My memories of my entry into parenthood are both sketchy and blurred, and vivid and tangible; the birth a mix of clear images as if time stood still, never consuming the repositories of remembrance, and a haze of impressions, shadows and fleeting pictures moving in and out of focus flickering like the flame of candle struggling to stay lit.
The event itself a protracted, long and drawn labour of love; from the time we walked into the hospital to when I left it, with my brand new status of father, 44 hours had elapsed. I think I held it together for most of the time, but I distinctly recall entering a state of numbness and torpor from the moment that the hospital staff returned a white bundle asking if I wished to hold my son. Hold my son!
I left the hospital in the middle of the night; it had been drizzling, the roads were deserted, wet and reflected the lights of signage. I stopped in the middle of the road confused as to the interpretation of traffic lights – is red go, stop, what?- time for a break; in my newfound responsibility I could not afford to take risks.
Then, 26 years ago, there weren’t that many places open at that hour in Perth, especially week nights, the only 24 hour diner a joint called Fast Eddy’s. I walked in and ordered coffee, only another patron was slouched over is plate. CDs were about to arrive, but we had video disc machines that played the song and showed the video clip. Roger Hodgeson, of Supertramp fame, was playing his first solo effort In the eye of the storm; part of the footage a person being whirled in a centrifugal amalgam of colours. I found me drawn in the image as if hypnotised.
As a father I thought I knew what was expected of me, and what I was expecting of myself; chief among my expectations that I would not be like my father. As a grandfather, I think I rather be told what it is expected of me.
Like many parents I wish I could have done more, I wish I could have done it better, but time doesn’t wait for anyone or often give second chances. I went ahead in the amateur game of parenthood experimenting, often with less than orthodox methods, bent, no matter the cost, on encouraging independence of growth, learning and experience.
I don’t know how many times I stayed in the background resisting the temptation to intervene to prevent pain, to shelter my sons from assured disappointment and letdown, but convinced I remained that they could not fail but trip over a lesson that would form another stepping stone of what would necessarily be their own experience.
I don’t know how many times I felt the pressure of conformity and the weight of compliance, which would have dictated conventionality to values I didn’t subscribe to. The pangs of criticism, overt or otherwise, feeding the fire of self-doubt, but somehow I stuck it out. It may not be a case of right or wrong, and anyway, I can’t be the judge of it.
Time goes on, and now the three of them – my sons – live independent lives, reasonably successful at what they do, and no more or less satisfied with their lot than the next person. They are as virtuous and as wicked as any other person I know and have formed distinct personalities and values that suit the way they want to live. For that alone I feel peace despite my shortcomings.
They make choices, walk in and out of relationships, they face hardship and adversity, but live to tell the tale, travel, invest, get into trouble, play, cry, rejoice and speak of it all as if it was natural and ordinary. They can do that because those vicissitudes of life are natural and ordinary, what more could they be?
I draw immense satisfaction in watching them perform in tasks we shared similar interest in and noting that they have become much more skilful than I am. I relish the opportunities when I can ask them for information on subject matter I know nothing about. I retreat in a world of warmth when, in their busy lives, they direct their generosity toward me.
I marked this new milestone – my entry into grandparenthood – like I do in the most crucial and intimate times in my life – in solitude. Reflecting with a dose of reminiscing, carefully avoiding being overwhelmed by the conventions of pride; I am proud for my son and his new status of father, but I loathe the thought that he should feel the heaviness of meeting my expectations to feed that pride; he met my expectations the day he came into the world, the rest is playing out like a dedication to life itself.
I marked this milestone taking stock of where we are and where we may be headed, and as a parent, wondering how my role will continue to evolve. The one thing I saw very clearly is that in what lies ahead I feel that this new father, and the new uncles too, do not need my advice for the kids are alright – they truly are!