Of all the projects that a guy takes on during his lifetime – and I’m including adding indoor plumbing here – none is more life-changing than becoming a father.
Few boys would list becoming a dad as a life goal. Ask any 8-year-old schoolboy what he wants to be when he grows up and none will glance around the playground and say, “I want to ride herd on a bunch of rowdy booger-eaters just like these guys!” or “I can’t wait for that day when I throw up in my mouth a little while I change a stinky diaper!”
Many boys would state that they want to be such things as an astronaut or a fire fighter. Precious few would say that they want to be the driver of a minivan that’s infested with juice-stained, fidgety miniature humanoids who are constantly spewing such deep philosophical insights as, “Dad! He’s making faces at me!” or “Dad! He’s looking at me!” or “Dad! He’s breathing my air!”
As I approached adulthood I, like many guys, had some vague goals regarding what my life would be like. Becoming a dairy farmer topped my list, but I also longed for adventure and romance. Think James Bond with a herd of Holsteins.
Life often has its own ideas. I met a special young lady, and we soon fell in love. We got married, and it wasn’t long before babies came along.
Being a dairy farmer, I knew everything there was to know about raising young stock: Give them plenty of feed and water and make sure they have comfy place to rest. We applied these principles to our two sons and got above-average growth rates through weaning and beyond.
We knew that our eldest was special when he was a tyke. Like many boys, he loved to take things apart, but seemed to have an affinity for everything electronic.
One day when was about 9, he asked if he could have a breadboard. We soon learned that this had nothing to do with loaves.
A breadboard is a base that’s used for constructing electronic circuits. The guys at Radio Shack must have loved it whenever we visited their store.
My wife would be cleaning the house and the vacuum would clatter like it had ingested gravel. In its bag she wound find a baffling jumble of teeny diodes and tiny transistors.
By the time he was 10, our oldest son could make computers dance. More importantly, he could make them beg for mercy when they misbehaved. His skills came in handy whenever we wanted to program the VCR. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s used his talents to become the IT manager at a high-tech electronics firm.
We also knew that our youngest son was special when he was a tyke. Like many boys, he loved to play with tools. He was given a toy tool belt and spent hours “fixing” things around the house. It was cute, but I secretly wondered if he would grow up to be a janitor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
One day when our youngest was 3, my wife said she had something to show me. She took me to the bedroom our boys shared. One side looked as if it had been hit by a tornado (in other words, normal). The other side of the room was clean and tidy, with several pairs of tiny shoes lined up in a neat row against the wall.
This was how we learned that our youngest son has a strong penchant for organizing things. I don’t know where he got that, but it certainly wasn’t from me. My idea of cleaning house involves kicking things into a pile at the center of the room.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our youngest son used his passion for tools and organization to become a project controls senior analyst at a large multinational construction firm.
Once, when our boys were grade-schoolers, I took them with me to get parts at a local farm implement dealer. On our way home, the future IT manager and the future senior analyst began to push each others’ buttons as only brothers can. The pickup cab filled with “He’s breathing loud on purpose!” and “He put a pretend booger on my arm!”
“That’s it, I’ve had enough!” I exclaimed as I pulled over. We were near a Dairy Queen, so I drove through and bought us a round of malts.
Contented silence reigned as we drove home.
“OK, guys,” I said. “You know the rules. We’re not gonna tell Mom, right?”
“Right!” they chirped between slurps.
Becoming a dad may not have been one of my life goals. But it’s been by far the most fulfilling.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.