(Typing away my revelation at a cafe.)
So much of the anxiety I had experienced in the last few years, I believe, came from the stress I put upon myself to be a good father. It was critically important that I be a good father; imperative that I be far better then my biological father.
There was no turning back, of course, nor the desire to, when Tami became pregnant. With joy and excitement I fell in love with our child whom I would have to wait many months to meet on the outside. And then I fell in love again again with our second child not too long after our first. But I loved both of our babies before I knew their names or gender or look or smell. Today they are Enzo and Ana. With all of that love that grew instantly and giddily and bubbled over within me, there was also a weight nearly unimaginable in responsibility that I placed upon myself.
I remember a friend who was a single mother talking to me once about her worries as to weather or not she was or would be making the right decisions for her son. I told her that I was certain, from the experience I had with my mother, that no matter what, all manner of errors in decisions could be compensated for with genuine and unlimited quantities of love; love expressed in genuine good will, best attempts, "I love you" s, kisses, hugs, assurances, reassurances, and more love. I told her that, like my mother, it was clear that she oozed healthy good unlimited love for her son and so, I was quite sure that the mistakes she was bound to make could cause no damage that could not be moved beyond, could cause no character flaw that could not be accepted as a nuance, could ruin no experience other than to make life lessons.
About to become a father, I remembered my assurances to my friend years before and found them to be wholly true for me still. I was comforted, and continue to be, knowing that as long as I love my kids this much and act with such genuinely good intentions, that they will likely get over most of the mistakes I am making and will make. That's the belief, anyway.
Still, with the oncoming birth of our first child, and then again with our second, I was afraid. Some part of me was still afraid that I could mess it all up, violate my responsibility as a father, and totally screw up my children. Perhaps I would not be able to love. Perhaps I would die before getting them off on the right track. Perhaps I would go crazy and not be able to love and support them. Perhaps I would flip out and run away to abandon them. I had completely whole faith in my love for my future children, but I still had great doubts… fears of the unknown… that something may cause me to mess it all up and not be there for them to provide good and healthy unlimited love, good intentions, and constant assurance.
"…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."…………..
I have spent time thinking about how each generation works to provide greater success for the next one and to attain greater success than the one before. And this seems to work. Then what of the tragic stories? I think I see how they fit in as well. Generation after generation after another continue making gradual steps to improve the happiness, wealth, station, education, and prospects that are available to their children. Every once in a while, like the children's board game of Chutes and Ladders, a dramatic change may happen. Someone gets a quick shortcut up or takes a swift slide down. Perhaps a political turmoil or financial investment goes tremendously well or horrible for a given person and then poof… a chute or ladder it is for that family line. Elevated or knocked down, the gradual plod that is our nature continues to make an improvement for the next generation. And this seems to be working.
I have thought about the constant push onwards and upwards and then marveled at the fact that we are not all happily stationed and well balanced in our lives. And then I have to remember the commonness of the chutes in life. There are car accidents, explosions, alcoholism, cancers, wars, disease… any of which may be as surmountable as a bad role or as devastating as a long slide down a very long chute. The chutes and ladders may balance themselves out. Thankfully humanity as a whole has improved because, where ever we are and what ever happens, we continue to walk onward and upward. On average, we as a whole continue to live better and better. But there are individuals and families who must slide. And then begin the long walk over the well traveled grounds of progress that their ancestors have already made.
I have learned about the realities that often face immigrant families that come to America seeking a better life for their families. Studies show that it often takes three to four generations before a family line assimilates into their adopted culture and that is often where and when the success of the promised land is realized. When a person comes to America, they often give up so much to start here for a reward that is most likely to be realized by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Interesting. Another way to see this is that the decision of one is a commitment to increased struggle for the next three to four generations so that the envisioned rewards may be appreciated by those that come later.
So much of life, purposefully decided and accidentally fated, is the result of the experience of our parents for generations back. We enjoy and we toil as a result of the sins and accomplishments of our mothers and fathers for three and four generations or more back in time.
And at every point, we are completing some generation's cycle, in the middle of another's, and beginning our own new cycles for our children's children to complete. I am fourth generation American through my mother. My grandmother's parents were born in Mexico. They left to escape and to achieve. It has worked. We have opportunities, wealth, and education that far surpasses what those great-grandparent's had. My mom and grandparents left Arizona to escape and to achieve. It has worked. We have more here in California. My children are second generation Californian, I being born somewhere else. And they will reap the benefits of being born in, and surrounded by, Silicon Valley. These steps of improvement have all involved some hardship and sacrifice and that burden has been shared by the next generations as have the benefits. We continue on and I am grateful that our family, those that I have been close to, have enjoyed steady progress up the game board only occasionally stumbling on short chutes and occasionally benefitting from short ladders.
…………."…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
I just really didn't want to cause the chute, the iniquity, that would set this line back for generations of steady progress. I didn't want my responsibility, my children, to suffer the consequences of my potential sins.
And then it hit me last week, while driving home from our friends house, my wife and kids in the car. We were on a winding road and I realized it; I did it!!!! I made it!!! It is accomplished!!! No matter what I feared may become of me as a father, no matter what unknown I feared may stop me from providing the steady unlimited love and affection that I intended to provide for my children, I have already made it further, and provided more, than that which I received from my biological father. I made it. The rest is gravy in comparison. That was the real fear, that I would not be there for my kids. By the age of two my biological father was already gone and the divorce final. By the age of two I had already witnessed too much psychological warfare and cruelty that I didn't understand but that certainly affected me. By the age of two, irreparable damage had been done to relationships and well being. But my daughter is 21 months old and my son is three and they have experienced no equivalent hardships, nothing as I had at those same ages! I could never cause as much for them to have to later wade out of as I have needed to do. I am yet alive, yet present, a steady source of love and affection and support. If I ever do totally mess it all up, my kids will be stepping into the muck and mire of my sins from a far more elevated position than I had wading into those of my biological father. It really is all going to be ok. I just don't need to continue carrying on this burden of fear and stress. I am doing a pretty good job as a father. It just came to me while we were driving and I have been feeling better since the realization. I have been relieved.
For the record, this is not the place where I intend to either persecute or make excuses for my biological father. To do so properly would take much more writing. In short, he certainly had his own major challenges to overcome and his struggles separated me from some of those sins of his father. He also made sins of his own that I have had to come to terms with and deal with. Dealing with those has not been easy. Painful at times. Like ripples in water, the effects last for generations as part of the ways I will always act will be a result of dealing with those hardships I experienced and so my children will be affected. Yet, the ripples are far smaller and my children are removed another degree from my hardships. And so I can let go of this self imposed burden a bit.
My anxiety was not simply to be a good parent, I see that now. It was to be sure that I was a better father to my children than I experienced. It's all going to be ok. I made it all of this way. Despite the challenges that I experienced I have become this Me and I say that is a good thing, and an accomplishment. Thanks to the love and affection and assurance of my close family, constantly being provided that kind of love which smooths out all rough edges in one's experiences, I have enjoyed a good childhood and life. Thanks to that love, and some psychological counseling, and a lot more love, I even cleaned much of that muck and mire off of me from those earlier days and I have waded into cleaner waters. I have done the work of plodding onwards and upwards, I have worked from a position given to me by the sins and accomplishments of my mother and biological father and grandparents and great-grandparents. I look at those in my genetic line, with what little I know of them on both sides, and I see how all have taken a bit of a beating from life, a bit of opportunity in life, along with the sins and accomplishments of their mother's and fathers, and have made things a little bit better for their children. And I see that I have actually done the same. I see that I am no longer the end point, recipient of all that came before. I am participant, recipient AND worker who has taken what I was given and made more steps onward and upward AND I am giver, giving my children the transformed sins and accomplishments of our ancestors, all slightly better through my toil as those that came before me have done to my benefit through their toil.
And my kids will have the opportunities I have had, the love I have enjoyed, and so much more. And while they will certainly experience the trials, tribulations, and consequences of life and the decisions and fates of the generations before them, they will wade into waters cleaner than I started in. They will begin with a love and support from their father that I believe is admirable; an accomplishment that I hope will be visited upon our children and children's children for lasting generations.
Whew… a relief. And another feeling of joy at being a father.