Being a parent can be a lot of fun. There is nothing quite like the experience of holding your newborn son or daughter for the first time. And then the glorious memories start piling up. If we’re lucky, that is.
Some of us aren’t. The memories for some parents are painful. Perhaps it’s because their child was born with a defective heart. Or succumbed early to a hideous disease or accident. Or was gunned down at school. For them, being a parent was akin to a nightmare without end.
Most of us, however, were lucky. Our kids were healthy. And fate didn’t bring tragedy into their young lives.
Yet it’s still not all good. For most of us, that is. There is pain. And grief. And worry. Endless worry.
Perhaps there are some perfect parents out there who can’t identify with this. I hope so. It would be nice to think parenting is something that can be done sans regrets.
But that’s not been my experience. I don’t think I had the perfect parents, and I certainly don’t think I was the perfect parent. I carry baggage from childhood, as do my own sons. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s become more obvious with age.
I suppose I thought I was better than I apparently was. Which isn’t surprising. Often you’re the last one to spot your own shortcomings. And mistakes.
Knowing that your words and actions ended up hurting your child is a tough nut to swallow. Sometimes, it hurts so much you wish you’d never had children. At least then you wouldn’t have made things worse for others. At least then you wouldn’t have been the cause of someone else’s suffering. I’m not sure there is anything worse than inflicting suffering on another, especially someone you love so much.
When I ponder the things my own parents said or did that hurt me, I know it wasn’t out of malice. They did the best they could do. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. It does, however, help to negate the resentment and bitterness that might otherwise fill the void.
I was fortunate. My parents never abandoned me. Or failed to provide for me. That may seem like I’m setting the bar low. But that’s not the case at all. Alive, safe, fed and loved is no low bar. There are many kids and adults who can attest to that.
Of course, my parents did far more than clear the bar. Similarly, I tried to set the bar high for myself as a parent. But, of course, the higher you set it, the more certain it is that you will fail.
Life is hard. And we’re imperfect. Consequently, each of us collects scars along the way. And, I suppose, many of us parents carry on our backs some guilt. And sense of failure and culpability.
Or perhaps other parents don’t feel this way. Perhaps I’m merely projecting my own shortcomings and guilt.
As a parent, I have shed different types of tears. I tell myself the happy ones made it all worthwhile. I tell myself lots of things. Yet I realize in such matters I am a poor arbiter of truth. Not that it matters. It’s too late for that. It is what it is.
And so we do our best. And carry on, with both our healed and open wounds. With both our pleasant and painful memories, as well as our hopes and dreams for memories yet to be formed. Yet the memories, hopes and dreams do nothing to sooth the soul of one who feels he has let his child down.
I suppose Daniel Egan was right. “My family and I are alive, safe and fed. The rest is luxury.”