Authors: Paul Reiser
Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Humour
To Paula, Ezra, and Leon
With all the love there could possibly be
When they were well
into their sixties, my parents renewed friendships with some of their old friends. These were close friends from their school days, friends from old neighborhoodsâgood friends that I had no recollection of ever having met growing up. Where had these people been? I wondered. If they were such good friends, how come I never heard of them?
My parents' simple explanation was that they had all drifted apart when they were busy raising their families, but now that the kids were older, they had picked up the friendships again.
This was fascinating to me. First of all, the drifting apart. It's not like any of them moved to the North Pole; they were all pretty close by, but they somehow managed to never see each other.
SecondlyâI didn't know you could do that with friendships; put them on hold for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years, and then just start right up again.
And I had no idea that having kids and doing simple day-to-day stuff was so all-encompassing that it could necessitate putting entire friendshipsâ
WELL, THAT'S KIND OF HOW I FEEL
about this book. I wrote two books before this; the first one about meeting and marrying my beautiful wife, the second one about the journey before, during, and after having a baby.
That was fifteen years ago. In that time, our infant firstborn became fifteen, his brotherânow tenâjoined the team, and a gazillion day-to-day things had to be dealt with: there were the countless hectic meals where nobody sits down at the same time, frantic rushes to start school reports that should have been finished weeks earlier, knees that needed bandaging and glasses that needed findingâeven though they were “right there” five minutes agoâand more arguments than you can imagine about why long pants were in order even though, yes, shorts are more comfortable. My point isâthings got busy around here.
Along the way, there were certainly plenty of things that occurred to me, observations I might have written down for, say, a book about having kids, but I couldn't because I was too busy (and exhausted by) having those very same kids.
I'd like to say that somehow the clouds have lifted a bit and there seems to be a moment of relative quiet. In truth, things are only going faster. Life is, if anything, crazier than before.
But I realize that my boys are probably closer in time to when they'll leave our house than the time we first brought them home. Whatever I may feel about time, it's going ahead. And I don't want to wait twenty-five years to reconnect with my friends. And with you. (By the wayâwhen I say “you,” it's not like I'm being flip, using the figurative, cumulative “you.” I actually mean specifically
SO WHAT FOLLOWS
are some thoughts I've had, some observations I've made, some hopes I humbly put out there, because I've discovered that while yes, my family is my family, unique and quirky,
family is unique and quirky, and everyone's family is the same. More or less.
I would also add that seeing as how, at this rate, I likely won't write another book till deep into my nineties, I would suggest: if there are any questions, ask them now, because by that point I may not be making any sense at all.
t's a funny wordâ
It can mean a lot of different things, depending how you use it in a sentence.
There's the smile-drenched “Yeahâgoing to have a nice relaxing weekend, just me and the
.” Versus the clench-jawed “UchâI got the whole
coming in for a week! It's going to be brutal!” Same wordâand in this caseâsame
. But very different meaning.
We all hold on to some image of the family we
based one way or another on the family we
. Lots of people are thrilled about the families they came from, others couldn't get away fast enough. Most people fall into that vast middle ground: great affection mixed with a few ideas for improvement. A couple of things they wish could have perhaps been done differently.
That's where starting your own
family comes in handy. You get to start from scratch and get it right.
I don't know about you, but growing up, I kept an actual list, a lengthy running tally called “Things I'm Not So Crazy About in My Family.” I kept it in my pocket (and in the forefront of my brain) at all times, for the express purpose of being better prepared when the time came to raise a family of my own.
Years later, that time cameâand I was ready.
, I said to myself with unwavering confidence, will be the ideal family! How could it not? I mean, I know exactly how I want a family to be now, I've married a woman with a perfectly compatible blueprint in mind, we're equally determined to get everything right . . . Yesiree, this is going to be it!
Ah . . . there's such
at the beginning, isn't there?
Well, as with
attempt to start society over from scratch, it doesn't always work out as planned. You pick the perfect deserted island, you bring in fresh, pristine people, you set it up just
, and before you know it the constituents of the New World are squabbling and shoving their way through their overcrowded, polluted, crime-ridden paradise exactly like last time. It's just the way it goes.
WITH BUILDING A FAMILY,
what remains unknown is specifically
you'll fall short of your goals. In exactly what
ways you'll get it wrong. That's the mystery. That's the sport to the whole thing.
Sometimes it's simply that the paradigms have shifted. My children and I grew up in different millennia, in different parts of the country, at different points in history. So many variables have changed.
As a kid, I grew up with a mom and dad, three sisters, no dog (though that's all I really wanted), and periodically, some fish. As a grownup, I have a wife, two boys, a dog, and
fish. The rules are necessarily different. Boys, for example, play differently. They fight differently. They certainly smell different.
So, what I've brought with me from my original family does not necessarily apply to this
I grew up on the East Coast, my children are growing up in Southern California. They don't
to take a jacket every day; it's seventy-five degrees out. But I'm still thinking of the wrong childhood; on this day in October in
childhood, it would have been cold out. Here it's not, but I haven't adjusted properly. I continue to run after them in the streets with sweatshirts yelling, “Do you not see what month it is?” (The psychological damage to my children has not yet been fully assessed.)
Sometimes it's something new that takes you down; something you couldn't have known about. It turns out, for example, I've underestimated the significance of video game-playing skills. I've never had any particular dexterity with my opposing thumbs, or hand-eye coordination or, for that matter, any real interest. We didn't have these games when I was a kid, so I couldn't have anticipated that this particular shortcoming would lead to my own kids growing up nursing the pain of their father's glaring absence from this sphere of their lives. Who knew?
But even the areas of concern I
see coming, the very things I sought to adjust from my own childhood, may end up “corrected” but not necessarily any better.
Example: Growing up, if I wished for anything it was perhaps that my dadâwho worked nobly and tirelessly around the clockâwould perhaps work a little less and hang around the house a little more. So I grew up determined to do it differently with my own family.
As best as I've been able, I've endeavored to always put work second and make it my priority to be home and “just be there” for my kids. Result? My kids wouldn't mind if I were actually “there” a little less. I've heard the prayers: “Oh, Lord, could you maybe get my dad out of the house once in a while, and if possible, could he go away for a couple of days sometime? We're talking two, three days tops. Really, we'll be fine. Leave Mom here, though.”
I made notes not just about kid-raising; I also jotted down a few things about marriageâor at least
marriage, which was, after all, my only real point of reference. I had some very concrete ideas about what I wanted to change, and what I wanted to keep; what I thought worked and
workâas I understood it from my kid's-height view.
Definitely saw a lot of love and a lot of commitment. Keep. Selfless devotion and sacrifice for their children. Keep.
But I also remember wishing my father would have
my mother a bit more. Been perhaps a tad more demonstrative. Or tangibly appreciative. Which is not to say he wasn't appreciative; I'm sure he was. Just not so's you'd notice.
And, shrewdly working the other side of the aisle, I simultaneously and actively wished my mother would notice a little bit
that my father didn't seem to notice her so much.
What I took away from the experience, though, was a commitment to be different when
had a family. I was determined to be unbelievably and demonstratively appreciative of
wife. Which has paid off handsomelyâwith the exception of the countless
of times my wife has nonetheless felt forlornly underappreciated.
I clocked the rules of engagement in my house growing up; the way we communicated with each other as a family. In a word, I think it's safe to say that
was not our strong suit. Nothing said was exactly what you wanted to say, and what you were aching to say was, regretfully, almost always left unsaid. Almost
to remain unsaid. My remedy? Go the other way. In my “new and improved” family, I leave no sentiment unexpressed, no feeling unshared, no fleeting thought unspoken. Good, right? Not really.
“Dad, dial it down, wouldya? That's just too much information.”
“Really? But I thought you'd want toâ”
“No. We're kids. We don't need to hear
Do you see the problem here? There's virtually
way to win.
Striving to make your new family different from your first family is no easy task. And, I've come to realize, making it your life's work to be different than your parents is not only hard to do, it's a dumb idea. Not everything we found fault with was necessarily wrong; we were right, for example, to resent, as kids, being told when to go to bed. We'd be equally
, as parents, to let our kids stay up all night. To throw out all the tools of parenting just because your parents used them would be like making yourself speak English without using ten letters of the alphabet; it's hard to do, very limiting, and . . . makes it impossible for foreigners to understand you over the phone. (Which, while not germane to my point about parenting, I felt was worth mentioning.)
I KNOW MY WIFE AND I
will raise our kids to the best of our ability. Undoubtedly, our kids will have their own counterbalances in place, and swing back the other way with their own families, messing up their kids in the exact opposite direction.
kids will hear nothing direct or emotional from
fathers, resent them for never being home, and wonder why, when they
home, they never told the kids to take a jacket when it's cold out.
And so the cycles will repeat, on and on through time, until the earth is pulled so close to the sun that I'm guessing nobody's going to need a jacket anyway.