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 no fish. The rules are necessarily different. Boys, for example, play differently. They fight differently. They certainly smell different.
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So, what I've brought with me from my original family does not necessarily apply to this new family.
I grew up on the East Coast, my children are growing up in Southern California. They don't have to take a jacket every day; it's 75 degrees out. But I'm still thinking of the wrong childhood; on this day in October in my 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 did 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 dad — who worked nobly and tirelessly around the clock — would 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."
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Excerpted from Familyhood by Paul Reiser. Copyright © 2011 Paul Reiser. Published by Hyperion. All rights reserved.