Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dad in the Gaps

Those of us who have been around very long, especially those who have been living with spouses very long, know that we are doomed and blessed to transform into our parents. The way they thought and behaved fills in the gaps for so many thoughts and behaviors it has never occurred to us to question.

Spouses are among the best at spotting these areas where we’ve been stamped by the DNA of their in-laws. Melody was the first to notice that a habit I have of sitting with my left leg bent sideways under my right knee was not an original invention but something my dad commonly did (as documented in a number of photos). This is all the more interesting because he died when I was three, before I could have possibly learned to copy this behavior. As a friend once said, remarking about the similarities between his habits and his father’s, “For people with bodies like ours, this is just a comfortable way to sit.” In turn, I have noticed the way Melody shares her mother’s empathy, intellectual independence, insatiable curiosity and the ability to talk circles around the same topics, spiraling toward some kind of deeper understanding or affirmation.

But it’s not as simple as DNA. Some of the ways we become our parents are clearly learned. I hear my step-dad Shelly every time I respond to Melody with the automatic affirmative “ummhmh.” I feel his same impulse toward discipline in curtailing the tantrums of young children who happen across my path.

This is simultaneously frightening and comforting for those of us who are on the cusp of parenthood. No matter how much you plan and strategize about how you will raise your children, the attitudes, values, postures, insecurities, and hopefully virtues of your parents will fill in the gaps. All the more reason to worry about and trust in your own improvisations, and all the more reason to pray and strive to be the kind of person you want your children to be. They will become like you, without even thinking about it.

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