“Are you excited?”
This is one of the more common questions I’ve fielded from my family, friends, and colleagues over the past seven-plus months. You see, I’m about to become a first-time dad, and there are moments when the thought of combining forces with my wife to raise a bouncing baby girl fills me not only with exhilaration, but also with a sense of inner tranquility that’s difficult for me to fully comprehend or articulate.
So yes, I’m excited. But…
I’m also 43. In full disclosure, moments after learning that I would soon be a father, I googled “First-Time Celebrity Dads Over 40,” expecting to see a who’s who of leathery but hip rock-and-roll dads strapped with a Fender bass and a Baby Bjorn. Instead, my computer froze. I’m sure it was just a coincidence.
I realize that on the list of concerns among child-rearing experts, 40-something first-time dads probably rank somewhere between hours of weekly screen time and whether to go with a clown, magician, or bouncy house. (I already know: The answer is always bouncy house.)
But I’d be misleading myself if I insisted that keeping up with our daughter as she transitions through her major life stages isn’t a concern. I want to be there, alert, alive, and by her side, for everything — from hearing her first words, to witnessing her first steps, to interrogating her prom date, to watching her inauguration speech in 2060. It pains me to think I may not be around to witness all — or even most — of it.
On the flip side, I also realize that the odds that I’ll be present and lucid for many of my daughter’s seminal moments are pretty good as long as I continue my love-hate relationships with cardio and clean(ish) eating. Meanwhile, even youthful dads miss milestones because let’s face it: Life has a way of getting in the way.
Also a plus is the fact that I am 43. I have half a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom — hatched from half a lifetime of experiences — in my dad toolkit. Inherent in that wisdom is the insight that being good at something takes time. This requires patience, a quality that’s taken me years to develop.
So I may not be a great dad all the time, especially in the beginning, but I’m now able to grudgingly accept that. Eventually, I’ll find my way through the weeds and become the dad my daughter needs me to be.
Realistically, the age thing, while still a concern, is workable and probably not that big of a deal. And I’m sure once the baby comes, I’ll be so neck-deep in poop-and-pee-slinging, I won’t have time or energy to spiral about whether or not I’ll one day be able to relate to a preteen who, after gleefully listening to a Kendrick jam, chirps, “I love oldies!”
The much bigger concern for me is one that I may have even less control over than my age. If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ve probably already surmised that my big fear is introducing a child into a world in which a misogynistic carny barker has somehow attained our nation’s highest office and all the accompanying power that it confers (and shockingly, allows). So yes, this is a concern of mine — at least for the first four to eight years of my daughter’s life. But there’s more to it. At least for me.
In my mind, Donald Trump — the individual whose communiqués are saturated with spite, lies, ignorance, and comically incoherent word jumbles — is merely a personification of our nation’s collective state of mind. He’s a spray-tanned manifestation of the things that many Americans have come to value as well as the things we’ve chosen to neglect.
We value strength, even if it sometimes goes unchecked and steamrolls the vulnerable. We value material wealth, even if it means stepping on others’ toes, heads, and corpses to amass and keep it. We value stuff, even if having more and more of it means living in a world with toxic air, poisonous water, and collapsing ecosystems because of it. We value self-interest, even if it means clinging to myths or rejecting science to preserve it. We value seemingly quick and easy solutions to complex, age-old problems — and thus we value the clowns who claim to have them.
We also misinterpret the value of critical thinking, which is not simply the ability to eviscerate opposing viewpoints, but rather, the capacity to skillfully interrogate all viewpoints — especially one’s own.
What have so many Americans sacrificed in favor of these “values”? Community. Charity. Education. Empathy. Thoughtfulness. Equity. Oh, also: honoring and protecting the mother who gave birth to all of us. In other words, the values I will try to instill in our baby girl.
But it won’t be easy. Even given the tools to be a lifelong critical thinker, my daughter will likely be tasked with fending off powerful media messages that either promote toxic viewpoints, subvert truth, or categorically demonize worldviews that don’t serve a corporately subsidized agenda.
With ceaseless war, health care becoming an unattainable commodity, and accelerated, unabated global climate change, she’ll also be thrust into a world that has become the result of humankind’s seemingly unquenchable desire to obliterate itself.
Then there’s me.
I’ve used a collective “we” in this post because I’m not an innocent bystander to the things I’m critiquing. Throughout my life, at one time or another, I’ve taken up many of the “values” that I’ve just railed against. Being a progressive doesn’t immunize one from moments of blindness, stubbornness, or self-servitude.
What I do have going for me is the awareness that my own occasional fits of inanity can undermine the corpus of values that I otherwise hold so dear. In short, I’m flawed, and I know it. But I’m working to be a better person every day.
And maybe that’s where we’re all at: flawed but still with enough agency to do the right thing if we can somehow find the strength to both acknowledge our own frailties and work toward curbing them (hopefully) with the support of others. Then just maybe, we can save ourselves, and by extension, our world. It’s a huge stretch, but not totally impossible.
Or maybe it is. Quite frankly, I’m running out of answers.
But maybe one day, years from now, when I ask my daughter if she has a way to save the world, she’ll have an answer. And if her response begins with something to the effect of “Dad, it’s complicated” before laying out her complicated plan, I’ll realize she’s exactly what this crazy world of ours needs — and also that I’ve done a decent job for an old man.