I have a tendency to take things seriously. I am not sure when this changed in me. When I was a young boy in school, I was a nerdy scholar. I had to be, otherwise my father would have had his great Chinese meltdowns on my ass. But to cover up how stressed I was about doing well in school, I acted out to classmates as the class clown. I could pull laughs out of any situation and circumstance in school and was very quick on my feet. I was the person who brought a sense of levity every place I went. I used this as a way to be popular so kids would want me to hang around, as we all know the nerdy book kids didn’t always get that same attention. I went on to remain funny in college and I can remember being on tour with a repertory theater company during my summers at college and keeping the entire troupe in stitches on long road trips. There were even times when people told me to go into comedy professionally. But over the years, I became involved in more serious and desperate situations: working in third world countries, working during the AIDS epidemic, working in AIDS prevention, working for non-profits. In general, things have gotten more serious for me – relationships became serious and, consequently, even break ups became more serious as I got older. As the jobs got more serious, so did the expenses – home ownership, cars, etc. Life just gets more serious the older you get. I remember the first time I bought life insurance. I thought, “What the hell am I becoming?” Then there was the day I knew I wanted to be a father; what a turning point in my life that was. From that moment on, even though it took many years after to bring that into my life, my every decision became more serious about what it would take for me to be a good father.
When Valentino was finally born into our lives, things got a whole lot more serious. They just do when there is this fragile life depending on you for every breath and bottle. And we did everything as perfectly as possible – we bought books, followed advice, and even downloaded poop apps on our smart phones. We made conscious, thought-out decisions about formulas, food, and organic sleepers. We bought practical vehicles, safety seats, and crib bumpers. Yup, things have gotten pretty serious. I know this is all normal. In my workplace at Imua Family Services we see parents everyday who are addressing some very serious questions about their babies and young children and facing numerous uncertainties. It all becomes very serious, but it’s just another part of parenting.
I thought my father was very serious when I was growing up. He did not have time to take things lightly. He wanted answers, and he wanted them then and there. “How was school today? Did you get good grades? What have you been doing for the last hour? Are your chores finished?” Time together meant that I was helping him in the kitchen of our restaurant, making pies, making egg rolls, or making wontons – it could be anything, but it was all done very seriously. Food has to be prepared right, don’t waste time, get the job done, concentrate, do it right the first time, follow directions, and of course, don’t taste along the way. These were very serious instructions to follow as a young kiddo. I might add that if I did not do something right, my father would make me do it all over again until it was done, not only right, but perfectly.
So I have this same tendency as you might imagine, although I have learned to curtail my expectations of others around me, my expectations which I place on myself are that of the voice of my father in every instance. While he has long passed on, I still do everything to meet his approval. So along comes my son, this beacon of light, laughter and light heartedness. He is three years old now and, quite to my surprise, his catch phrase is “it’s okay!” If he spills something he looks at me and says, “Daddy, it’s okay.” Not a question, a statement. If he has an accident in his pants, he says, “Daddy, it’s okay.” If the dogs chew up his toys in the yard, he does not get upset. He simply says, “It’s okay.” If he falls and scrapes his knee, or gets paint on his shirt, or ice cream falls on the ground, he simply smiles and says “it’s okay, I’m okay.” Where the heck did this kid get this light-hearted sense of priorities from? Of course he is absolutely right about everything. It really is okay. Everything will be fine and, in the big scheme of life, the small things are not worth a fuss. He is readily able to accept that and move on. He has become my guru, allowing me to lighten up, not take things so seriously, and positively believe that everything will be okay.
His youthful exuberance and carefree style have been bringing me back to my childhood, and he is giving me permission to slip up, make messes, and accept my mistakes. Tino is joyous with laughter, full of play and scoundrel-filled smiles. He keeps me on my toes, and when we make mistakes, either of us, he simply reminds me – “it’s okay.” It seems so odd to me that now that I am finally a father myself, it took my own son to finally give me the permission to be less than perfect. He only wants me to be there with him. And when we are together, everything really is so much more than okay.