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April 03, 2012

For Your Own Emotional Well-Being, Don't Compare Yourself to Your Father

LincolnI'm gonna be 45 years old in a couple months, and I have twins who will turn 3 a month after that.  But aside from my aching back, I don't really feel like an old dad.  In fact, most of the time I feel like I'm not really mature enough to be a parent.

The fact is, though, when my kids start going to school, I'll have to look for some kind of gainful employment, which could be a bit disheartening. 

Before becoming a SAHD, I had had a number of different job descriptions, but most of them were in either construction or teaching, neither of which are exactly growth industries these days.  And neither of these fields are known for being kind to older job candidates who have been out of the loop for several years.

So despite being as happy as I ever have been in my present situation, there are moments when I think, "What the fuck am I gonna do when I have to go back into the real world?"  And, "What the fuck have I been doing all my life that I don't have any marketable skills?"

If I want to compound these feelings of self-doubt, all I have to do is compare myself to my dad.  He grew up working on farms, ranches, and railroads, was the smartest kid in his high school, and worked his way through college with the help of ROTC. 

I lived in Europe as a little kid, and later the American suburbs, skied a lot, was a fuckup in high school, played in bands, and half-assed my way through college on my parents' dime. 

In his twenties, my dad got married, got stationed overseas, fought in Vietnam, had kids, got promotions, and had cool cars. 

In my twenties, I barely scraped by as a carpenter with an English degree, sometimes bummed money from my folks, lived like a college kid, drove beat up trucks and had a nice mountain bike.

I wasn't a total loser or anything--I worked hard and had fun and had a clear conscience about how I earned a living.  But whenever I thought about what my dad had been doing at my age, my accomplishments seemed pretty meager.  At the age when I became a lead carpenter on a framing crew, my dad had been a diplomat stationed in Cold War Moscow.  He was fluent in Vietnamese and Russian.  I knew most of the Spanish swear words. 

By the time my dad was 45, he was a full colonel, working at the Pentagon alongside the guys who would shape (alas, sometimes to disastrous effect) our country's future foreign policy.  His youngest kid was a 13-year old punk rocker who would grow up to be a middle-aged stay-at-home dad.

Sounds a little depressing when I say it like that, right? 

I honestly believe that what I'm doing now is important work, and that if I do it well, my kids will benefit more than if I were some hard-charging career guy.  But on paper, it's hard to ignore the fact that you don't need much of a resume to achieve the status of "Dad."

That's why, when I'm tempted to compare biographical timelines with my old man, I resist, and instead compare myself to some other powerful figure like, say, Stalin.  

By the time he was in his late twenties, Stalin was a star in the Bolshevik party, and was married with a son.  Of course, his wife died pretty soon after the kid was born, and I'm not saying that was his fault, but he probably could have been more supportive.  That son later tried and failed to kill himself with a gun, and his dad mocked him for being a bad shot.  Later still, after Stalin let the same son languish in a German prison camp rather than negotiate with the Nazis, the boy was successful in his suicide attempt.

In his thirties, Stalin helped lead the Red Army to victory in the Russian Revolution, and during WWII, he was instrumental in bringing the Nazis to their knees.  But family life skills?  Not so much.  His second wife committed suicide, or was possibly murdered by Stalin himself after a quarrel.  And their son died of alcoholism, or maybe something more nefarious.  The details are hazy, but it's pretty clear that Stalin was a sucky father, and maybe an even worse husband. 

Oh yeah, and he oversaw the killing of anywhere between 3 and 60 million of his own subjects in purges of his perceived political enemies. 

So, Stalin: powerful, efficient, smart, ambitious, goal-oriented, and very successful for most of his career.  Yet I have great confidence in saying that as a husband, a father, and a human being, I kick his ass.  And this more than makes up for any inadequacies I feel when comparing myself to my dad.        


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