On Parenting

I recently had a dream that I had started my first day of a marketing course at a local college. Students filed into the room and seated themselves at one of many tables available to us. On each table was a loop attached to a handle. Upon entering the classroom, we were greeted with a message on a small whiteboard resting on a podium at the front of the room. To the best of my recollection, it read something like this:

“Welcome to Marketing 101. Class will be video recorded today. Talk among yourselves regarding the following prompt:

To SoonToBeDad,

First of all, congratulations! Regarding your concerns, what risks do you fear? What is important for a parent when raising children? What can you offer that your parents never did? Are you afraid of being a parent, or are you afraid of ‘failing’ as a parent? What can you do to raise your kids in the best way possible?”

The first student to speak proposed the idea that one cannot really fail at parenting as long as they try their best. This point was countered by another student that proposed that it is still possible to fail at raising a child if your their best isn’t good enough.

The professor was seated at an adjacent table to mine, and he attempted to interject with a quote, but was quickly talked over by other students, so he chose to sit and listen. Students continued to talk over each other, raising various generic points to debate each other. During this, I began to fiddle with the loop on the table, fitting it over my head with ease. My shoulders posed much more of a challenge, requiring my body, worn and weary from years of neglect, to contort in ways I didn’t know were possible. Eventually, my torso made its way through, leaving the loop stuck around my waist. I noticed how large my gut had become, recalling that there was a time in my life where I would have slipped right through the loop with ease. The debate from the other students raged on in the background, but I was too distracted to worry about participating, focused only on the ridiculous task I had assigned myself. I sucked in my belly and squeezed and shoved until the only real obstacles remaining were my hips. With enough persuasion and gentle force, I was able to slide through, causing the loop to fall through the floor around my feet.

At that moment, the professor stood up and turned his attention toward me, saying, “Ah! It seems we have found our first parent!” I was confused as to how he knew I was a father. He explained, “You know when you’re in over your head. You know how to break an impossible task into achievable goals; when to squeeze, when to push, and when to pull. You know how to make it through.”

I was embarrassed, but he encouraged me to speak. For a moment, the debate quieted, and all eyes were fixed on my ridiculous self. I didn’t know what to say, but I started speaking anyway. Reluctant at first, I managed to eek out a response.

“We can all be firm, but we are fragile. We can learn to bend so we do not break. We cannot succeed by forcing our way through, but rather by finessing our way toward our goal; by understanding the challenge through attentiveness, and by taking it on one mindful step at a time. We can all fail at any time, but only by giving up. We have to take breaks, step back, and make room for careful planning that we may choose our next steps carefully. Our success isn’t necessarily in the doing, but more so in the understanding. When it is tough, we must be firm. When it is hard, we must be fragile. Most importantly, we must always try.”

I hoped that my babbled platitudes were enough to appease everyone. I felt uneasy, like I had said something wrong or obvious. I was scared and wanted to leave, but I stood my ground in my anxious curiosity. The students were silent for a few quiet moments, carefully analyzing each one of us through not only their own eyes, but each other’s.

Finally, the professor smiled and said, “Class dismissed.”

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