Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Maybe the Wisdom of Others....

I'm not sure whether or not it was intended as a foreboding sign or as an opportunity for diversion, but my brother-in-law and his wife recently gave me a copy of Neal Pollock's Alternadad. Of course they know what awaits me. They have recently added a second child to their household, and they are fully acquainted with the nature of the perils that parenthood introduces to the expectant family unit. But their gesture makes me wonder if they foresee major adjustment problems in my future. Why do I rate this special attention? Has my lifestyle really appeared that inconsistent with fatherhood? Or is my extended family simply acknowledging my long-held rejection of conventionality? If so, I believe that perception is a wee bit exaggerated. After all... I have a car, a house, a 'career' and a wife. I feel that these assets give me a leg up as I enter this new phase in my life. Is it just my expectations that need to be re-assessed?

The cover of Alternadad features a typical-looking yellow 'rubber ducky', with a beak-piercing. Along with the title, the presentation screams- "I'm still punk!!" Obviously there are fathers out there who wonder whether they will be able to retain their aesthetic identification after their child arrives. I can dig that. I've been pretty upfront about my hope to continue my participation in the arts, despite the tumult that I'm led to believe accompanies parenthood. Why would I relate to this Neal Pollock character? I've never been punk. Indie... well, sure... but I'm not even a Sex Pistols fan. But the truth is (from what I've read so far), I can understand how Pollock's memoir about the lead-up and follow-through of his child's birth can have a wider appeal.

For people who have lived their entire lives bucking the mainstream, the idea of child-rearing can be distressing. While it's always a challenge to forge one's own path through life without falling in step with the majority, the stakes aren't nearly as high when one's decisions only affect oneself. Adding a mate to the picture contributes an element of stress, as it is often a good idea under such circumstances to be willing to accept compromise. That's why it's so important to get to know your spouse before you marry him/her. Often, if the separate identities of the couple are complementary, then each partner can comfortably retain his/her individuality without too much difficulty. But when a child comes along, it's a whole different story.

I've always been the kind of person that needs to learn the value of things for myself. I've resisted relying on the judgment of others. By putting myself through many experiences that conventional wisdom warns us against, I have expanded my understanding of life and formed convictions borne of direct knowledge. I was rarely so foolhardy not to consider the possible negative consequences beforehand. I tried to make a point of preparing myself to deal with whatever results my actions helped cause. The weight of personal responsibility was formidable, but I could always justify my decisions by telling myself that they ultimately affected me first and foremost. This left me feeling fine about assuming my idiosyncratic approach toward life.

Quite obviously the rules are going to change for me, and soon. The paths I take and the discriminations I form are going to carry stakes not just for myself (and my wife) but for a completely dependent human being as well. I'd like to think that my current philosophies and beliefs are compatible with being someone's 'Dad'. But I'm going to have to temper the spirit of experimentation with which I've lived for these last 30-odd years. The sphere of consequence for my actions is going to widen to a creature that I will be wholly invested in. Eventually this little being will evolve into an equal stakeholder in society. I'd like to think that my (and my wife's) values will prove to be useful tools for whenever our child enters his own state of independence. Likely the trick will be avoiding the shortcuts that will only make parenting easier in the short-run.

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