A final festive thought
Signing off for 2021
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. You are one of the 2,738 dads (and curious non-dads) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own.
The pre-Christmas to-do list is a unique beast. For every job you complete there are two more ready to take their place—a check-boxed hydra—the end moving further from your grasp the second you foolishly imagine it coming closer.
These tasks aren’t the only thing getting ticked off this time of year. The holidays bring a unique combination of headaches as disparate parts of your life clash into a stream of fixed deadlines: work projects that need to be wrapped up, presents that have to be bought, travel logistics to arrange for wherever you’re heading. A selection box of unstoppable forces meeting one tinsle-covered immovable object. When I started to work for myself in 2018 my accountants said I could choose when my company's financial year would end. I foolishly went for December, hoping that having everything lined up would make life easier. Spoiler alert: it absolutely did not. So at the end of the year I face all my most-hated odd jobs, the cans I’ve spent 12 months kicking down the road, trudging my way through them all December like some kind of shitty advent calendar.
Christmas is magical! It’s also exhausting. When you finally cross that finish line of endless errands—or make it as far through the gauntlet as you can before admitting defeat—it’s hard to summon the energy for anything else. All you want is to lie on the sofa, fill your face with chocolate and switch off while the kids do ... absolutely anything (so long as it’s quiet.)
On the sofa eating chocolate was exactly where I found myself a few weeks back. We were all together in the living room, the tree recently decorated, the kids dancing around to whatever Christmas playlist we’d settled on for the evening. They wanted me to get up and dance with them. But I was tired. It was almost bedtime. I was desperate for some rest (yet another immovable object.)
But a voice in my head piped up:
“When your kids are older—much older, as old as you are today—how do you want them to remember their dad at Christmas time? Do you want them to think about you there, KO’d on the sofa? Someone stressed, getting angry at them for having fun? Checked out, head in the clouds, anywhere but here? You have the power to decide, right now, the kind of parent they’ll remember when they’re adults.”
I got up. We started—quite literally—rocking around the Christmas tree. Truly joyful.
It’s an insight that sounds obvious in hindsight: “Be the parent you want them to remember.” It’s akin to a friend sharing the divinations they receive after a life-changing psychedelic trip, as they tell you “everything is love, man,” to which you nod and say “yeah, I guess it is?” But the power of these statements come from the internal reprogramming they can prompt when we understand them for ourselves, their simplicity becoming their strength, a place to easily return to when chaos arises.
I will keep heading back to this one over the holidays. How can I be the parent I want them to remember? And how can I avoid the opposite—losing my patience, making something of nothing, taking the easy way out? How can I be more present, avoid missing out on the very memories I’ll one day be conjuring out of a photo app when they’re much older than they are today: too old for the songs, the dancing, the anticipation, the excitement at the suspiciously human-looking teeth marks in Rudolph’s carrot, the morning spent searching for evidence of you-know-who ...
Parents are rarely offered a single day off from making decisions. And it’s (sadly) impossible to know which decisions will stick with our kids. We’ve all signed up to the unpredictable nature of how memories are encoded, and how the smallest event will have an exaggerated impact on what they recall when they’re older.
But the holidays don’t require us to be perfect. That’s impossible, and striving for it will only lead to disappointment. They demand something else—for us to be present, to be intentional. To make the decisions now that we’d have wanted our own parents to make back then. To try our hardest to be the parents that we want them to remember.
This is the last issue of The New Fatherhood this year. I wanted to say thank you to all of you: for reading these weekly ramblings, for sharing them with other people in your life, for offering your opinions in the weekly open threads, for supporting this endeavour by becoming part of TNF community. Your time is the most limited resource you have—constantly pulled in a hundred different directions by a maelstrom of necessities. I appreciate every moment you choose to spend here.
2021 has exceeded all expectations I had for the first year of TNF, and I can't wait to see what 2022 has in store. I’m going to sign off in an attempt to be as offline as possible for the next few weeks, working my way through a book backlog, enjoying some much needed downtime and hopefully spending some more time dancing around the living room.
I’ll be back in your inboxes on January 11th.
Have a wonderful holiday. See you on the other side.
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