How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Living Man Declared Dead

Posted by on November 13th, 2012, under NOTEBOOK

Lately, I’ve been trying to find humor in a world on the brink seriousness overload. So, I’m (re-)reading a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. I guess I’m busy trying to bury my head up to my neck like an ostrich, in books.

They don’t actually do this. At all.

You know you can trust someone who says, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” Vonnegut is an author after my own heart. Books are a great place to hide and my son wants to join me in the literary cave now. All the time.

I’ve been metamorphosing into a grumpier person though. Some things are working out for me, others still seem like flaming wreckage. Ultimately, my fixed concept of adulthood has started playing tricks on me. Shouldn’t I be happier with my life more often? Shouldn’t I be further along by now? It’s a recurring question. I’ve come to the conclusion that my happiness is being held hostage. Or maybe I’m some version of the walking dead. Both?

Happiness, obviously, can be broken down into two buckets: fleeting, as in the feeling of sunshine on your face or small victories. And a chronic variety, the general sense of contentedness about the big picture. So, it seems happiness is both a constant, and variable thing.

I’ll have what he’s having.

November hinges on the platitudes of giving thanks and being grateful. Most think happiness and thankfulness are kissing cousins. I’m very thankful for what I have, who I have in my life, but someone needs to be fired in the happiness department of my humanity.

I see my son’s imagination growing in ways I could not have anticipated. I truly believe his pretending will help with his satisfaction in life, indirectly. I don’t believe the experts who look at childhood “pretending” as delusory. I learned to respect my mind, and it respects me. Sort of.

Finn reminds me of myself, so very much. An emotional, sensitive, perceptive storyteller. But I also grant him the space to be who he is. He hasn’t had the same traumas and strokes of bad luck. He isn’t riddled with night terrors or separation anxiety like I was. For all intents, he is shaping up to be quite an outgoing and fun-loving introvert. He’s emotionally ambidextrous.

Sometimes, moments of happiness are captured. By ninjas with cameras.

But the next few years are crucial.

I need to decide whether I should focus my energies on regaining the simplicities that comprised my happiness, and by the way, I didn’t tell this, but there is a drinking game with this post: every time I say the word “happiness” you need to take a shot of something strong. Maybe my “happiness” will give you happiness for happiness’ sake. Happiness happening yet?

Hopefully, you don’t have alcohol poisoning from that last paragraph, but nevertheless… we press on. As we lose sight of the grander scheme of things, we seem to lose track of the smaller things. Or vice versa? Who’s to know?

I want Finn to know he can be happy. I just want to lead by example.

Thanks to Mike Adamick for stoking my imagination again about the debate between magic and realism.

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13 Comments

13 Responses to “Living Man Declared Dead”

  1. I think this state of mind could be considered a byproduct of parenting a toddler. My husband has recently been burying his head in books as well, from Hunter S. Thompson to John Grisham. And he’s been a bit cranky, about the world. Toddlerhood is such an intense time, for them and for us. They are learning, hey I have CONTROL over this! On the flipside they are also learning, hey I have NO control over this!!??!! I think the rawness of that learning causes us to feel a whole lot of stuff we haven’t felt in a long time (well, since we were toddlers ourselves).

  2. Megan says:

    You spend all these years growing up and mturing, and children come to remind you of how it should be.
    I have a 3 year old and it can be very stressful at times. But if I let go of everything else and just be at his level the world makes so much more sense. SoI try to live more sinply- not in owning objects but in thoughts.

  3. hunmom says:

    My daughter has severe autism, so she will stay a toddler till the rest of her life. But I always dreamed about a private library! So: a dream come true :-D

  4. Jenelle W. says:

    I think Vacationland Mom might be on to something…I went through a similar unhappy period when my son was 2 through about 3-1/2. It was rough dude. My escape was books but the more books I read, the more I withdrew. I finally made myself read parenting books instead (trying to find a balance) and eventually found perspective in The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman (It might have been the book – which is fantastic IMO, but more likely just timing because I read several good books and several bad). Truth of the matter is, nothing really changed in my life (you might even say it took a turn downwards) but I feel better now that my son is 4 and fully out of the toddler stage. Eventually we all miss the stages they’ve left behind. Eventually sure seems a long way away sometimes though!

  5. WeirdFish says:

    While this book was a reading assignment for my organizational behavior class, the subject matter is applicable to all aspects of life. It’s called “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.

    The first tenet of the book is that we as a society have it wrong. We do not achieve happiness by achieving success. Success FOLLOWS happiness.

    While positive psychology is slightly more complex than just sitting on the front porch, grinning like an idiot, the key concept is not to bemoan’s ones fate or long unrealistically for a past era, but to celebrate the moments we DO have.

    Yep, we’re all getting older and as I sit here on the precipice of 40 myself, social stereotypes would have me essentially preparing to die. And in reality, if I gave in to that, to determining that I cannot be happy unless I achieve “something” (job promotion, $xx,xxx in my checking account, eliminating debts, paying off the car, etc.), then I am consigning myself to that slow death.

    Because measuring (or “deserving”) happiness based on an achievement is a losing battle; it’s a moving goal post. Likewise, giving up on ever being happy again because we’re now adults and yearn for the perceived simplicities of childhood is also a losing battle. We’re not there anymore than we are in the future.

    All we have is the now. So let’s make the best of it.

    Rather than “regaining the simplicities” that made you happy before, simplify what is. Break it down into its elemental components: everything can be a small victory.

  6. Jess says:

    Now is that season. The season where, because of the expectation of gratefulness and thankfulness that the weight of November carries, we are somewhat forced to determine the variables and the constants of our happiness. It gets tougher before it gets any easier, we all know that. They hammer that little gem into our molding minds before we are even remotely aware of what can/could/should dictate our happiness. And then, THEN, when we become parents, our desire to maintain the happiness increases exponentially because of the obvious need to show the miniature versions of ourselves that “You are the maker and taker of your happiness…until you’re not.”

    Sticky, sticky stuff but nose to the grind and chins up high and all that crap. ;)

  7. neal says:

    When things hit their darkest, there’s often nothing left to do except read Vonnegut. The perfect intersection of anguish and hilarity. But since my toddler can’t read yet, and my wife won’t let me read Slaughterhouse-Five to her, we’re stuck with cheerful affirmations bestowed by Curious George, The Little Mermaid, and Dora the Explorer. Maybe it’ll rub off on me.

  8. Without a lot of imagination the world would be to hard to deal with!

  9. Hernandez says:

    I’ve never commented on your blogs, but I read every one. I’m not a father but I hope to be someday, I’m getting married to the woman I’ve spent the last 5 years getting to know and I pray that I have the courage to be a good father. Your blogs give me hope that there are good fathers out there still, that not every son is raised with nothing but beatings and stern looks.

  10. Heather B says:

    Interesting stuff. I struggled with some postpartum emotions after having my son, who is now 2 1/2. I’m not always sure I’m over it, but I have recognized that I struggle with the North American pace of life and how everything (parenting included) seems to turn into a competition. It’s exhausting. Blech.

    What I’ve found helps (in my case) is slowing down and simplifying. For some reason, even though I thought I learned this lesson already, I had to relearn that what works for someone else doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

    What works for us is skipping all the toddler classes/events, trying not to over-schedule our social calendar (easier said than done), trying to go to bed at a decent hour (ha ha), learning to let go and making room for spontaneity.

    WeirdFish’s comment about “The Happiness Advantage” really resonated; “The first tenet of the book is that we as a society have it wrong. We do not achieve happiness by achieving success. Success FOLLOWS happiness.” Interesting philosophy. Getting back to the basics and letting the rest happen. I like it.

    I hope you find your way, Charlie.

  11. Sensitive, perceptive people always over think happiness. It is our way.
    And you’ll find yours. Sensitive, perceptive people always do. :)

  12. Jessie says:

    It is a little strange and thought provoking to read this post. In China , I was a hardworking mother who was blessed to have a really successful business online. I made a lot of money but of course this leave very very VERY little time for my 2.5 year old daughter. I was very happy to see my business grow so big but back of my mind, I knew if I do not spend time with my daughter , I will always always regret it.

    So we moved back to France ( my husband is a French) and I take care of my LO full time. It took awhile to bond with her as I am not use to taking care of her ( she had a nanny ). And I find myself buying and wanting to read a lot of books suddenly. I have this fear of not being able to answer her questions about the world , not that I fear I will look ignorant but I just have this funny notion that MOM SHOULD KNOW ALL.

    I do feel very mellow these days, I am not in a rush, days fused into one another . With no deadlines, no rush, no competition. Physically I feel better but mentally I feel under stimulated . But I know my daughter needs a calm mother who has all the time in the world for her and to explain things to her, at least in the next few years. So I am shelving all my other potential business plans for now, just trying to be.

  13. Olga says:

    I have a three year old son too. I am pretty sure I would be a much better mom if I dropped everything just to play with him. He struggles to get my attention when I work, cook, do laundry or clean the house and you can tell how happy he gets when he finally gets his way! I’m happier too…I wish there was someone to do all these things for me to keep him happy all the time. Oh God, ever since I gave birth, guilt just spreads all over my existence!

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