• blake beyer

Speaking in my Dad's voice

We've been letting the kids get a way with murder during this quarantine, mostly for our sanity but also because it's hard to explain to them why the rules for bedtime matter when they don't have to wake up for school. Frankly they've been pretty good at keeping it together. Except around bedtime.

The routine usually goes like this. They stay up past their normal bedtime of 8:30, either watching TV or playing games on the computer. We realize how late it is, and send them upstairs to get ready for bed. We hear them running around and cavorting upstairs after we had told them to get in bed. We yell upstairs several times in our most stern voices for them to get in bed. Finally, one of us has to go upstairs and lay down the law. All children asleep five minutes later.

My Father-in-law John has been living with us during the coronavirus lockdown, and he and I have been watching lots of history shows together. The other night while I had our show paused and I was yelling upstairs, I commented to him that it's weird to see the world through my father's eyes, now being on the other side of the bedtime struggle. I remember being their age, one of three kids who weren't ready for the day to end and always ignoring instructions. Turnabout is fair play, and all that.

I catch myself thinking about my dad a lot these days, usually in moments like that, where I open my mouth and my dad speaks. To my children I sound like their dad, coming upstairs to make sure rules are followed. To me, I sound like me, a grown kid who still feels like he's figuring this out. I wonder what went through my dad's head in instances like this. He was a towering figure to us, always in command, very loving but with firm guardrails. I'm sure it's similar to how our kids see me, which is very weird for me to consider. I don't think we ever feel like we measure up.

Maybe that's why people find biographies so instructive. It helps us understand that historical figures that navigated trying times had the same thoughts and emotions, the same struggles with consequences and the pressure to get it right, and the creeping doubt that pervades everything. It always seemed to me that my parents had it figured out, so sure of themselves and the why of everything. I guess adults appear that way to kids, given the imbalance of power implicit in the difference in ages and experiences.

It does make me think about the things I didn't like when I was their age, and also why my parents did what they did. It's not like they had raised other children before, or had a manual passed down to them. They did what they thought was right, in the context of their time and given the experience of their parents. I worry about Katherine being too bossy, Matthew not being assertive enough, and Isabelle being a troublemaker. It takes me down a rabbit hole of second guessing how we are raising them, and the unintended consequences of a million little decisions. A topic for another day, but I sure wish I could ask my Dad about it.

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