The Rise of the Parents
I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting lately.
Not because I’m about to be one (don’t worry, Mom. It will happen eventually), but because many people around me seem to be. I’ve been referred to as “Uncle Eric” numerous times in the last calendar year, and I’ll likely hear it once more with my best friend due to be a father in less than a week. It’s this last one that I think has me pondering parenthood more than any of the others.
While it’s been both strange and endearing to see so many friends who I behaved irresponsibly and childishly with become grown-ups before my eyes, I imagine it will be a whole other experience to watch it happen to somebody who I’ve known since my parents placed me down on a rug next to him when I was only a few weeks old. The funny part is that watch him transition into being a dad won’t be weird; the weird part is that recently he has seemed built to be one.
When does that happen? Do we always have the traits to either be good parents or not, and it just takes us getting to a certain age before people take note of them? Or is it something that you learn over time? Is being around your friends’ or family members’ babies a sort of training ground? What happens if the traits never come?
Watching him, and a myriad of my other friends, transition into parenthood has had a funny effect on my memory of my own childhood, much like working as a teacher impacted the way I looked at my school years. I see my friends making numerous sacrifices and drastically altering their routines and desires instantaneously without even batting an eye. Group vacations are no longer as easy to manage, late nights out are few and far between, and social events suddenly become filled with other parents of young children.
I don’t question these changes. I fully understand them and accept their inevitability. Why I keep thinking about them is because I can’t help but think about my parents going through those same changes thirty years ago.
It’s something you always take for granted as a kid. I knew my parents maintained friendships, spent summers with close friends, and even took me on trips. I’ve just never really thought about the effort that must have taken and the other parts of their life that weren’t able to be salvaged with my arrival.
As I’ve grown older, moved out of the house, and become a more self-sufficient person (not entirely yet, but working towards it), I’ve seen my parents start to take more trips and seem to add to a growing list of social acquaintances. They seem happy, relaxed even – at times. I can’t help but wonder how much of that is due having more time freed up, and I can’t help but wonder how many other things they might have wanted to do years ago, but were never able to.
It comes from a place of clear bias, but my parents were as accommodating and supportive as you could possibly imagine. Driving me to tournaments, flying to watch my games, allowing me to follow any number of fleeting passions, and always putting my interests first. They kept giving, and I kept taking. I know that’s a bargain that most parents are happy to make, supporting their kids at (almost) any cost, but it feels unfair now that I’m old enough to step back and look at it from enough distance.
I see my friends and family beginning to make the same sacrifices, with the same sense of pride and pleasure, and I can’t help but hope that their kids grow up to understand the nature of that sacrifice. They won’t be able to understand what it’s like to what somebody’s life change before your eyes until they experience it on their own. They might never truly grasp, as is common with kids, that their parents were once different people with different priorities and different lives.
But maybe one day, sometime around the time they turn 30, they’ll begin to see it happening around them. Then, all they’ll want to do is say thank you and know that, when the time comes, they’ll have plenty of people around them to show them how it’s done.