My friend Hal Johnson writes a lot about in his blog about his seven-year old son, Dylan. Hal obviously derives great pleasure and reward from being a parent. It pains him to be a pilot who is gone from home for two weeks at a time. In fact, his blog is titled, Dispatches From The Away-Dad Nation. His stories always tug at the heart a little, sometimes a lot. But, aside from being the same age as Hal (although rumor has it that he has suddenly aged a year on me as of...yesterday?), I have absolutely no desire to be a father. I know that I would not be good at it.
And don't give me that line about how you never know what kind of parent you'll be until you actually have your first child, and how being a parent "changes you." I don't wanna know, and I don't wanna change.
We went camping this past weekend. "We" being me, Matt, Alisha and her five-year old son, Dylan. It was only to the nearby Big Lagoon State Park on the outskirts of Pensacola. Kind of small, and located in a swampy area on the Intracostal Waterway (and without any real beach to speak of), Big Lagoon is often overlooked and overshadowed by our Gulf Islands National Seashore (which is mostly still closed from damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2005). Still, it's a nice park, and for our first camp of the season / dress rehearsal it was perfect.
I've been camping all my life, and I love it. My parents always took us camping, mostly as a way of escaping New York City. So whether it's minimalistic camping on a motorcycle, "roughing-it" on a hike with a backpack, canoe-camping in the wilderness, or "kitchen-sink" camping from a vehicle, I'm good at it. I know how to prepare and what to bring. This trip went pretty well, all things considered. The only thing I forgot to bring was milk for my morning coffee. I do wish we'd "forgotten" to bring the rum. Sadly, we never forget that.
Part of the reason for the trip was to get Alisha out more. She's only ever been camping one other time, I think. And so had Dylan. Matt and my goal is to make campers out of these city-folk.
Dylan is mildly autistic and extremely hyperactive at times. His attention-span is short, as you'd expect. But he's a great kid, and because I've been around him a lot, we've kind of bonded to the point where he's taken to calling me "Uncle Bobby." Which I'm not really comfortable with.
So it was Sunday morning and we were breaking camp. I had the Mother Of All Hangovers, teetering on the edge of asking God to just kill me and put me out of my misery. Dylan was zooming around like a dervish. If there had been walls on our campsite, he'd have been bouncing off them. He said...something...to me that ended with, "...right, Uncle Bobby?" And then he was off, doing something else. Facing away from him as I packed my gear, and assuming that he wasn't listening to me, I said to no one in particular (and not very loudly), "I've got some bad news for you, Dyl. There is no Santa Claus and I ain't your uncle." He gave me no indication that he heard it, and questioned neither statement at the time.
But Alisha heard it. And she wasn't happy. In fact, "royally pissed" would be the better term. Who was I to tell her kid that Santa Claus didn't exist?
Matt scolded me about it later. He said that kids hear everything, whether they acknowledge it or not. And I do know this to be true. My lame excuse was that if he heard me at all, Dylan will surely have forgotten that bit of news about Santa Claus when Christmas rolls around again in...eight months. And he continues to call me, "Uncle Bobby." Which shows how much he listens to me...about the same as my real nephews and nieces.
This little event explains why I am not a parent. It takes a special type of person to be a parent...you know, an ADULT. And I'm not there yet. Maybe never. Hopefully never.
I admire Hal and Matt and Alisha, and all the good, generous, capable people like them who've seen fit to bring young'uns into this world. God only knows what my parents had to put up with having us kids...six kids! It's just not for me. My best contribution to the art of parenting is that I refrain from the endeavor. I read Hal's posts about his relationship with Dylan, and it doesn't make me get all squishy inside and go, "Gee, I wish I was a parent." Nope. It makes me go, "Thank God it's not me writing that."