My nightmare to a small enlightenment:
It’s not always easy explaining my rationale or state of mind as a father. I come from a complex background. For one, my father did not have a father. Well, genetically he did (even though the thought of my dad being a super test tube baby does kind of make sense). His father left his family when he was about ten years old. My mother’s side of the family is complete. My father stopped talking to his mother just about the time he married my mom. The only way someone would leave my mother’s side of the family is if they reached their expiration date.
As I grew up, my family moved all over the country. Work for my dad was tough in the early ’90s. At times, he would seem to be out of work for half a year. Not an easy industry, this construction business, especially during the housing market crash of those days. My father, having been un-fathered himself, was determined to be the best dad he could manage to be having not had an example. He was finding his way without a light in the cavern of parenthood. What made this a bit more interesting is the fact that he is extremely strong-willed and stubborn. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my brother listening to my father lecture us for about two hours at a time for just about any infraction. And he didn’t just drone on. He would regularly check in and ask us to either repeat what he had just said or explain its meaning and significance. This was his way of fathering. To make sure we understood the actual point of what we did wrong and what we needed to learn.
The worst – as we thought at the time – was watching any drama, war or action movie with him. I hated the fact that they invented the remote control for VCRs. We would watch the movie, and just as the plot was getting to a moment of crisis, he would suddenly pause and say something like, “You know why he is going to die? Because he’s an idiot and let the bad guy walk away because he felt bad for him. He got his friends killed” (Saving Private Ryan) or “You know why that guy got beaten to death? Because he didn’t realize where he was. He wasn’t smart enough” (Shawshank Redemption).
As intense as my father is, he was and is a loving father. I admire my dad. A lot. I also argue with my dad. A lot. He created a strong willed and stubborn little non-bastard (me).
When Some Boy was born, I thought to myself, “Great! I have a son. That makes me a dad. I’m not sure how this makes me feel.” I tried to ponder how my dad felt when I was born. As far as our day to day goes, the regular outsider would describe us as stoic. I loved the idea of being a father and I really liked my son. It was kind of like getting a big screen, PlayStation, new tools, cool boots and riding in an airplane all at once. But something was missing.
One day, I was sitting on my couch playing with Some Boy and found he would make a really cute face when I lightly blew in his face. He would purse his lips, close his eyes and hold his breath. I thought it was cute. Then I realized he was holding his breath and didn’t know what to do. The wind made him uncomfortable and bothered him. He had no control. I felt terrible. It was right at this instant – a week and a half into his life – that I fell in love with my son. My role became more clear. He needed me. I realized if I were to just set him down and walk away, he would be right where I set him two days later…all alone. Being a father started to mean more to me than just producing a kid.
I also found my growth as a father grows with time. From time to time, I’ll have small epiphanies. Last night for example, I had a nightmare. One of the first I had in a long time. It taught me something.
Chelsea, Some Boy, a friend and I drove out into the forest to explore a campsite. We were in a seemingly safe place, so I let Some Boy walk around on his own. He was about 40 yards away from me, as I was looking at some trees, when I heard a loud rustling in a small meadow just 20 yards further than Some Boy. Then, out of the tall grass jumped a full grown, male Bengal tiger. Its orange fur shone like fire against the green landscape. It was playing with something, without knowledge of our presence. Then, Some Boy called out to me. The tiger looked in our direction and suddenly its cat-like play turned to a terrible and unmistakable focus. I could only watch as it lowered its body, widened its eyes and slowed its breathing. It was focused on Some Boy. In my dream, I had a small pistol (as dreams go) suddenly in my hand. No sooner than I had become aware of it, the tiger pounced. It closed the 20 yard distance in no more than three powerful bounds.
Some Boy was wearing the blue hoodie I like to dress him in. The tiger’s giant mouth closed around his torso, as he knew he didn’t even need to attempt to use his paws. Some Boy wouldn’t even be a full meal. The thought of it running off and consuming my son filled me with a fear that hurt me physically even after I woke. Some Boy wasn’t even aware of what was happening to him. He didn’t have time to react or even cry out. This made no sense to him.
I was awake. I knew now it was just a dream…but I was still troubled.
There are a lot of studies based on reading the meaning of a dream. I’ve heard a few different approaches to deciphering them. What kept me on edge and ate at my dad mind was what I came up with (without really even trying).
The forest represented the world. There we were, in my dream, finding our place in it. Exploring and experiencing parts of it. As Some Boy ventured out on his own – as all children must do at some point – he walked out away from us. From a distance, I could see the indifferent threat. The world’s hostility and danger. The tiger represented the natural dangers and deliberate predators in the world I could not always be by Some Boy’s side to protect him from. At some point, they might come for him. Pounce on his innocence. I knew, as his father, it was my responsibility to prepare him for the Tiger. To make him smarter, wiser, and more aware. Perhaps even stronger and more dangerous. If I didn’t, I would only have a small pistol…which to me meant a distant attempt to stop something far too big for its purpose. The tiger (world), if Some Boy was unprepared, would not only hurt him, but possibly consume him.
Looking back on my father raising my brother and I, I am very impressed by what he taught us about life and the world, having never had his own father. My dad became stronger than the tiger…all alone. To survive. Yes, this may have made my father quite dangerous or fierce at times, but with a little help from my mother, he made two strong tiger-hunters of his own.
So to my dad I say thank you, and may I instill upon my boys that same awareness and preparedness you gave to me.
But – as you told me when I was young – even better than their father.