and it may not, but it struck a cord. As a parent you have to try your best, and in doing so you will fall short of being the perfect parent. The best you can hope for is to be good enough to turn your new human into a good person, an achiever, someone you can be proud of.
Recalling the past without a dark filter, or without a bright and cheerful, wistful filter, is one very important component of ending up as a ‘good enough’ parent.