Even to this day, with kids, a wife and a home of my own, every single phone call with my father ends with the same parting words: “Be careful driving.”
I could call my dad today and tell him I’ve decided to move to a tree house in the forest, where I’ll live off the land and avoid using anything that runs on an engine and the old man would still utter that last line before hanging up.
Apparently nothing causes my dad more worry than his two sons using automobiles. I drive a hybrid sedan barely capable of exceeding 80 mph and haven’t had a traffic accident in more than a decade, but that doesn’t change anything for him.
With my own 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, I’ve prided myself on trying to be a laid-back father. I’m not aiming to be their best friend and I do my best to offer emotional support, but I also want to establish a level of trust and have them feel like I’m not just sitting around worrying about them. Even if I am.
The concerns started almost immediately. It was Christmas Eve 2013 and my son, Jackson, was just two days old when my wife was discharged from the hospital and we began our life as parents without nurses available at the click of the button. I can still recall sitting on my couch, the only light in the room trickling in from the kitchen, when I looked down at my boy and thought, “What am I supposed to do now?”
Most of my worries in those first few months came from my complete lack of experience and knowledge about being a dad. Had I missed the day in home economics when they taught you everything you needed to know about raising a child — or at least the basics, like changing a diaper and burping them? Was there a swaddling degree I could have pursued in college?
Over time the worries became less about what I was doing and more about what might be ailing him. When he couldn’t yet speak, my wife Vera and I would stress over not knowing the reason he was crying. Should we take him to the doctor? Since Jackson was a bit on the fussy side, the concerns were present nearly every day.
Then when he started “using his words,” as my mom likes to say, I’d wonder if he even knew what he was talking about. Is he saying his throat is sore because it really is or because he heard me say the same thing?
Nowadays most of my worries come from simply wanting my kids to be happy and enjoy life.
In the middle of writing this column, my wife stepped into my office to tell me my son’s preschool teacher called about his behavior. He was blowing raspberries in her face and hitting some of the staff. Often, he tells us he wasn’t a “good listener” at school.
Worried about his antics, we brought him to his pediatrician some months back to talk about our concerns. Does he have developmental issues? Is he an unhappy child?
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” the doctor said. “This looks to me like a perfectly healthy boy.”
Essentially, the doctor’s message to us was that 3-year-old boys are a little tricky and we shouldn’t worry too much. Kids his age kick and scream and yell and cry at the strangest of times. We need to do our best to correct their wrongs and be patient when we’re powerless to stop them. In other words, while advising us to continue to keep a watchful eye on his behavior, he conveyed that we were probably worrying a little too much. (Side note: You might have noticed I’ve focused this column more on my son. That’s because my daughter is a perfect angel and I don’t plan to express any concerns about her until she reaches puberty, at which time I’ll transfer all responsibilities to my wife. Besides, she’s a second child; we’ve let our guard down a bit.)
I know that as Jackson gets a little older, the worries I have about him will probably shift to his grades, the company he’s keeping and his prospects for the future — assuming we have the potty training under control by then. The odds are he won’t be blowing raspberries in his teachers’ faces and his tantrums will be few and far between.
But I suppose we also never give up on worrying about our kids. I’m sure even the experienced parents reading this column, those whose kids are fully grown, still find themselves concerned about the well-being of their sons and daughters.
I guess there isn’t much we can do about that. For as long as we’re parents we’re going to worry and there isn’t much we can do to stop it. We just have to do the best we can.
Our kids just keep moving forward while we hope for the best and try to do our part to offer support along the way. In other words, they keep driving full speed ahead and all we can do is tell them to be careful driving.
The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected]