Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dad: Back to the Future

Picture this: It’s October 26, 1985 and you and your buddy are hanging out after hours in a mall parking lot. He says he brought something to show you, something he’s been working on, and before you can say, “I already told you I don’t want to see your one-man Broadway show about Aquaman,” he whips out a remote control and pilots a silver DeLorean into the empty parking lot. He says it’s a time machine, you call BS and then your jaw hits the ground as he sends his dog Einstein to the future and back before you can finish saying, “DOC WTF HOLY SH—”.

Then, just as you’re about to take the Time Machine DeLorean for a spin, a crazed gang of Libyans shows up, guns down Doc and then points their AK-47’s in your direction claiming you’re the one that stole their plutonium. You don’t even know the periodic symbol for plutonium, but as we all know, Libyan terrorists are notoriously ornery so you get your ass in the DeLorean and gun the accelerator. The next thing you know, blue sparks are flying at the windshield and you just crashed into a pine tree that wasn’t there two seconds earlier. Also, it’s now 1955 because, oh yeah, time machine, right.

How did Marty get hooked up with this guy in the first place?

“What just happened?” you may ask. “Just a second ago I was a hip semi-adult wearing a sweet jacket that looked like a life vest. I could make out with my hot girlfriend whenever I wanted, and the biggest problem in my life was that damn cue-ball principal who liked to bust me for showing up late to class. Now I have no idea where I am or what I’m doing and I just want to get back to 1985 so I can listen to the rockin' tunes of Huey Lewis and play Nintendo.”

It runs on garbage and plutonium? Sure, sounds safe.

And so, the first 30 minutes of one of the greatest movies of our generation becomes the closest parallel I can find to being a new parent. No, my wife is not a wide-eyed, white-haired hermit mad scientist, and no, I haven’t had to outrun any Libyans (yet), and no, the scene of the crime didn’t take place in a parking lot (we are both tall and find that the backseat of most cars doesn’t provide enough leg room for that). But there comes a time during the first few months of parenthood when you’re so tired that you can’t see straight, so frustrated by your own insecurities and lapses in confidence, and just so overwhelmed by the goo-gooing, drooling, laughing, crying, teething, smiling life change that’s currently NOT napping when she is CLEARLY SUPPOSED TO BE NAPPING, that you take a step back and say, “What in the hell just happened?”

People tell you that a baby will change your life. Most parents-to-be just nod their head and say, “Oh yeah, I know,” but they never really know because it’s not something you can really fully explain. Yes, you can expect to lose some sleep. Yes, the baby will cry, sometimes in public, and it’s going to be up to you to calm her down. Yes, you will get poop and spit-up all over you, often at the worst times and in places where you don’t even know until you walk into work one day and your co-worker asks you what all that dried yellow crap on your shoulder is (that time it was spit-up, not poop, but I now check myself every day before I walk out the door).

Like Marty McFly discovered that crazy October day, things can get away from you in a hurry. Your free time slowly disappears until you don’t even notice that every free minute you have outside of work is devoted to playing with the baby, making bottles, washing bottles, working on that massive list of house work (that never seems to end and which you can never seem to make a dent in), mowing the yard, entertaining visitors who want to see the baby, shopping for the baby, and, when possible, deciding whether to stay up just a little bit later to hang out with your spouse for a few more minutes or to just go flop in the bed so you can get enough rest to be the slightest bit aware of your surroundings at work the next day. In short, things are a lot different now than they were 6+ months ago when Mary Jane and I still had time to unwind on the couch after work.

Also, bear with me here; this all sounds negative, but I’m slowly getting to a point. Please, don't stop reading here and make your boyfriend/husband get a vasectomy.

Marty McFly soon finds out that everything he does in 1955 has some sort of effect on his life back in 1985. Some are insignificant – that pine tree he hit? The name of the mall changes from “Twin Pines Mall” to “Lone Pine Mall” when he gets back to the present. Some are way more significant – Marty saves an 18-year-old version of his father from being hit by a car, setting off a chain of (hilarious) events that includes several narrowly-averted makeout sessions with an 18-year-old version of his mother and nearly ends with Marty totally screwing over the space-time continuum while also butchering the guitar riff to “Earth Angel” in front of a rowdy crowd of high-schoolers at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. It turns out that Marty’s got a lot of responsibility to make things right, and not just for himself. 

Best sock hop ever.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility.  I’m of the firm belief that babies come into the world with a blank slate. It’s your job as a parent to mold them. Yes, there are other factors that shape people into who they become (who they hang out with, what they read, role models they follow, etc.), but ultimately who your kid becomes – for better or worse – is a reflection on you as a parent. Everything you do for your kid, especially within the first few years of her life, can have unforeseeable consequences on how she turns out. Should we breastfeed or formula feed? Do we rush up to comfort her when she’s crying in her crib, or do we give her a few minutes to figure it out? Is she in the right daycare? Should one of us just quit our job and stay at home with her instead? These questions come and go daily, and depending on what you read and who you ask, the answers aren’t easy to come by. It’s a lot of pressure, and six months into the job, I don’t think there’s any way you can truly prepare yourself for it.

But something occurred to me shortly before Susan was born when I felt bogged down by the sheer volume of information that’s available to first-time parents. One day when I was feeling scared shitless of the responsibility that was about to fall into my lap and fighting to get a grasp on the conflicting advice from books, friends and my own parents, it occurred to me that being a parent was pretty simple if you boiled it down a few things: show your baby that you love her and be confident in your abilities. Parental instincts are a powerful thing, and you can learn the rest of the stuff along the way. Sure, you should seek advice from other parents, friends and relatives, but take it all with a grain of salt and know that the final decision on whatever issue you’re wrestling comes down to you and your spouse, and nobody else. Of course, the publishers of What to Expect wouldn’t make a lot of money if that’s all the advice they gave (although they’d save a ton on printing costs), so they’re going to keep packaging several hundred pages of baby advice as long as people keep buying it.

So if I had access to Doc Brown’s DeLorean, I wouldn’t go back to that wild and crazy vacation in Topsail that produced the baby who’s currently asleep upstairs (like she’s supposed to be) and warn our younger, naïve selves of what they were getting into. No way in hell would I do that and deprive them of the joy Susan has brought into our lives. Instead, I’d go 25 years into the future to see what kind of person Susan turned out to be and how good (hopefully good) of a job parenting MJ and I did.

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads...we need diapers.

No comments:

Post a Comment