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AustinMama offers up some Daddy props.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein

Keefe turns Ten

On October first, Keefe will be ten. The big one-oh; the transition to double digits. This is a lot more complicated than I remember things being when I turned ten. Heís such an astonishing array of contradictions. One minute heís trying to convince me to let him watch The Matrix, and the next heís sleeping on the spare mattress in the master bedroom. Then heís carefully planning his career as a film director, or balking at a half page of math homework. One thing I find most entertaining is the way he gets flustered if you use the word "sex" in a sentence because it "creeps him out." Still, the coming transformation from toy-obsessed to girl-obsessed casts a small shadow very occasionally. 

In a lot of ways, although I know many North Americans experience puberty as fairly hellish, Iím looking forward to his. I think that right now he often defines himself, like many kids his age, by comparing the toys heís got to the toys his friends have. His deplorable lack of a Playstation II makes a real difference in that playing field. When the puberty bomb drops, however, I think heíll really come into his own. After all, heís articulate with great communication skills, easy on the eyes, makes a good first impression with other parents, and heís surrounded by people with great relationship skills.

I truly hope he finds greater confidence through the puberty process, and that it helps create more peace between us. As we stand now, all is not milk and honey in the paradise of our lives together. I am so tired of locking horns with him, but still canít seem to stop myself. We both love each other very much, and I know it. Unfortunately, weíre also very good at pushing each otherís buttons. I would like to see Keefe begin to accept some more responsibility. In my perception, our fights grow out of a whiny and sulky attitude he takes towards the occasional household chore, and broken pledges to get to this or that in a timely fashion. In his defense, it is in Keefeís nature to be eminently distractible and I get impatient with him -- particularly when Iím short on sleep. I want to feel that he takes me seriously, see him follow through on promises, and I want him to stop tuning me out when I ask him things. Keefe needs to start growing conscious of the choices he makes, and their impact. For his part, Keefe needs to feel the unconditional love I owe him as a parent, to see that I adore him even when he's being grumpy, unwilling, or not trying his best. He needs me to be patient with the parts of him that aren't ready to grow up yet, and understanding of his reticence regarding tasks that he finds difficult. The fact that his shoes are only one size smaller than mine notwithstanding. I need to let him be a kid. He's a great kid, a fantastic kid. I don't always see it.

Sometimes in life itís hard to keep a sense of perspective, and this has always been doubly true of parenting. Sometimes events have a way of slapping you in the face and saying "Hereís your perspective!" In the last couple of weeks some highly troubling things have happened to some dear friends of ours. A man virtually my brother is undergoing a stressful process of laser surgery after a blood vessel burst in the back of his eye for the second time. A surprise flood at my sisterís new house has revealed dangerous structural flaws that call for a hell of a lot of urgent renovations. One couple we know has recently entered into a state of trial separation after a course of counseling failed to bring about the desired results. Hell, our life looks pretty good. 

Ultimately, Keefe and I fight over ways that we're extremely similar, and similarly frustrating. Knowing that we are loved intellectually doesn't always translate into knowing it viscerally, and both of us take occasional slights too personally, not letting our position go. Obviously one of the problems we have is acknowledging love where it's offered. Keefe seems to place great stock in buying toys and watching movies and eating dessert as the roots of happiness. The effort I put into making lunches or caring for his possessions is understandably fairly invisible to him, but this seems to extend to finding novels he'll like and reading out loud with character voices every night and other ways I work to make him feel special. Mea culpa, I conversely get too hung up on his attitude when there's homework to do to gracefully accept at face value the hug he offers in apology for blowing up at me, and when my own ire runs out I feel I've consigned myself to a kind of hell. Both of us are too stubborn with pride to let things go as quickly as we ought.

So what's next? I know the patterns we fall into well enough, so I should have the tools to rebuild the mighty bridges of great mutual love that typified our idyllic early years together. Here, sleeping as I write, is the son who first taught me how much I love being a father, who touched my heart on the deepest level and who I held to my breast as strongly as if I would absorb him, or at least take away as many of life's hurts as I could. I never in my nightmares wanted to be one of those hurts, and I loathe myself for it when I shout at him and he cries. The solution, finally, is simple yet slow. By increments, we have gained ground, not least of which because we both crave it. In an instant gratification society, it's hard to be consistent when you don't see quick results. Every struggle I handle badly entrenches the pattern, setting things back. Yet by listening better and keeping my cool a hundred times, or a thousand, or ten thousand, the islands of jagged ice between us will slowly drift apart and melt like an arctic sunrise. It's exasperating, but we'll muddle through. After all, there is never any doubt in my mind that we can do it, and that he is infinitely worth however long it takes.

Michael Nabert is a Canadian writer who loves to talk and sing, and writes mainly about parenting, the art of wooing and paleontology. Widely traveled, with an opinion about everything, his friends often describe him as having "a deplorable excess of character." He is currently stay-at-home dad to Hugh and Keefe.  Send feedback for Michael to: poprocks@austinmama.com


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