In the Star Trek DS9 episode ‘Time’s Orphan’, O’Brian gives Worf and Dax their 18-month-old son to care for while they work out some issues with their older daughter. The following YouTube clip from the episode says a lot about fatherhood: Time’s Orphan
One of the pull away quotes: “I am a Klingon warrior, and a Starfleet officer. I’ve piloted starships through Dominion minefields; I’ve stood in battle against Kelvans twice my size; I courted and won the heart of the magnificent Jadzia Dax. If I can do these things, I can make this child go to sleep!” – Worf
All too often during my time as a father I have found myself uttering to myself, “I can make this child sleep/eat/behave/be quiet/eat correctly/play nicely/poop on the toilet/etc.” It is at these moments that my relationship to my sons goes from that of a nurturing father to that of a competitor with my son being the adversary. While this is obviously not the type of relationship I want, I find that it happens more often than I care to admit.
This past week, my 8-month-old son, M, has been having difficulties eating. I should say that I am having difficulties feeding him. M is completely content shoveling a few bits of Cheerios, cheese, or bread into his mouth; he just is not getting enough in his mouth for a full feeding, nor is it a balanced meal. With mom away at work, M’s standard daytime breast-feedings have disappeared too. Both of these factors makes me feel even greater urgency to see to it that M gets all of the food he needs; “I can make him eat!” But force-feeding an infant child is not a pretty site.
As the week has progressed, I find myself more and more frustrated with M and deeper into the adversary role. Luckily, these feelings of frustration and inadequacy only arise during those feedings and are not present constantly, but they still take their toll. With me older son, K, things were much worse; not with eating, but with sleeping, cue your resident Klingon. K as an infant refused to go to sleep and K as a toddler refuses to go to sleep. I remember innumerable nights with K as a baby pacing back and forth across our bedroom a zillion times, making mantra-like guttural noises to help sooth this crying/screaming child to sleep. He was so clearly tired, why could he not sleep? As K grew into toddler-hood and his vocab and comprehension grew, I still struggled to communicate why he had to be asleep promptly at 7:30pm…and by 8:45 my explanations often sounded much more like threats than reasonable arguments for the merits of sleep. To get myself through this, I would do just as Worf did, I would think of all the difficult things that I have done, and tell myself that this child could not beat me, “I can make this child go to sleep!”
But that is just it; no matter how many achievements I have made, how many difficulties I have overcome, nothing has been as challenging as being a father. It is a job, a duty, and a role that is never ending and always changing. The father I am today is very different from the father I was three years ago. And somewhere along the line, I learned that it is not a competition, but that we are in this together. Of course K needs to sleep, it is not for me to force him to sleep it is for me to assist him in finding ways to help him sleep. Of course M wants to eat, I can’t healthily force feed him, I need to find ways to assist him and empower him to eat a good balanced meal, even if he only has two teeth and little hand mouth coordination.
As a father, I am their partner and their role model. And believe me, your children will mirror your own behaviors. That is why it is important to be the person you want them to be. If I do not want them to yell or hit when they are angry, I better not do that myself. If I want them to eat their broccoli, them I better be serving up a good portion for myself too. Luckily, I have not had to do this alone, and I give big props to any single parent. My wife has been a great role model, not only for my sons, but for me too. And together, we help each other out; we help each other be better people that our sons can see as an example. And hopefully, in a time very near in the future, they both will be eating and sleeping without needing any assistance from us.