My wife seemed to know, though, that I would be a pretty good dad and husband, or at least one who would give it a good shot despite my shortcomings, those chiefly being usually no patience, sometimes little patience and every now and then, on a good day, not much patience.
But suddenly I was a parent and husband, and I had to turn to what I knew about parenting and being a husband, and most of that came from my own parents, combined with a smidgen from Dick Van Patten on "Eight is Enough" (although if I had been Tom I would have made Nicholas get a rid of the spaghetti serving bowl haircut when he hit about 9).
For Christmas this year my sister, another fine woman, sent me my favorite present, a reprint of an old family photo she found of the four kids in our family when we were about 15, 14, 11 and 8. My first reaction upon seeing that photo was, "How did my parents put up with four of us, with three of us having the capacity to be mean, conniving little monsters and all of four of us having the ability and will to cut all the others to shreds verbally?"
Actually, though, I know how my parents put up with it, how they endured. They had no clue. They just did what they thought was best and improvised as things went along. That's what parents do. That's what I do. I take what little I have learned and apply that with a little common sense, but mostly I make it up as I go.
It is not an easy job and you often know you are not the perfect parent, not even close. Sometimes you say something to the kid and think, "Boy, that was stupid. I wonder if he realizes?" You often find yourself repeating phrases you thought were idiotic 30 years before when your own parents said them to you, but you can't stop from saying those words anyway … "Don't you dare be disrespectful to me," "Can you bring me a bowl of popcorn?" "If you say that to me again I'm going to knock the crap out of you," "Can you bring me a bowl of ice cream?" and "I know what's going on. I wasn't a kid all that long ago" (to which I used to think, "Yeah, right, back in the days you were a kid when you thought radio drama was the real 23 skidoo cat's pajamas," just as I'm sure he's likely thinking now, "Yeah, right, back in the days when you were a kid when you had three television stations to choose from and thought that was happening, groovy and right on").
My wife and I spend much of our time discussing and sometimes fretting over how to be better parents. To fail at this would be the worst thing in life, because we love the kid intensely.
We work hard at parenting, because it is hard work. I have gotten better at it. For example, now I am mostly terribly impatient, which is quite an improvement for me in the patience area.
Yes, I have less peace in my home and less time for myself, but I have come to accept that. What I get in return is consistent love from a woman and a son, and that is an incomparable thing.
I have come to accept that because nothing in life is more rewarding than being a father and husband. Yes, maybe you push back some of your personal goals and wants to do those jobs well, but in the long run, and generally in the short run, you don't regret it. There is nothing more moving and powerful than having a child grow up in your home. The parents, as husband and wife, grow closer as a result, and that is a wonderful thing, too.
My wife knew if I became a parent I eventually would be a better person. I am getting there.
And I thank and love my wife for that on Valentine's Day and every other day of the year.