By Gregory Keer
This April, there are two things I’m not looking forward to – tax day and the day after that, my birthday. As I lurch toward another number closer to 50, I notice how much of my parenting life is behind me.
When did Ari (8) grow out of the pants we bought him three months ago? What is making Jacob (11) turn red every time that girl walks by? How is Benjamin (15, this month) old enough to practice driving a car?
Part of what makes this so hard is that, as I look in the rear-view mirror, I think I operated much better as a dad of babies than I do as a father of fast-developing dudes. I have to dig for details about their days that they don’t want to share with me. When they veer off the behavior track, I’m challenged to give them directions they often choose not to follow, necessitating consequences more complex than time outs. Then there’s the expense of raising growing boys, pushing me to work longer hours to pay for the field trips, sports gear, and expanding grocery list. With all this, life feels less like a feature-length movie and more like a YouTube short.
I was so present when the kids were in diapers, strollers, and cribs. I mean, nothing slows time down like the fact that babies simply cannot move fast or, as a good high chair or car seat can attest, move at all.
My wife and I spent countless hours merely staring at our sons when they were infants. We studied them like a just-assembled wonder toy. Look at those eyes that open and shut all by themselves! See how he examines his own pudgy hand? Behold his first poopie in the potty!
There was little we didn’t celebrate about our babies, from how one of them smeared yogurt all over his head to see how it felt to the way they crawled (one rocked to launch, one skooched like a locomotive, and one combat crawled).
And then there was the baby giggling. Benjamin had a deep belly laugh that would go on as long as we laughed with him. Jacob couldn’t get enough of the raspberries we blew on his tummy. And Ari screamed with glee when we plied his neck with kisses.
Since then, these toys have grown into bigger, louder machines bent on rolling boldly into the world. They won’t let us just stare at them.
My eldest, Benjamin, has become an expert in the last-minute phone-text plan and jets off to hang out with friends. He also runs cross-country, making him home late a lot. We seldom see the boy who once cried at the day-care window for us to take him with us to work.
So when I walk into his room to sit and gaze at him, he says things like, “Dad, it’s a little creepy to have you look at me for the past, like, three hours.”
Just recently, the rest of the family and I were driving home when we saw Benjamin riding his bike to meet us.
“Look, look, look,” I said. “He’s so cool on his ten-speed.”
“He’s not a baby,” Jacob groaned from the back seat.
“Yes, he is,” my wife replied. “You’re still our babies.”
“Do you guys talk about me that way behind my back?” he asked with alarm.
“Yep,” Wendy and I said in unison.
“Why do I have such weird parents?” he muttered.
Of course, these are the comments I made to my own parents as I grew from being their infant idol to self-conscious tween. That doesn’t make it any easier as I travel through the rapid movement of my parenting timeline.
While I miss those baby years – and all the satisfaction that came from doing such basic heroic acts as feeding, clothing, and comforting my children – there lies so much goodness ahead. My children will take on sports and SATs, form friendships and romances, apply to colleges and jobs, and, eventually (I hope), become parents themselves. They’ll succeed a lot and screw up a lot, but I’ll get to observe and guide, though probably not as much as I’d like. What matters is, as I age, those babies will always be the objects of my affection and sources of amazement.
As a seasoned father who can no longer outrun or outsmart his children, I have some advice for the newbie dads. Keep staring at the wonders that coo and spit up and even tantrum before you. They grow quickly, but the experience lingers forever.