There’s a scene in the film Paddington where Hugh Bonneville’s character (Henry Brown) rides up to a hospital on his motor bike with his heavily pregnant wife who is about to give birth.
The couple leap off, shout ‘let’s do this!’ with fists pumped, having agreed not to become boring parents, and disappear into the hospital. In the next scene they reemerge and Brown fusses over ushering his wife into their newly bought Volvo estate, while being extra careful to clip in their new child seat correctly.
Dan’s post on his fears about becoming a dad got me thinking and one of mine is that, like Henry Brown, I’ll lose any sense of fun and not be a risk taking dad. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to make sure the child seat is clipped in properly, but I don’t want to be so paralysed by the fear of cocking it up, that I simply spend all my time and energy trying to avoid doing anything wrong.
I’m aware that this may be easier said than done, especially given my own history. When I was about five, my parents went along to a local church and as a result I went to the Sunday school group. One morning we were reenacting a story from the bible and the leader suggested I stand on a chair to play a particular part. Apparently, my response was that I didn’t think I should, as it was ‘not very safe’.
There’s nothing like a child with a sense of risk and adventure…
I still approach many things with a desire to simply avoid messing it up. On the golf course the overwhelming thought in my head when I address the ball is often ‘just don’t cock this shot up’, especially if a small audience happen to have gathered. I know that myself and other teachers often aim to get through observed lessons without doing anything stupid or thoroughly confusing a classroom of children. But becoming a dad seems like as good a chance as any to change my mindset, because I think there are some problems with just trying to avoid messing up.
3 problems with not being a risk taking dad
1. You end up doing the thing you’re trying to avoid
You don’t have to be a genius to discover that if you try really hard not to hit the golf ball into the water, you inevitably end up hitting it into the water (perhaps I do more than most). The water becomes your focus, it dominates your thinking and suddenly seems a huge, unavoidable obstacle. People make mistakes and get things wrong. At some point I will undoubtedly dress our baby in too many or too few layers, misinterpret their crying or put a nappy on incorrectly. Trying really hard not to do those things won’t change that; if anything it will probably make it more likely.
2. You don’t do anything proactive
I think the biggest danger for me in worrying about messing up is that I spend most of my life reacting to situations and events. In fact, I could put that energy into being proactive in having a positive impact on others. To go back to the golfing analogy (sorry, it’s summer and The Open’s just happened), instead of trying to not hit the ball in the lake, I’m better off thinking ‘what do I want to do with this shot?’, ‘how do I want to shape it?’ and picturing the shot I want to hit. Instead of worrying about doing parenting badly, maybe I need to think ‘what kind of person do I want to help my child be?’, ‘How can I help them get there?’, picture steps towards that and put them into action.
3. It’s a bit boring…
Yes, it may be the safe option but trying not to mess up is a bit boring at best. At worst, it can lead to constant worry, stress and anxiety. Being proactive and taking some risks might be a bit scary but it definitely seems more exciting. And if you never try things you never learn. I’ve tried teaching methods that have gone horribly wrong. At one point in a boxing match-themed historical debate my classroom was basically chaos. But I’ve tried other methods that have worked better than I ever expected and been hugely beneficial for students’ learning. I kind of figure that if I’m willing to take risks with other people’s children I should probably do so with my own…
So I want to be a risk taking dad. That’s not to say I’ll throw all sense of caution out of the window in every circumstance. I won’t, for example, be intentionally testing the idea that as babies’ bones are so supple it doesn’t matter too much if you drop them.
I’m sure I will still have worries and concerns for at least the next 18 years. However, I don’t want to just focus on not trying to do something that I’ll probably do at some point anyway. I want to take some risks, learn from mistakes and be intentional in shaping my child and helping them grow as a person.
And I figure that if I’m doing that, they might become a risk-taker too.
Just as long as they don’t take too many when I take them out for their first driving lesson…