My son is turning five later this month and I am going through a whole slew of emotions. I miss the baby that was my son not too long ago. I face a boy getting ready for elementary school this fall and I am not quite ready for it. Am I dad enough for the journey ahead?
In the Beginning
I was not, at first, thrilled with the prospect of being a dad. I liked my independence, the movie nights, the long dinners, and the casual late night get-togethers with friends. The very thought of sleepless nights and dirty t-shirts was horrifying. Then I became the father of this little baby not much bigger than my arm. And magic happened. Before long, I was worrying if the child was eating enough, sleeping enough and pooping enough. I had not anticipated this obsession.
Two Ways To Go About It
We Dads get to choose one of two possible routes. We can either be the nonchalant dad who is comfortable with everything the way it is or the 21st century parent who obsesses over everything from the lack of GMO labeling on the child’s food purchased in Whole Foods to how quickly the kid picks up Shakespeare. The former gets one a good night’s sleep. The latter—pretty much no sleep, lots of worry and potential bragging rights with friends.
In spite of the obvious differences between the two, quite a few dads I meet these days are of the latter kind—the obsessive, bordering on paranoia and would-gladly-sit-in-the-kids-classroom-as-an-observer-everyday types.
You Turned Out Ok. They’ll Do Ok Too.
Every Asian parent has heard this one time or the other. Every time I worry or stress over something about my kid, my parents or elders in the family promptly say, “You did it and you turned out ok. He’ll be ok too.” This applies to everything from going out alone in the streets to watching movies with gyrating hips and gratuitous violence. Our parents weren’t as hands on as we are today and I do not say this in a bad way. Things weren’t that competitive back then. Life was simpler. Our support system was stronger. And we literally grew up on the streets, playing, getting hurt and developing critical survival skills.
Unfortunately this doesn’t hold true for our kids. The roads and streets are not safe anymore—and this is everywhere in the world, including India. I may be fine with my kid getting hurt in a brawl. Another parent might not be.
From what I see, the Asian community in America is fairly competitive. Many of us want our kids to be champions in everything. We want our kids to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page or Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg. And the way to get there often runs through music classes, piano lessons, violin lessons, dance classes, art classes, tennis, soccer, swimming … I am no different. The challenge of crafting the child’s growth arc until they are on their own is compelling and often times inescapable.
The Bay Area Parent
My wife jokes that as a Bay Area Asian parent, I am always one step away from a visit to the shrink. The amount of information available to be processed and disseminated and meaningfully applied to our kids from the time they are born all the way up to college is incredible. The sheer amount of talent and the competitive no-holds barred parenting practiced is often times scary.
Just when I think I have set up my kid with the right amount of extra classes and social activities to complement his school education, along comes a parent who talks of that one extra thing his or her kid is doing. My mind starts racing again. It never really ends.
The Parent Shall be Judged
In this weird world, the perception is that parents are being judged against each other. While the impact is directly felt by our kids, it is the parent who is effectively trying to one up his or her peer in the race to child stardom. And the stakes are only getting higher. The secret to Ivy League glory is for everyone to follow today. The helicopter parent knows it by heart now. Buy a house in a good school district, sign up for a ton of classes, pick a sport, push, push, push, and voila! The kid finally makes it to the big league and hopefully with that, the road to glory and riches.
Finally, the Part About the Child
Appropriately, the last portion of this article is about the child! While the entire parenting experience is supposed to revolve around the habits, needs and expectations of the child, it is often about the habits, needs and expectations of the parent.
I will be the first to admit that I am guilty of it sometimes. The child is often times a footnote, sadly. This doesn’t mean we, the parents don’t care about the child. It is that the choices and interests of the child are rarely given precedence over the choices and interest for the child as seen by the parents. After all, as your parents told you and continue to do so to this day, don’t parents know more than the child?
“Are you dad enough?” Indeed.
Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on various topics from parenting to shopping: rangaprabhu.com.