Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pride and Inheritance: Further Reflections on Fatherhood

We're all special, right? We're all unique individuals with something to offer the world that no one else can offer. At least, that's what everyone in my generation and those following have been told by everyone for their entire lives.

Obviously, most of us realize at some point that we're not that special. Yes, we're unique in that no one is exactly like us, which is great and good and important; but we figure out at some point that we're not special the way we were told we were special.

I think that point is when adulthood begins.

Those nine-year-olds who carry a briefcase and stay at the dinner table talking to the adults when the rest of the kids are off playing - they're not strange, they just figured out reality a bit sooner than their peers. I have a lot of respect for those kids.

Of course there is another side to the equation. Those nine-year-olds who stay at the table talking with the adults because they think what makes them special is how much smarter and more mature they are than other kids.

This kid was me.

I wasn't like a super genius. I didn't learn to read before any of the other kids in school. I can't do complex math in my head and I don't have a photographic memory. I was, however, pretty good at a lot of things. Looking back now, I realize this was mostly because I don't forget much. Like I said, I don't have a photographic memory with perfect, instant recall, but, for the most part, the facts that do wedge themselves into my brain stay there for a long time - and I'm pretty good at recalling them quickly when need be.

This skill helped me do well in things, but it wasn't anything special. I'm an above-average intellect with a talent for remembering random facts (but no talent for remembering when to take out the trash or what to get at the grocery store).

For the longest time, I clung to the notion that there was something about me truly special. I had something so unique that I would one-day find that one thing in life I was better at than anyone else. I didn't and still don't have great self-esteem, but so long as I could prove myself in trivial pursuit or finishing the math test first, it helped to feed the delusion.

I spent a lot of my life calculating. Calculating what would be a reasonable challenge and what would be a miserable failure. I was very competitive (for those of you who only know me as an adult, this is nothing). I took pride in being the best at those few things in which I was the best and I avoided doing anything else at all. I still have a hard time doing something just because it's fun.

However, I've discovered something since having a child. I'm really, definitely way too excited about seeing what she can do. After all this time attempting to negate the notion that anyone else could be as smart or as talented as me, I'm really, really hopeful that my daughter can do the same things - or maybe more and better.

She's got one of those shape toys, where you fit the plastic shapes into corresponding holes. It teaches problem solving and manual dexterity, matching, etc. Eva is 14 months old. She can, like 70% of the time, identify a circle, square or triangle - and also identify the corresponding hole in the toy. She even manages, maybe 30% of the time, to actually get them in. She's probably doing pretty well for her age.

I can't tell you how much I want her to be better at it. I know there are some parental-pressure issues that can easily arise here, and I know I'll likely struggle with them as any parent does. More than that, I'm just hoping beyond hope to have a kid I can relate to. I'm not sure I'd wish my faults and foibles on another human being, but at the same time, I can't imagine how great it would be to live in the same house with someone who understands me.

I have developed some good friends over the years, friends who get who I am and value me in all my unsualness. Most of them don't understand me. My wife sure doesn't. I can think of maybe two or three people in my entire life I felt I could really relate to completely. I'm used to being an odd duck.

I don't really want an odd-duck for a daughter. Of course, I am going to get one. Whether she's odd like me or odd in some other way, she's going to be different. One of the biggest traumas we inflict on each other is our continued presumption that there is such a thing as "normal." I knew early on that whatever normal was, I was never going to be it, which brings with it it's own set of challenges. However, I've spent my whole life watching people who had a fighter's chance of being normal try to do just that. It seems painful.

It would be selfish to wish my daughter were just like me. It would be equally selfish to wish she were normal, whatever that is. It would be borderline abusive to push her in either direction.

At the same time, I fight the drive within me to find my one world-beating talent. Even though I recognize that the quest is futile, it's still there within me. Having a child brings hope that maybe, even if I can't figure it out, the next generation can continue the quest.

It's about pride. I struggle to find things in myself about which I can be proud. I have a hard time seeing and defining myself as important apart from the things I can do. Maybe my desire for another someone like me is an attempt to reassure myself that who I am is acceptable? I really mourn the difficulty I have in doing something that makes me look foolish (even if it's only foolish in my own eyes). I certainly don't want to pass that on to my daughter.

It's also a vicious cycle. If you're not proud, you seek out those things you can be proud of. When/if you find them, you have reason to be proud. Pride doesn't help us. Those times I've really felt accomplished haven't been because I did something great, but because I did something that felt true to myself.

I don't know how to pass on the good and hold back the bad. I'm not even sure I know enough to say all of what's good or bad to pass on. I do know that having a daughter has changed me. I spend much more time thinking outside of myself than I ever have before. I know, deep down, that's a good thing.

I'm going to love her and tell her she's special - not because of what she knows or does or says - just because she is.

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