Hey, Ricky Stratton turned out just fine
Before you judge, hear me out: I’m not here to defend abusive, neglectful, drunken or absentee fathers, the ones in wife-beaters and memoirs. Nor am I pro-workaholic dads — the ones who leave their kids with moms or nannies, while they helicopter in on Sundays, with lipstick on their collar and one eye on ESPN.com. I just mean that I have a daughter, age 2, and I’m not living for her. I’m living for me. Me me me.
This can’t be uncommon among dads. (Who’s with me?) But it does feel strangely confessional to write here, because, well, because we’re supposed to live for our children. Say otherwise at the playground — a la writer Ayelet Waldman, who famously called her children “tangential” to her marriage — and outrage ensues.
But there’s a benefit to being selfish: It makes me a better dad.
When I come home, my daughter sees I’m fulfilled. Fulfilled, I am able to be present for her. Moreover, she’s curious about what’s fulfilling me — “Did you have a nice, fun day?” — and curious about the concept of fulfillment.
I judge my life on my accomplishments. And I don’t count my daughter as one.
By fulfilled, I mean culturally fulfilled, because that happens to be my thing (both enjoying culture and making it). If I want to be out until 4am at an Erol Alkan show, I’m there. If I want to spend nights working on my blockbuster screenplay about reincarnation, I will. If I must, absolutely must, spend $29.99 on a season pass to Breaking Bad, well, then I’m just being lazy, because it’s easy to bootleg online. But I’ve done it. And I’ve worked late too, at my creative, paying job — a job that fulfills me, even though bankers get paid more.
I can get away with this because:
• I happily share the responsibility of raising my daughter. No matter where I’ve been the night before, I’m available to change diapers or read The Gruffalo at 6am, and cherish my time with her.
• My wife lives for herself also — or rather, she lives however she wants. Right now, that’s with a focus on the family unit and her own interests, sometimes in that order.
• I love my daughter tremendously. And I fall in love with her more daily. And she feels loved. Ask her. She’s speaking in full sentences now, only half of which are ’80s movie quotes.
As a matter of scheduling, a selfish life is simple to pull off: Any night my wife wants to do something for herself, she does, and I stay home. All others, I go out. Every night, I’m doing something. And occasionally we’ll spend nights together, madly in love, catching one another up on what we’ve missed. We also fully observe Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath, as a family of three, guaranteeing at least one intimate, uninterrupted 25-hour period of togetherness. With wine!
But it does get complicated — and fractious — on an existential level. I’ve already told you my wife’s view (the family unit is currently, usually, coming first). But I judge my life on my accomplishments. And I don’t count my daughter as one. Her growth is her accomplishment, the product of her own determination, and the teachings of her dad, her mom, her grandparents, her teachers and Peppa Pig. That leaves me to worry about … me.
And this is problematic as a father and husband because: cash.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, I am immature—if maturity is defined as home ownership and an ability to compromise.
Every Fringe Fest ticket, every Cornetto Trilogy marathon, every double Macallan is money that could be (should be?) going to a college fund, a bigger home or more whole-grain cereal. For my family, this is exponentially destructive because Erol Alkan doesn’t play in the suburbs. I want to live in big cities, near the latest things-to-do. And big cities strangle families. So I’m not selfish because I like to do things; I’m selfish because I like to do things that happen to cost a lot of money.
The obvious solution is to save more cash. But my solution is to somehow make more, getting paid for my passions. (Anyone want to buy a screenplay about reincarnation?) This strategy has another name: The American Dream.
Now, even I find my outlook problematic. A life lived in pursuit of fulfillment, and judged by accomplishments, equals guaranteed disappointment. Who’s happy with what they have? The American Dream is a myth, especially for guys with liberal-arts degrees.
Also, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I am immature, if maturity is defined as home ownership and an ability to compromise. (Funny, we’re always reminding our daughter to share.) Finally, my problems are first-world problems, and thus insufferable to even myself sometimes. But changing my habits would mean changing me. Me, me me.
My parents set the example, for better or worse. After a move to the suburbs, they divorced, and my mom fled back to Manhattan to continue her career in musical theater — successfully, but at great cost. My father also eventually gravitated toward a big city, but only in his twilight years, after decades as a depressed single dad. On the day he died, he told me he was proud of me, and I hoped he was finally proud of himself.
Am I overcompensating, trying not to repeat their mistakes? My horrified accountant would say yes. Am I their legacy? Maybe, maybe not.
But I don’t consider my daughter to be my legacy. A legacy is something you leave behind, and she’s not mine to leave. She’s her own person, with her own opinions and her own interests. I’ll always be available to her, to hear about them, or for anything else. She’ll know where to find me: at the club, or movie theater, or museum, or at work, or at the synagogue — growing. Living. Trying to pay for all this. And always, always coming home.
The top 3 things every selfish dad needs
1. A decent child carrier. A selfish dad likes his hands free. The KangaKid holds your baby and all his/her stuff, and also acts as a backpack. $159 at deuter.com
2. A powerful child monitor. Never, obviously, leave the child alone. But if you want to nip down to the basement or something, try the BabyPing Video Monitor — it works via wifi, so you can watch your baby on an iPhone or iPad. $169 on amazon.com
3. Shows you’d watch yourself. We both enjoy Rastamouse, a stop-motion show about a crimebusting reggae band, and Sesame Street Old School, which has trippy music and celebrity cameos. (All pre-1984, so no Elmo.) Not to mention, Broadway musicals. Next year: Weird Al.