Somehow or other I inherited the parent gene. I’m not sure exactly where it came from, but I know it was there lurking in my DNA, ready to be activated as soon as I had a kid to yell at.
The parent gene insures the survival, and eventual improvement of the species. When you see your kid is tottering on the edge of a precipice, you are always on the alert to grab him and pull him back; whether the precipice is the edge of the Grand Canyon or the edge of the coffee table, where he’s about to knock over Daddy’s beer.
When I was young and my father was in full-parent mode, ranting at me because of some minor rules infraction like forgetting to turn out a light, or wipe the mud off my shoes, I vowed I would never act like him if I had children. But after following muddy footprints from vacant room to vacant room while turning off switches (the current record is 28 unused lights/stereos/TVs/ computers in one sweep), my perspective has changed. “I’m not going to tell you again! If you don’t start turning off your lights when you’re not in your room, I’m going to take away your lightbulbs!”
It’s scary to say things like this, because there’s a whole section of my brain that knows these arguments and rants by heart. My dad is suddenly reincarnated and yelling out of my mouth, and I find myself agreeing with everything he says. “I don’t care who started it, keep it up and I’ll finish you both!” Dad yells. “What are you, an ape? What do you think this place is, a zoo?” “Quit bellyaching! Life is not a fairytale where you live happily ever after. Life is full of hardship, and trouble, and suffering, until you turn 65 and your children finally leave home.”
Being a father is an impossible task, which you only begin to understand when you become one. I realize I sometimes send my kids mixed signals, but that’s OK because my primary job is to stay on their case, no matter what they’re doing, or not doing. So if they’re vegging out in front of the TV, of course I’m going to say, “Turn that off and finish your homework.” Then later, when they’re up late writing a term paper on how to save the world from global warming, I have to say, “You’ll never be successful in life if you don’t get enough rest. Turn off the computer and go to bed now.”
Another primary parenting function is to help my spouse survive. She is my rock, my inspiration, and the only one who knows how to get Ravi to take a bath. I’ve therefore worked out three basic rules for the children on how they should treat their mother:
1. Leave her alone, she’s trying to do something important, like make me dinner.
2. Leave her alone, she’s not in a good mood.
3. Leave her alone, she’s in a good mood and I want her to stay that way.
The most surprising thing about becoming a father is discovering how much of your time it takes. When I was younger, I thought being a father was more or less a biological circumstance, and men could take kids or leave them, depending on how rude or inconvenient they became. But now my whole day revolves around my children. Partly this is because, no matter what I’m doing, they feel free to interrupt with important questions that only I can answer like, “Why do dogs pee on fire hydrants?” “Can I invite a friend over?” “Can we get a dog?” “Where does electricity come from?” “My feet hurt, when are you going to take me to buy new shoes?” “Dad, do you know what happens when you pour gasoline mixed with turpentine into the lawnmower? Come out to the garage and I’ll show you!” “You promised we’d go see Scooby Doo, and this is the last week it’s playing!” “Why did Grandma and Grandpa decide to have you?”
I’m not sure what Mom’s reasons were, but she always says that Dad wanted to have another kid so that he’d have someone to go bowling with. After 17 years of parenting I’m beginning to realize that this is as good a reason as any for procreating. Having a kid means you get to play ball, ride bikes, go to the playground, build forts, eat cake and ice cream, make fart noises, watch cartoons, blow bubbles, tell silly jokes, and always have somebody to share it all with. I loved being a kid the first time around, and my second, third and fourth childhood have only gotten better. The world is as goofy and fun as it ever was, but now my favorite playmates sleep over every night, plus I’ve got my own credit card.
“Who wants to go with me to the toy store?”