Friday, November 19, 2010

Give Them a Hand, But Check What's in it First

Being a father has taught me a lot. I’ve grown as a person. I know love on a deeper level than I’d ever thought possible. I’m infinitely more patient than I used to be. I will forever remember the finer details of quick and clean diaper changing as it is acid burned into my mind after countless nightmarish encounters, sometimes with my eyes still closed due to sleep deprivation.

One of the skills that I have developed in the throes of parenthood is to repress certain natural instincts. I can turn a solid swear phrase into innocuous gibberish like “What the finger sandwich!” or “Gold nugget!” before disaster strikes. My desire to answer a request with “sure” or even the dangerously vague “maybe” just to get my sons to let me finish whatever it is I’m in the middle of has been replaced with the new default response of “no.” You can always change your mind later and be the good guy.

Of all the instincts I’ve learned to second guess, the most useful one I’ve foregone may be to accept whatever is handed to me.

I’m a generally helpful guy. When someone said, “hold this,” I stuck out my hand and did as I was told. This served me pretty well in life. For the most part, I received a hearty, “thank you.” Every now and then it was some sort of practical joke, like my brother making me hold my mom’s purse or coat while she took us shopping. Fortunately, it never resulted in my possession of anything that resulted in arrest or the Wile E. Coyote-esque stick of TNT with the fuse already lit.

Fatherhood changes this equation. It’s not about being helpful anymore, it’s about holding on to your sanity. Your kid comes up to you (usually while you’re distracted as they are experts from birth at sensing the exact moment when your defenses are at their weakest) and says, “Here go.” You, being the helpful parent you are, take whatever it is they are offering right away.

Seconds later when you realize it’s the toy they just sneezed all over, a melting ice-cream sandwich or the soiled diaper they just figured out how to remove, the permanent damage to your psyche has already been done. You will forever think you still feel the sticky sensation between your fingers and may even come to notice that you subconsciously refuse to present food to your mouth with that hand any longer.

This cycle doesn’t have to be repeated often before you change your ways. Pretty soon, your spouse is struggling with groceries, tries to hand you the gallon of milk and it ends up smashing in a pool of white on your front porch because you refuse to extend an arm for anyone without a self-imposed threat assessment period.

Sure, you may end up the target of your buddy’s ire with a beer bottle or two broken at your feet and your wife’s purse might be left behind, but I’ll be damned if you’ll ever have poop between your fingers again. It’s a small price to pay.

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