Parenting seemed so easy when I was childless. I could tell you without a doubt what all parents were doing wrong and what they needed to do to fix the problem. Too much TV, too many video games, not enough time outside, not enough discipline! I even toyed with the idea of writing a book. I would call it, The Childless Man's Guide to Parenting: a comprehensive approach to making your children more pleasant to the people around them.
It wasn't that I didn't like children, it was just that I had no idea how to deal with them; I didn't grow up with a lot of little kids around, so I assumed that they should act just like adults, only smaller! As time passed and we became more set in our ways, I became less and less tolerant of other people's kids, to the point of considering not having children of my own. I mean, we were happy, Leslie and me and our animals. We could go anywhere, and do anything we wanted at a moments notice. But as the years passed , our trips and toys just didn't have the same satisfaction that they once had; something was missing. Suddenly the thought of a life without children seemed cold and unappealing. But still, uncertainty and doubt plagued my thoughts. Would I be a good father? Do I have the patience for a child? Am I getting too old? Lacking a father figure most of my life reinforced my paranoia: how was I to be a good father when I didn't have a role model? A few more years would pass before we made the decision to adopt, a decision that brought with it a whole new level of anxiety. Now not only do we have to deal with ordinary parenting issues, but add to that bonding and cultural considerations, plus a trip around the world to a foreign land. I was excited, and a nervous wreck at the same time, but finally I was going to find out if I had what it takes.
I'm not sure I can explain adequately what happened the moment I first saw my boy. In the minutes leading up to this encounter, my mind was a torrent of anxiety and raw emotion. This was the culmination of 18 months of restless waiting. I felt like I already knew Manu from pictures and updates, but suddenly I realized that I had no idea what this little boy was going to be like, or if he would even like me. This is the point at which, in my previous life, I would have ran away and hid from this intense, emotional conflict. As they lead us into the room where Manu was sitting, playing on the ground, I was about to explode. Then it happened. As I looked at my little boy and he looked up at me, it was as if 20 years of pent up angst and apprehension suddenly let go, and it was all I could do to keep from crying on the spot. Suddenly I knew everything was going to be OK. When one of the Aunties said to Manu that Mama and Papa were here, I thought, "Yeah, Papa, that's me," and I slipped into that role immediately and without a second thought of the baggage I had brought with me. I was now a believer of love at first sight.
Manu has been home for five months now, and what an adventure it has been. Every day I learn something new about him and myself. I know I'm doing my job when he comes to me to show me his new discovery, or when he's trying to figure something out, or when he brings me a book and wants to sit in my lap. I've earned his trust, and to me that's what being a father is all about. We stay home a lot more than we used to, and we buy fewer things for ourselves, but we don't miss them. His smile means more to me than anything else I could be doing. I'm also enjoying playing with toys again without seeming strange! I now realize that my book would have been a colossal flop, except as a comedy piece. I think now, patience is the only advice I could give a new parent, you'll need lots of it!