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This is my dad. He’s about my age, 38, in this picture. And he is with 2 kids, my brother and me. My dad liked working, Starbucks and reading mystery novels. He liked silly costumes, being Irish and dancing. As a dad, he was okay, not great, not awful, somewhere in that murky middle, I suppose.
Nowadays, I’ve come to the conclusion that judging your parents before you experience parenthood yourself only gives you a partial picture. Like, you’d never say skydiving was easy until you’d tried it, right?
Having kids of your own can make you much more empathetic to your parents and the struggles that they went through. But it can also make you more angry at them when you understand the things they could have done, but didn’t, the kind of things you’re now doing with your kids, for example.
Cancer took my dad when he was 70 and I think he’d say that he had a good life and that he ended it in a way that even he might not have anticipated: surrounded by a large and loving circle of friends and family.
Before he passed he told me that he had tried his best as a father — he said that parenthood wasn’t something that came naturally to him and that he did the best he could. I told him I loved him and I made sure he passed into the next world feeling okay about his time in this one.
Now that I have 2 kids of my own, those final comments from him have come to take on a new meaning. Being a parent is really challenging. It’s really great, but it’s also the hardest thing that any person will ever do and for me if I did the best that I thought I was capable of, I’ve got to be honest, I probably wouldn’t be a very good father. I’d accept my shortcomings and failures as a given and that could lead down a somewhat joyless road of selfishness. I think the true challenge of parenthood is to be able to do more than you think you can, to surprise yourself, to exceed your own image of yourself and to rewire your own internal hard drive so that you’re not just the same, you’re better.
And don’t get me wrong — this isn’t easy, but i do think it’s a parent’s job. It’s at least what we ought to aspire towards.
My dad said he did the best he could and I have to honor that. For me, I’m not content doing the best I think I can do. I really want to do a whole lot better.
Patrick Gavin is a writer, documentarian, and father of 2. Check out his documentary “Nerd Prom: Inside Washington’s Wildest Week.”