Monday, August 4, 2008










My sister recently Ferberized her 1 year old. She was anxious about it, unsure whether it was the right course of action, as some overzealous mothers see it as cruel and unusual.

For those who don't know, Dr. Richard Ferber is an expert in infant sleeping patterns who developed a method for training babies to sleep through the night. He advocates placing the infant in his crib and, at ever-increasing intervals, allowing him to lull himself to sleep. The term "cry it out" comes to mind, though it's nowhere near that abusive, if done properly. Dr. Ferber encourages parents to enter the room to soothe the baby every few minutes, but without contact. Within just a few days of diligent parenting, the baby should be able to ease himself to sleep without much work at all. Fairly basic behavioural conditioning, right?

And, really, it's just the beginning of years and years of the same. Our parents aim to mold us by encouraging the positive behaviour and counting on our basic psychological foundations to kick in. We are, after all, creatures of habit. As we get older, however, other factors begin to work on us. For the first few years, you're basically holed-up with your parents, only their thoughts and feelings governing your behaviour. Then, as years go by, friends, bullies, teachers - a multitude of factors participate in the who you are of it all.

In my limited literate years, I've written many things about my Dad. Mostly in journals or on bits of paper, some sympathetic and kind, odes of boyhood adoration, others angry rants about a caricature. No single person in my life has had the ability to bring out such a range of emotion in me. My Dad has single-handedly provided me with both the best, and worst, aspects of myself.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think this is unique. The kind of tumult in my relationship with him is classic and boringly commonplace, as if out of a poorly-written coming-of-age movie. At times deeply connected and loving, often, though, we were at-odds. Like a dog dripping saliva, though, most of our interactions weren't based in reality, but rather, soaked in the history of our relationship. I'd find myself angry because his eyebrows flexed, a trigger out of his, and my own, control. He might get worked up because I scuffed my shoes against the pavement, really just a sensory thing.

That said, my Dad is a million things, not the least of which, nicer than anyone I've known. In that I think he resented my iciness. Not the kind directed at him, he got used to that, but more my reluctance to make friends with just anyone, like he does. He'd invite besuited gentlemen from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in off the street and I'd cringe as he offered them a beer. They would say no thank you, and he'd try a can of pop or some juice. Milk? Water? Anything at all? In my family, someone without a beverage in their hand couldn't possibly be satisfied. He would do anything for anyone. I can only hope a bit of that wore off on me.

A few weeks ago Jeff and I visited my parents. They recently moved out of the house where I grew up into a smaller house in a rural area. It's their house, not mine in the slightest, and it feels that way. I'm a guest, though the furniture is familiar. They're softening in all the ways people do when grandchildren appear on the scene. But I suppose I'm still a bit skeptical. Probably a test, I bought my nephew an oversized paintbrush and some water-based chalk paint for his third birthday. When Jack starting squirting cerulean blue all over the paved walkway in their yard, I watched to see if my Dad's blood pressure would rise visibly, the veins in his head protruding. But they didn't. He genuinely didn't seem to care. I was impressed, thinking back to the copy of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff I smugly bought him one Christmas.

Furthermore, on this Sunday afternoon (despite my near-sociopathic ability to escape being on the receiving end of anything thrown) I found myself in a wide triangle with my Dad and Jeff. A frisbee sailed through the air between us. As I tossed it at my Dad, right into his hands, I held my breath. How will this go? We hadn't attempted anything like it in what felt like a thousand years. When I missed a catch, he didn't scoff or appear disappointed, just laughed and kept on playing. Another piece of the angry little boy in me dissipated, though it took a moment to shake my Pavlovian instincts. A few throws later I turned my back to see what Jack was up to, and felt the sharp crack of a Frisbee in my spine - I turned to see my Dad laughing hysterically. I didn't storm off into the house crying, but, rather, laughed right along with him. It was funny, after all.

As the years march on, I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out who we've become and how we'll relate to each other now. No longer a kid, I want my parents to know who I am as an adult. By the same token, I'm eager to know who these middle-aged people have been all these years, and who they will evolve into. I think we're navigating well, growing pains easing and simple joy taking its place.


(Above: My Dad as a boy, 1960)



7 comments:

  1. Thomas of Washington DCAugust 4, 2008 at 3:05 PM

    Great! Great! Great!

    I question your inability to make friends with anyone. You appear to be a warm person..just an honest and straightforward person.

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  2. Self-imposed inability to befriend anyone. I like my circle small and perfect.

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  3. Thomas of washington dcAugust 5, 2008 at 3:36 PM

    oh..makes senses. Same here-recently I am working on breaking that trend.

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  4. I support Ferberization.

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  5. At first glance I thought it said febrezed. i know people are spraying that stuff on everything these days - but a baby! :P

    C

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  6. I started tearing up as I read this post. I was reminded of many similar moments - and moods - from my own childhood. I'm still learning to make peace with my father...and myself.

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  7. Powerful for me: "As the years march on, I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out who we've become and how we'll relate to each other now. No longer a kid, I want my parents to know who I am as an adult. By the same token, I'm eager to know who these middle-aged people have been all these years, and who they will evolve into. I think we're navigating well, growing pains easing and simple joy taking its place."

    ReplyDelete