Dear Michael and Caroline,
From the start, first with Michael and then with you, Caroline, I wanted to be a perfect father. Whatever you needed from me, I promised myself you would get.
I had my reasons. You were both born perfect and deserved a perfect life, or at least as perfect as we could manage anyway. If I had to be perfect at anything, I figured, it might as well be as a father.
But here’s what it probably all came down to: I expected to do better than my own parents had done. Much better.
My mother frequently yelled at me, often hysterically, over nothing – and so I pledged to myself to be quiet and even-tempered with you.
She often slapped me, sometimes swatted my backside with a big spoon, and once even punched me in the stomach, leaving an imprint of her fist there – and so I privately vowed never to lay a foul finger on my children.
My father often left the house before anyone else woke up, returning only after we went to bed, and on weekends, he would rather nap or putter in the garage – anything, really – than ask us about our day at school or play catch with us. And so I swore never to deprive my children of time with me.
But early on, it dawned on me that, like my own father, I’m imperfect, and decidedly imperfect at that, despite all the best intentions. All too often, I’ve lost my patience and yelled at you for creating a commotion. On some weekend mornings I look to escape the entanglements of family, if only for an hour, with some coffee and a newspaper over at Starbucks.
The list of everything I planned never to do with my children but found myself doing anyway is long. Memories of my father prey on my anxieties even now.
You’re the same as he, goes the haunting refrain in my head. No better, no worse.
Then again, I’ve come to understand the struggles my father faced as a father. It took me years to appreciate the weight of the responsibility he must have felt, and the depth of his fatigue, too. I’d never sympathized in the least with him over his frequent absences or his degree of distraction in our company. But after working a long day, I feel as tired, as disoriented, as out to lunch, as he must have.
Now make no mistake here: as fathers go, he and I are more different than similar. It’s probably fair to say, and my father might well agree, that fatherhood remained a concept he never quite seemed to grasp. I tend to believe I’ve had at least some idea of what I’m doing here.
But then I got to wondering about this whole business of being perfect.
What if I were a perfect father?
What if I never cursed, blew my top or lost a job?
Maybe a perfect father, by definition, is imperfect after all. The impossible ideal is an illusion.
Maybe I should grant myself the right to flaws – to exercise my prerogative, in short, to be imperfect.
Maybe, if you see some of the chinks in my armor, that’s a better, truer example for me to set.
Maybe the more imperfect I am, the more lessons I have to offer you.
Maybe being pretty okay is actually more than good enough.
Maybe, in the end, my imperfections make me some kind of perfect.