Good, by failing to be bad

Can you run a race while singing a lullaby?

Can you climb a steep ladder while changing a baby’s diapers?

I couldn’t.

At just 32, I was running a vicious rat race, climbing spiral corporate ladders and desperately vying for the world’s best husband award, all at the same time, when the nurse interrupted to announce, “It’s a boy!”

Until then, bundles of joy had only meant cash incentives at office, to me. Until then, babies had meant only baby girls to my wife- how could Barbie be a boy!

But that announcement changed everything.

Nothing mattered anymore, because our minds were doing synchronized cartwheels in celebration. Perhaps, a bit prematurely, for we were unaware of what was to follow the first child.

No, not a twin.

Parenthood.

Ever figured out why there are no training institutions, personal coaches or holy scriptures for parenthood- a job that puts the future of this planet at stake?

Or why, in a world where we can’t drive without a licence, where we can’t build a bridge without a degree, and where it’s illegal to even heal a dying man without qualifications, it is perfectly okay to be responsible for the birth, growth and life of a human being, with no prior experience, qualification, assurance or expertise?

Look for help, and you’ll find more books about making babies than about bringing them up.

Ask the much-experienced for tips, and you will get absolutely polarized views.

If one says, “Spare the rod, and spoil the child,” the other says, “Use the rod, and lose the child.”

In an environment that was as unsupportive as that, my wife and I began learning to be parents based on Trial & Error- an obsolete methodology that has for long been discarded from every professional set up, now practised only in lucky-dips, lotteries and marriages.

Nineteen years and two sons later, I realized we had committed so many errors that I could easily fill a book bulkier than the Bible with What Not To Do In Parenting.

A few months ago, on a particularly bright enthusiastic day, motivated by my wife’s “Let the world benefit from our blunders” plea, I made the cardinal sin of blogging an abridged version of those Don’ts.

I started by stating the golden rule of parenthood: Do the exact opposite of what you think is right!

As an indulgent writer, I even went on to explain that.

When my older son was around cola-demanding age, we thought it right to blanket ban cola from our home. We thought we had won the cola war, until we discovered that our boy had been going on a cola binge at family gatherings, birthday parties, neighbours’ homes and everywhere out of our home. It was by then too late to correct him. Today he can be classified as a colaholic.

For the second one, we changed strategies. We never said no to him. We gave him an overdose of cola, so much of it that we hoped he would get fed up of it. We waited for that day when he would throw up at the mere sight of cola. We waited and waited for years. That day never came. In the process, he has grown into an incurable cola junkie today.

Only bright spot of our failed experiments in parenting is- offer the kids cocaine and cola, and they’d any day choose cola.

I never knew the world had so many parents waiting for a new post with a parenting tag every day. The response to my post was fast and furious.

Dear doctor,” wrote one, “I have been bringing up my kid for the last 10 years exactly the way you have asked us not to. I am now a nervous wreck. Am I creating a Frankenstein? What should I do? Is there an antidote? Please advise.”

Why do people assume that books are written only by experts? To sound less like a trained child psychologist and more like a clueless dad, I changed that title to: Ramblings of a hapless dad

It didn’t help. From a dad I knew, came this comment: “Dear Ramesh, I have brought up my daughter exactly the same way as you have advised us not to. And I am proud to say that she is the one who has topped your son’s batch this year.”

That’s when I realized how difficult it is to generalize parenting.

One man’s Dos are another man’s Don’ts.

That would have remained my first-and-only attempt to warn would-be parents about parenting, had I not gone for a recent family function and met my niece’s husband.

He is an engineer. He lives in Mauritius. He enjoys good food. He plays chess. He loves cricket. He misses no movies. And yes, he is on the verge of fatherhood.

Of all those common interests we had, he chose to pick my weakest, “So, Ramesh uncle, any tips on fatherhood?”

Now, uncles can be bald, fat, grey, boring, clumsy and terrible to converse with, but they just can’t afford to be unwise. Ever.

“Tips? Of course, plenty!” I said, pretending to prepare for a long and tiring sermon, in reality, hoping that it would scare him and give him enough time, reason and opportunity to escape.

But he is a sincere fellow. He didn’t, and I was forced to begin.

What started off as gibberish, somewhere in the middle picked up steam and started becoming relevant, and finally when it ended, I don’t know about him, but I was mighty impressed with myself.

Pardon my lack of modesty, but I today consider it as the best treatise on parenthood that I have ever come across.

Judge for yourself.

Here it is, in full:

Parenthood can be divided into 4 stages.

  1. Correcting their wrong (0 to until they walk):

Only babies have the privilege of doing the yuckiest things and yet be termed chochweet, cute and adorable. They will pee and shit on the bed and on us, and bawl to wake us up at unearthly hours. Good parenting is all about becoming sleepless zombies, mastering the art of changing diapers and soiled bedsheets, while singing a lullaby and feeding the baby.

  1. Preventing their wrong (Until they talk):

Once they are mobile, their wrongs extend as far as their hands can reach. Good parenting at this stage is all about prevention, about out-thinking the baby or simply being faster on the draw. So, fish tanks go one shelf higher as wobbly legs learn to stand on their own, glass bottles disappear in the nick of time before chubby hands reach them, electric sockets get plugged to avoid little fingers completing high voltage circuits, and sharp edges get cushioned by palms just before baldie bangs on them.

  1. Explaining their wrong (Until they balk):

Babies become kids when they begin to talk. Their wrongs are now beyond correction and prevention, and require a change of heart. Good parenting becomes all about the skill of reasoning, and the ability to hold a one-to-one conversation with someone you share no logic with, and whose attention span is 4.05 seconds- the average time between two Facebook alerts.

  1. Discovering we were wrong (Until the end):

When children become adults, every deed of theirs- good and bad- becomes a rude reminder of our follies and stupidities. Everything we thought was right would have gone wrong, and everything we thought would go wrong would have turned out right. Basically, we would have gone wrong about both the right and the wrong. Good parenting here is all about graciously accepting life’s biggest goof up.

Exasperated with the anticlimax, my niece’s husband simply asked, “Ramesh uncle, in essence, what are you saying? Is there no formula for bringing up good children?”

Now, anything that sounds impressive in longform can sound hollow and empty when summed up in a line as an essence. Does “Jesus Suffers, Jesus Saves!” justify the Bible?

However, there are days when you just can’t go wrong. That day was one such day.

In a sudden fit of inspiration, I said, “Those who starve are prone to binge!”

His eyes widened as if he had just seen a halo appear around me.

His silence told me that he was expecting a halo-befitting explanation, which at that moment, I didn’t have. But in the next, I magically got.

(I discovered that I think better not while thinking, but while talking.)

“Goodness by constraints and restrictions is no permanent goodness.” I thundered forth thinking.

“For no will is strong enough, no resolve fierce enough, to stave off all the world’s evil for a lifetime. Pent up evil is like a volcano waiting to erupt. Sometime in life, it will and how. That’s why, very often good children grow up to become terrible adults, and terrible children grow up to become good adults.”

I took time off to drink a glass of juice that passed by, so that I could end well what had started well.

“The basic mistake is, we as parents assume all children are born good, and thus spend all our lives to protect them against the bad, to keep them away from the evil. We forget that it can never be done for too long, never too well. Instead, if we assume that all children are born bad, all our efforts would go into luring them to goodness, and making values desirable. If we succeed in making them feel good about being good and bad about being bad, the job would be done. For, only those who become good because they failed to be bad will remain good forever. The goodness that comes from the failure of the evil is the real goodness, the only permanent goodness.”

As I finished, he rose and touched my feet to seek my blessings. As I was blessing him, through the corner of my eye, I spied my kids at the bar. They were having an argument with the bartender, drunk on cola.

Thank God, the father-to-be was too bent in devotion to notice.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. These days I’m undergoing a program called E3 (Entreprenuer’s Energy Excellence) which is all about bringing transformation into business. One aspect of it is financial literacy, something I was completely ignorant to. As I started getting into it, the mentors encouraged me teach my kids the same. What pocket money I gave to my son to spend on himself is now coming back to me saying, “Can you buy an apple stock for me with my Rs 500?”. Children are the real teachers and the ones who bring food for thought. Like my son who asked me “Going by your definition of asset and liabilities Me, Vaishu and mom are liabilities right?”

    Parenting is never easy. But at the end it is a joyous experience.

    Reply

  2. That’s the problem with finance. It doesn’t acknowledge the ass in assets and the abilities of liabilities 🙂

    Reply

  3. some of your lines are always exemplary -“Ever figured out why there are no training institutions, personal coaches or holy scriptures for parenthood- a job that puts the future of this planet at stake?”…..though i need to be of your age to understand the remaining of your blog….but really nice !

    Reply

  4. It remains profound only until you understand it 🙂

    Reply

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