Here’s a rather cynical yet hilarious poem by Philip Larkin that I’ve loved for years:
“This Be The Verse”
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
While that poem never fails to make me laugh and there’s truth to be had in it, I think that even Larkin could agree that if we all stopped having kids….well….we wouldn’t last very long as a species. Think Children of Men, but done purposefully.
My wife and I have been a couple for over 12 years now and I vividly remember our discussions of never wanting to have kids. Why would we want to do that to ourselves? Lose our time, freedoms, sleep, money, sanity etc. Who wants that? Having kids is great and all, but it’s not for us.
Eight and half years later we welcomed our first child, a boy, into our lives. It was a very stressful period of time. Not only because we were new parents, but because Masen was born 8 weeks premature. The nursery wasn’t ready. My wife and I weren’t ready. We hadn’t even had our typical new parent freak out that comes before the baby was due. Oddly enough, our “new parenting class” came and went while we were in the hospital for over 3 days trying to keep Masen from being born so early.
I remember him coming out. I remember Lori holding him for about 1 minute. I remember barely being able to touch him before he was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It wasn’t until the next day that I was finally able to hold him.
I remember the nurses very gingerly putting him in my arms. He was so tiny and had wires and hoses and tape all over him. He looked so frail. It wasn’t until I put him back in his bed with the help of the nurses that I completely lost composure and wept like a person of his size. Here’s my son. This little man. Helpless and cold and unaware. And there I was completely powerless to help him.
It was at that moment that I felt love in the most powerful way. It was a love that I didn’t know was even a possibility. I know my heart didn’t grow in size like the Grinch, but I did feel as if it would explode. At that moment I knew what life and love was all about.
Ever since that day I’ve experienced more revelations in love, patience and gentleness than I could ever put to paper and I freely admit that my son has taught me much more than I could ever teach him, but I try to be a good man for him, or at least, what I think a good man is. This is possibly where some of Larkin’s poem comes to light.
Almost everyday that I’m around my children my heart seems to grow ever more with love and awe. When I pull in the garage and Masen opens the door and yells, “Daddy!” He smothers me in hugs and then we proceed to have a wrestlemania the likes of which even the Undertaker hasn’t seen.
If something breaks around the house or a toy’s batteries die Masen makes sure to set them all aside for daddy to fix. So almost everyday I’m a superhero. Can you even comprehend how awesome that is? To be a friggin superhero! To my son there’s nothing I can’t do. Nothing I can’t fix. Nothing I can’t lift. Nothing I can’t overcome simply by being his dad. What other avenue of life gives you such misguided praise? I can’t tell you who will be more devastated when he realizes that his dad can’t get something done: him or me?
I’ve always liked to think, rather narcissistic I know, that I’m a pretty selfless person, but it wasn’t until I became a father that I realized how little I care for my own life in place of my son’s. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect him. There’s no pain, shame or act of bravery I wouldn’t perform, even if knowingly futile, to protect him. I’m his dad. I’m Superman. I protect. To my dying day that is my purpose.
I once heard a person say that when you have kids you realize that arms and hands were meant for hugs and I couldn’t agree more. The simple warm embrace of my son with the smallest of pats on the back is all it takes to transform even the worst of days into a good day. If he really wants to slay me he merely says, “I love you, daddy. You’re my best friend, daddy.”
My son, and now my young daughter as well, have transformed me more into the man I’ve always wanted to be more than any other aspect of my life. I’ll live to my final moments working to make sure they feel loved, accepted and protected.
I can think of no greater cause or charge in life than that. I just hope I don’t ever prove Mr. Larkin to be fully true.