When I wrote my wedding vows 10 years ago, I stole a line from the movie “As Good As It Gets” where Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt “you make me want to be a better person” (I actually said “you taught me how to be a better person” so that I wasn’t completely ripping off an Oscar winner). That is still true about Cherise, but if I were to write vows to Iris & Robyn, I would have to do a different edit. It’d be more accurate to say “you make me NEED to be a better person”. It’s not only because I owe them as much, but if I’m not, I’ll be on the other end of that behavior. As parents, for every lesson we try to teach Iris & Robyn, there’s no lesson we’re going to give that will be more impactful than our own actions.
Now, maybe this is obvious to you, but to me, this is a dangerous proposition. I do a lot of dumb stuff. I’m pushing 40 and some of my bad habits are just things I’ve come to accept. I’m occasionally sloppy. When I get locked into a project (like starting a company), then I lose track of things and completely forget to do something I’m supposed to. When I’m doing an immersive task like writing code and I get into the zone, I will cut off the rest of the world. I’ll save certain things till the last minute. I start projects, but don’t always finish them. When I meet someone new, I am not always enthusiastic (and I was as shy as a child as Iris is now–chalk that one up to nature over nurture). There’s a lot more, but I don’t to remind Cherise how she can probably do much better than me. Anyway,I see a lot of these actions in my daughters, especially as they get older. Lately, Iris has been especially guilty of shielding the rest of the world out when she’s reading in a manner similar to when I am on a roll workwise. And it’s in those random moments where I want to spend a good amount of time trying to teach a lesson, only to realize that it would mostly be a “do as I say, not as I do”. After all, I am just as guilty as they are. And every time I try to admonish Iris and Robyn for committing these mistakes, the buzzer goes off in my head and all I can think is “Excuse me, pot? This is the kettle. You’re black too.” As I lecture them, the hypocrisy is palpable and I’m grateful they can’t see the comical conflict going on in my head. Perhaps the greatest gift ever given parents was the ability to prevent kids from reading our minds when we know we’re full of it.
Fortunately, it’s not that I’m the most horrible person to be a role model. I do manage to do good things and I do feel very good when I see that in my kids (and I’m particularly excited as I watch them emulate their mother). But still, there’s a lot of pressure. And there’s also two realizations that come from this phenomenon. One is the reminder of my own imperfections. When I see the behavior in the girls, I can get frustrated and then remind myself of how frustrating my own behavior must be to Cherise or other important people in my life. The second is knowing that my own daughters, my own perfect, innocent, infallible daughters will likely do the same stupid, inane, goofy stunts that their father did in his life. After all, I am creating the basis for the behavior. I am the blueprint for their decisions. When you go through my laundry list of stupidity, it’s stunning As I ruminate the dumb decisions that they’ll surely never make, I start to think back to my poor mother and how delusional to think that her sweet son would so perfectly walk the straight and narrow. And the funny part is that I was probably one of the less mischievous kids out there.
But here’s the thing: while I can and should strive to be a better person and set an example, there’s only so much I can do to my own quirks in behavior. I gotta be me. In fact, perhaps the most important lesson I can give them is to be themselves. After all, the most important reason I married Cherise was that I’ve never once had to change who I was. And while I’ll encourage my girls to strive to do better than their father, I’ll stay as tolerant as I can for those times when I know I’m at least partly to blame.