Some men and women hate children or find them a tremendous bother. On the surface, it stands to reason. Children require constant attention, get sick, cost money, take away most daylight hours, take away most nighttime hours as well, suck energy, put jam on everything, stomp dry-docked surfboards, get slivers, cry because they don’t want their sliver taken out, cry because their sliver is still embedded, need to get driven from school to soccer to slumber parties until 16-ish, etc. How can be there time to surf or sex with such demands? In reality, though, only the unimaginative father and/or abuse mother will ever let the cost of child rearing detract from the benefit.—Chas Smith
1. Biological narcissism
Young Narcissus, in Greek mythology, became so enamored with his own reflection as it bounced off of a river that he stuck his whole head in and drowned. A parent, staring at his or her own offspring will experience similar awe. The genes, as they re-order themselves in another sentient being, are wondrous to behold. It does not matter if parent is physically lacking or ugly…the offspring, as reflection, inspires. And there is no danger of drowning in a river while staring at this reflection. Only the danger of getting jam smeared somewhere permanent and annoying.
It is a good thing to do something well and, likewise, get praised for doing it well. Compliments, though, are a minefield for the grown up. When people tell me they like my writing, for example, I never take this statement as fact. I think to myself, “Yeah? Well of course you are going to say that to my face…” or “Hmmmmm. Really?” But when people tell me my child is beautiful I know that it is so and think, “Damn straight.” A child allows for pure, undiluted acceptance of adulation. Especially if she is as beautiful as mine.
“Dad strength” gets spoken of and I knew what it was, because my dad could probably still smoke me even though he is old, but never knew how to get it. In retrospect it is obvious. Become a dad. I am stronger than I have ever been in my life and it is a thick, brutal strength. A rough dumb strength. I think it comes from carrying a little baby every single day. The little baby starts somewhere near ten pounds and then grows, slowly, to twenty then thirty then forty then fifty etc. It is so slow and the dad carries always and so his muscles slowly grow too. It is like the parable of a frog getting killed in a pot when the temperature slowly raises to boiling. Such incremental build is not noticeable in the moment but after time the frog is dead and boiled. And the dad is a strange muscleman.
Rage is a fine thing to have and especially when combined with strength. Of course it can get out of control. It can be a fire that burns helpless innocents to the ground or looks very silly when poured out upon a late night barista who happens to use soy instead of whole milk. But it can also be glorious. Since becoming a father, I have roared more people off waves than I can even count. The wave is always twice as satisfying afterward. I know a father who roared once in the surf because someone was in the way and it was accidentally a Bra Boy. At the moment he felt so strong and brave. Later he feared for his life and maybe still fears for it today. Rage makes a man or woman feel alive. And children are the root cause of rage because they make a parent excessively tired thus short-circuiting the parental brain and also create an evolutionary craving to protect them. When cars drive too fast down my street I lose my very mind and slam their hoods, curse their drivers etc. Recently, I tried to strangle a driver but was pulled off by another dad who lived nearby. He said he was only protecting me because, once, he threw a chainsaw at a car that sped by and almost went to jail.
When children come along it is sometimes more difficult to surf or skate or snow or do any sort of pastime. It would maybe be a downer except when a free thirty minutes comes along and I can paddle out it is a glorious thirty minutes. First, it feels very nice. Second, with the strength and the rage, I catch many waves and try to surf each like Sunny Garcia. I try and throw buckets of spray and bury my rails deep and arrrrrgh. I am passionate, now, like Sunny Garcia when I surf and that is very much better than surfing like Michael Dunphy.
I am trying very hard to get rich but there are setbacks from time to time and frustrations. But a child brings riches near. Of course they cost money themselves and in that way, they make a man or woman work and work hard. My head has never been further down, my stronger-every-day shoulder pressing the wheel. I won’t fail. But if I do, my daughter is very beautiful and she can be a model or an actress or a singer and I can be Billy Ray Cyrus. Proud. And rich.
At the end of the day, though, nothing but nothing is as satisfying as an offspring’s smile. It makes up for all the missed surfs, skates, snows, sexes whatever. Because that smile is very beautiful. Only a parent knows that unless the father is unimaginative, the mother abusive. A finely executed, perfectly-timed cutback on a head high wave comes close. But the child’s smile is better eight times out of 10.