Am I Doing This Right?
A Lament For (and By) The Terminally Self-conscious Dad.
Rationally, I understand that no one is paying attention to me or my daughter when we’re out together. That is, unless she muscles in ahead of another toddler in the queue for the slide, hunkers down with somebody else’s favourite shovel or makes an impassioned plea for a treat at the grocery checkout. I know that most of the time, people – especially other parents – are too busy coping with their own situations to bother assessing my performance. After all, I don’t notice what they do until they crash into my bubble.
And yet the often-public nature of parenting causes me a level of consternation I could live without. At the heart of it is the question of what kind of father I am, or rather, what kind I am projecting. Attached to that is the worry that whatever my chosen ‘Dad type’ is, it isn’t passing muster with these strangers whose opinions I care so much about. Thankfully these internal deliberations aren’t entirely debilitating, but I resent my own tendency to tie myself in knots, as I did a few weekends back.
We’d made a Sunday morning visit to a park we don’t usually frequent. As my daughter busied herself on the equipment, I sussed out the other parents as they arrived and mingled. (As usual, everyone else seemed to know each other.) I grumbled something about ‘hipster parents’ to my wife.
“Just look at what you’re wearing,” she replied. My god, I thought, she’s right – the flat cap, the parka, the beard, the sunglasses. I was as much of a contemptible, image-obsessed d-bag as any of them. Looking at my daughter in her girly H&M finery and ever-expanding array of Hello Kitty gear, I wondered if I was passing it on to her, too.
On other occasions when I’m out with my daughter, I swiftly squander whatever cool factor I may have somehow cultivated for either one of us. Sometimes I’ll catch myself yammering at her and worry spectators will think I’m straining too hard to be cute by singing songs and making goofy jokes – I call this variety the Robert Munsch Dad. Or else I’ll be too attentive or doting or quick with the kind of praise that will make her unbearably narcissistic someday – this is the Helicopter Dad, the one who’s gonna screw it up by smothering.
Or maybe I’m making some shaky effort at discipline, and simultaneously steeling myself for the possibility I’ve become someone else’s sideshow. In those moments I can feel myself overdoing the sternness, laying it on as thickly as a hack actor. This is my Wannabe Domineering Dad, the kind that true Hockey Dads can knock off his feet with a hard glance.
When I look at other parents and what they do, I somehow presume they know what they’re doing and couldn’t possibly feel like they’re constantly flipping between guises, obsessing which one is right for the circumstances at hand. On rare occasions I have a little more clarity, and can accept the possibility that they may not be so confident about their own roles, that they too may feel like they’re covered in the desperate flop-sweat of a crappy improv comic who’s just trying to get through the scene with a smidgen of self-respect. One can hope, at least.