Fatherhood, at this early stage, means assembling things. We dads and dads-to-be are expected to know how to give birth to multi-part furniture, safely secure infant car seats in cars, and provide a calm atmosphere for women about to go into labor at any moment. Back in the day we were expected to make mix tapes for labor, and also remember to bring the cassette recorder to the hospital, but thankfully Steve Jobs – the da Vinci of our time – invented the playlist.
The other day I was staring down a changing table that came in 97 parts, with instructions in both French and English. I assembled it in English, which took three hours. Assembling it in French would have taken at least four. As I inserted part A into part B and secured assembly C into base D, I inserted a few thoughts of my own about what fathers are supposed to know.
We are supposed to know how to fix things and make things. We teach our children how to ride bikes, catch a ball, and run fast. Now, of course, there are lots of single parents and same sex-parents who must blur the job descriptions. But the archetypes are there: Dad teaches you how to be in the world. We dads show our children how to get a job and make money. We teach you about work and loyalty and camaraderie. Mom teaches you about love and family. She shows you the value of relationships, of listening to your body, of finding connection with mystical things, with nature, and how to hum along with the inner technology of your soul. Dads can fix the TiVo.
To a young child, the power to fix a TiVo, or make a kite, can seem awesome, but there are some things we dads cannot do.
Kids, let me tell you, we dads cannot explain girls, and as we age, we cannot explain women, either. We cannot understand why you have to socialize with boring people, even if you are related to them. We can describe relationships like they are the parts list to a changing table, but we aren’t all that good at telling you what to do about them. We can tell you that we love you, though, and that we love your mother. We’re good at that.
The mom-dad archetypes are there and they are strong, yet I wonder how it will be different this time around. When I was last a young father, when my two children were infants, the world was a vastly different place. You might call this ‘assembly not included’ on a global scale. We will be assembling as we go.
The crib is next. That’s this weekend’s project.