You can read all the books you want; parenting will still be a series of surprises with varying degrees of jaw droppage. For example, I haven't used a semicolon since high school. Sorry, Vonnegut, I'm a dad now. I can no longer discriminate against well-intentioned punctuation.
Most of the education leading up to your first go round as a parent comes in the form of warnings. Travel now, because you won't be going anywhere for years. Sleep when the baby sleeps, or you may never sleep again. Sanitize everything. You will never not be doing laundry. Never trust a car seat you found during clean-up week.
OK, that last one is mostly true, but the rest are hyperbole. I never understood why people seemed to go out of their way, almost gleefully so, to point out the negatives. Nobody ever tells you about the fun surprises of parenting, like how you get the chance to right all of your childhood wrongs.
Before you accuse me of being another dad living vicariously through his son, give me the chance to completely admit it first. You will never catch me screaming from the sidelines at coaches and officials or pushing my kid into activities against his will ... but when it comes to toys, I am absolutely taking advantage of every opportunity to relive my own childhood (gleefully so).
Growing up, we all had our favorite toys. We also lusted after the ones that never made their way home from the store. Even worse, we all had those spoiled rotten friends that got every cool toy the moment they came out. They always had the latest Super Soakers, Nerf guns, Lego sets and remote controlled cars. My best friend in daycare, Matt, was that friend.
Not only did Matt live right across the street from a huge park and playground, he had the world's most envy-inducing toy in the world - a kitty cat snowmobile that his folks let him drive around that park all winter long. My memory is near dementia bad, but I still remember the one day he let me hop on and take it for an 8 miles-per-hour spin. It was an out-of-body experience ... perhaps the first time in my life I got that "is this really happening to me?" feeling.
Now, as a parent, why wouldn't I want to do all I can to recreate that feeling for Macklin? (Side note: Mom, Dad, I know you're reading this ... this is not a public guilt trip. You set me up with the life I'm living, in which I can spoil Mack in even more ways than how you spoiled me.)
It's not so much about living through him, but rather giving him the opportunity to make those kinds of lifelong memories. And it's not just a material thing, either. His mom and I - as well as his entire extended family - are committed to giving Mack meaningful experiences.
He's not yet 3, but Mack's already been camping, skiing, boating, road-tripping and hiking. Yes, he's got the Lego sets and ride-on ATV, too, (and yes, I've already picked out a kitty cat snowmobile that, I concede, is as much for me as it is for him), but the goal is the experience. The goal is allowing those fun surprises the chance to come to life and turn into lasting memories.
Ben Hanson is a freelance writer living in Fargo. He writes about his son, Macklin, at MrFullTimeDad.com. Email him at email@example.com.