It is an incredible thing when parents begin to confide in their children. Previously, I’ve noted how discomfiting it can be to realize parents are as perplexed and improvisational in life as any other human on the face of the earth. Children often grow up believing their moms and dads are infallible and know exactly what they’re doing. Growing up comes with the realization that this perceived grand plan was nothing more than another imaginative creation of youth. I jokingly think that the best parents are the ones who can keep up this act the longest: the longer kids think their parents have life figured out, the better the parents are at parenting. Maybe I’m wholly misinformed; perhaps some parents actually do know what they’re doing when they raise their kids. I’m inclined to think the number of such parents is very low.
Half of me wants to say that parents are simply bullshitting their way through parenthood, but that seems inappropriate. I wonder why. All kidding aside, though, this term would, I feel, have a degree of accuracy to the struggle of a mother or father. However, the term ‘bullshitting’ is too disingenuous in connotation. Bullshitting insinuates apathy at best and disdain at worst toward the task at hand. Parents necessarily care about the job they are doing when raising their kids. I wouldn’t dare refer to someone who has children and cares nothing about them a parent. That kind of person doesn’t deserve to have kids, in my opinion. The problem in parenting isn’t in the desire to raise one’s offspring correctly, it’s in the ability to do so.
It’s easy to see why parents don’t know how to raise kids: they’ve never done it before. Ok, sure. Some parents have raised kids before. I get that sometimes grandparents raise their grandchildren for different reasons, and younger siblings gain from the experience the parents have had in raising their older siblings (which I think in many cases is negligible). There are other extenuating circumstances where parents come into their position with more on-the-job training than most couples. Good for them. Even in those situations, no amount of previous experience or preparation can truly prepare someone for parenting.
Raising a child is not like putting together Ikea furniture. Well, actually, there are a lot of similarities the more I think about it. Both operations can be incredibly frustrating. Both seemingly take forever. Both tasks inevitably require you to spend lots of money and have a vehicle capable of transporting a car full of crap. Past that, parenting is a far more complicated endeavor. Ikea furniture, while unquestionably beguiling, is not sentient. Nor is it constantly changing. Luckily for any prospective furniture assemblers, Ikea’s products are never toddlers or teenagers. The variety of furniture one could purchase and assemble is nothing in comparison to the diversity of each human being. Most importantly, and most seriously, no swedish-designed conglomerate of wood and metal can ever be the target of such great affection as a parent’s love for their child. Finally, Ikea products come with directions. Children do not, much to the chagrin of moms and dads everywhere. That’s why I described parenting as improvisational in the first paragraph. Without blueprints, you have to be quick on your feet and make stuff up as you go along.
Contrasting children with Ikea furniture is one of the more obscure tangents I have taken in a while. Alas, the point remains evident. Parenting is a daunting undertaking to start with, and unlike other jobs parenting doesn’t get easier the longer one has been doing it. In fact, it gets more complicated with each child. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never raised a child before or you’re a seasoned expert at parenting, minivan equipped and all. Whenever a new child is born, all bets are off. It’s impossible to raise two children the exact same way because no two people are exactly the same. Sure, Michael and Betsy Quinn started raising Taylor and Will Quinn before me, but neither of my bothers prepared my dear parents for their youngest boy. Why? Because they had never raised Patrick Bondurant Quinn before. Neither Taylor nor William was born allergic to dairy (and gluten apparently) and had chronic reflux. Neither of my brothers had my exact personality. My friend group was different. My talents and passions were different. My love languages are different. My style is different. My learning styles are different. The way I communicate is different. I could continue listing deviations and complications all night. These differences aren’t simply between me and my brothers. I am completely divergent from every other person who has ever been or will ever be alive. That’s kind of how people work. No one’s the same. Every parent faces this exact challenge with each of their kids.
Let me harp on the improv idea just a moment longer. It’s possible to practice improvisation. Take jazz, for instance. Learning how to raise a child is like a lifelong pursuit in becoming a master of a style of jazz. The problem here is, each child is a different style of jazz. Heck, some kids are completely different genres. Taylor’s Baroque, Will’s alternative rock, and I’m jazz fusion. If our father was Eddie Vedder, Will would be doing alright, but Taylor and I would be out of luck. Why? Because Eddie Vedder is the lead singer of Pearl Jam. I’m not saying Mr. Vedder is no good at classical or jazz. I’m sure with lots of time and effort he could be just as proficient in those genres as he is in his own. That is exactly my point. Every style is learned, and learning takes time. Music and parenting depart here, I fear, because I doubt in the existence of prodigy parents. It’d be absurd to think of anyone as the Mozart or Stevie Wonder of raising kids. Parenting is, quite frankly, infinitely more difficult that producing music. So I’ll put this improv analogy to rest.
Hopefully you understand how strenuous parenting can be. If you’re a parent reading this, you know this far better than I do. I describe how impossibly challenging parenting is so I can establish a backdrop for my main point. Parents themselves are human beings. Ultimately, they have no more insight into how life works or why we’re here or what difference anything makes than any other adult on this planet. Let us not forget that parents are children, too. Of course, that does not excuse parents from their calling to be parents. Whether or not a man or woman is ready to raise a kid, when they have one, they gain that responsibility. But they’re still people with struggles and strengths and desires and scars and quirks and everything else that makes people human. Like all humans, parents need to vent their thoughts and emotions from time to time.
Venting is an intimate thing. I understand gossip is wrong; that’s not what I’m talking about here. When a person is willing to pour out the burdens and stresses of their life in front of me, admitting their shortcomings and fears, celebrating their successes and joys, I know I have earned their trust and respect. This thought might be going out on a limb, but in my opinion, venting is done to someone the “venter,” if you will, sees as either equal to or better than themselves. That’s why venting is done to a mentor or friend, someone who the venter considers to be a person who can offer wisdom, encouragement, and support. To whom do you go when you’re overwhelmed by life, or when your heart is broken, or when you don’t know how to file taxes? I know exactly who I call when shit hits the fan: my parents. Yes, I also seek help from my friends, siblings, pastors, etc., but when I really need help, mom and dad are always my go-to support team.
What got me thinking about all of this was a simple email from my father I opened up an hour or so ago. He was sending me an article (which I still have yet to read, thanks to this digression) about the glory of God, a topic I will most likely write about in the near future. What he wrote in the body of the email nearly brought me to tears, despite it being only one sentence fragment:
“Interesting article as I continue to live with the faith that I believe…or struggle to believe.
Wow. How incredibly blessed am I to have a father so trusting and loving enough to share this with me. You may accuse me of betraying my father’s trust by plastering this on the internet for all the world to see. I’d argue against that accusation; hopefully my father will not be bitter about me posting this. He’s an open guy and would more likely than not talk freely about his faith and accompanying struggles with anyone who might ask him. One might then wonder why, if he is so open, I would be so moved by this message. It’s because I’m his son.
Both my mom and dad have raised me with love from and through dependence on the Lord. Faith has been the foundation of my family. As I have grown, I have always brought my questions regarding faith to my parents, who have tried their best to give me sufficient answers. Far more importantly than answering my questions, they have lived as examples exemplifying what it means to be a Christian. The older I get, the more I realize my parents are just normal people. They’re not the superheroes I made them out to be as a grade schooler. They’re not the antagonists I saw them as when I was in middle school. They’re just average Christians trying to figure all this out. My father, when he wrote that email, admitted his own shortcoming as a human to me, his son. I didn’t ask for advice. I wasn’t seeking sympathy or empathy. He reached out to me. This is a venting, of sorts.
Now, I might just be reading too far into this, as I often do with a lot of things. I’m certain my father didn’t mean to instigate any of this when he composed this short letter, nor was he conscious of the significance his message holds to me. Even so, let me take this liberty to spell out my thoughts. My dad just acknowledged me as a man. By sending this email with that message, his intention was to share an article he found interesting and challenging to another human who would be equally interested and challenged by its contents. It’s not given as advice from father to son. It’s sent from one man to another in love, trust, and faith. Notice: he does not forsake his position as father. He still signs the email “Dad,” not Mike. I’m still just as much his son as ever. The change is more like the development from student to coworker, if I can use an analogy. My father is and always will be my superior, but something has been leveled. In some small, difficult-to-describe way, I have been promoted.
In a previous work, I wrote how the transition from childhood to adulthood is blurry. This entry is littered with similar ideas. Abandoning that just for now, I’d like to say the following: if there ever was a time I had to point to as the moment I became a man, I’d say it was at 11:07 this morning thanks to a short email. I love you, Dad. I love you too, Mom.