Dad Problems

When I was young, my dad once burst into my sister’s room with a hysterical shriek, declaring, without any evidence whatsoever, that she was using a disproportionate amount of toilet paper and was going to have to find a way to cut down, or face serious consequences.   

It’s unknown how exactly he’d come to this oddly specific conclusion, but once my sister had come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t a fever dream, but a situation occurring in reality, she practically burst a blood vessel telling him to get the fuck out, like any sane human would.

And now, I find myself yelling at my son about the exact same thing. But it’s a little different – he’s four, still mastering the intricacies of bathroom hygiene, and using at least half a roll per poop. Sometimes, he just bundles it all up and mixes it with water, for no reason, creating a thick, impenetrable paste that perfectly blocks the sink.    

See what I’ve become? I am my father, fixated on bathroom utilities, seriously considering the prospect of toilet paper rationing. I spend my days wandering from one household disaster to another, always slightly out of my element, armed with duct tape and a wobbly Ikea screwdriver.

I give people detailed descriptions of the cruel things my children do to me on a daily basis, while they try their best to look as though they give a flying fuck. I just want to go back to worrying about non-dad problems, problems that other people actually want to hear about.

But fatherhood is tough, man. You have this incessant build-up of first-world problems, combined with scary responsible adult ones, and then you get like 3 hours sleep to process it all, until the toddler pays a visit to your bed so he can jump on your head for a bit.  

So, you start to crack. You reach the fractured psychological state that leads to dad jokes. You find yourself muttering Cat in the Hat rhymes under your breath while walking down the street, eliciting sympathetic looks from strangers, and saying, “oh sugar,” unironically, when you drop something on the floor.   

It’s a strange existence, to be sure. And annoyingly, when I complain to my wife, she unloads all of her problems, which involve considerably more stress, considerably less sleep, and to top it off, an insane amount of guilt.

That’s the really crazy thing about motherhood; most of them work their asses off, every hour of every day, and don’t sleep, ever. Somebody always needs them for love, comfort, or sandwiches. And when they finally get, like, half an hour to chill on their phone, they instantly search for a mommy article that chastises them for doing a terrible job, and then they believe it.

They become convinced that they’ve permanently destroyed their kid’s confidence because they don’t brush their hair enough, or give them back massages before bed, or teach them the alphabet before 2, or after 2. Some articles even state, with alarming confidence, that you’re damaging your children’s ability to learn by teaching them to read before the age of seven.

The average mother dips into this swirling cesspit of wildly conflicting opinions, and absorbs the ones that make her feel the shittiest, because there’s always the chance that the 17-year-old intern who wrote it knows more about parenthood than they do, because of that childcare course they took in college.

But when you’re a dad, you don’t feel much guilt. You feel satisfied by just existing. And the world validates you for simply being present, for not running away. I high-fived my kids goodbye the other day and some woman actually chased me down the street, out of breath, to tell me that I’m a great dad. What does she know? I might have beat them within an inch of their lives the same night, all she saw was a damn high-five.

But if my wife looks disheveled, or yells at the kids for being whiny little shits, every other woman in the room will notice, and they shame her with their eyes. It’s pretty intense. But I give my son a kiss on the forehead, and I practically get a standing ovation.

As an added bonus, I never read dumb parenting articles (just write them), so I don’t really feel guilty for giving my kids the wrong kind of eye contact, or whatever. So I guess fatherhood isn’t all that bad.  

But the issue I’m highlighting is an inescapable part of modern-day parenting – (mis)information overload. There are moments when you won’t be quite sure which decision will fuck up your child, so you just have to go with your gut, and sometimes, your gut is wrong.

An old woman, mother of five, once gave me great parenting advice in a bar. She told me that I was guaranteed to make mistakes, massive mistakes, so it’s foolish to strive for parental perfection. You simply have to live with whatever you did to mess up, and trust that your kid is more resilient than you think.

Then, she proudly declared that none of her children had any trouble with the police before the age of fifteen, which, apparently, was meant as a testament to her child-rearing skills. I think. But I met her a few of her kids, and they were really cool, lawbreakers or not.

Point is, parenthood is tough, so go easy on the guilt. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who makes a Facebook page for your baby.

Then you should feel bad.

The Parenting Paradox

Kate and I have two small children, which means that our life is kind of awful. Everyday activities like “having breakfast” and “leaving the house” are impossibly Herculean tasks that require an inhuman amount of patience, coordination, and energy. But you’re completely drained of these attributes (if you even had them to begin with), because you were woken up at least three times last night; first by the baby, then the toddler, then the cat, who has decided that 2am should definitely be mealtime, and is willing to shriek like a banshee in labor until someone gets out of bed.

A single child requires a serious change of lifestyle and attitude, as the demanding little creature tweaks the settings to your reality, forcibly twisting the dial all the way up to “hard mode.” But having a second child unlocks a hidden, “expert” mode, one reserved for those androids that do their taxes on time and have savings, while you’re still stuck on the first level, unable to keep a dentist appointment.

It’s a bit like living with two chubby-cheeked, anime-eyed dwarfs, designed by a gifted Disney illustrator, except both are severely mentally ill, and view your attempts to put pants on them, or feed them nutrition, as a serious attempt on their life and are willing to fight to the very last breath to resist. Every single time.

But the unrelenting chaos is, sometimes, broken by a moment of awe-inducing innocence, of practically poetic beauty that would melt the hardest of hearts into a weepy, pathetic puddle. These moments serve as a much-needed-reminder that these difficult days are infinitely precious, in a way that you can’t really comprehend until they’re gone forever.

One such moment happened the other day when I took my eldest on a day trip to the Science Centre, our favorite hangout for educational overstimulation. After enjoying a sugar-fuelled speed-run through the building, we were sitting on the bus home, finally at rest. The eldest asked me for a drink of water, and after a search through my backpack, I realized I’d forgotten to bring it, as I often do with vital supplies.

The eldest shot me a strange look, and rooted through his backpack (which I assumed was full of toys, or rocks, or whatever), pulled out his water bottle, and casually took a drink. He’d actually had the foresight to pack it himself – pretty impressive for a three-year-old, and perhaps, a damning assessment of my organizational skills.

Then he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, on which was scrawled a shapeless cluster of crayon lines, and informed me that it was a letter. Humoring him, I asked what it said. He told me it read: “Dear Daddy, you are my best friend.”

I was floored. It was as though somebody had punched me in the face with sheer love. Every passenger on the bus seemed to momentarily forget the horror of rush hour and soak in the warmth of the moment; the bitter old ladies looked at me with practically orgasmic approval, and the driver’s blood pressure lowered a notch. We stepped off the bus in a blissful haze of wholesomeness, until the eldest informed me that he’d just shat his pants. Obviously, I didn’t pack a spare pair.

This, in a nutshell, is the parenting paradox; it’s both the highest privilege and the heaviest of burdens, the worst experience imaginable, and undoubtedly, the very best years of your life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some ass to wipe.