x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Scared of being a father; terrified of being a bad father

This is the chapter of life that will see me going from a protector to a father to a friend, then a lawmaker, a banker, an adviser and finally a burden. Such is the ordinary cycle of life.

God willing, in five months from now, I will be a new father. It is a role I never imagined I would fill. Unlike my wife, who grew up dreaming of a Prince Charming, a castle and being a mother, I lived in the selfish world of Me.  My planning for the future stopped when I got married and got a stable job. This is as far as I could see. I never imagined kids or fatherhood. I never played house or even contemplated changing nappies.

Yet, I am embracing this stage as the next chapter in my story. This is the chapter that will see me going from a protector to a father to a friend, then a lawmaker, a banker, an adviser and finally a burden. Such is the ordinary cycle of life. This is the stage when the future comes too quickly and the present always feels like the past. The scary concept for me is that despite how many books, articles and material I read on parenting, I know for certain that nothing can prepare me for what is to come. For a man to not know what the next year will look like is a little unsettling. My role as provider and protector is suddenly in question because of the miracle growing inside my wife's body.

The thoughts I have about fatherhood involve more than cuddling a cute little baby that I love unconditionally. It's the responsibility of raising a child that will love us and respect us. It's the unanswered questions I have about his education and his future. What instruments will he play, who will he marry, his faith, his career choices, his retirement plan and what he will do with his parents when we are old. I don't want to be left in a senior home. Wahda, wahda - take it easy, Marten. 

As the day of delivery gets closer, I am more consumed by how my own parents were when they had me. Did they read books about child rearing? Were there even books of that nature back then? What did they expect I would be like? Did my father take advice from his father? Who did he look up to? What was their logic behind having children? Today, we see marriage as a separate stage from parenting. Our generation is more intentional about having children, whereas our parents had children because that's just what you did. Marriage equals children. It was a strange concept for our family in Egypt that we were trying not to have children. "We will pray for you, God willing, you will have children soon," they would say.

Another difference between the generations is the involvement men take during these nine months, generally more than our fathers took. I credit that to the gadgets involved that allow us to listen to the baby's heartbeat and movements in the uterus. It's the technology, the accessories, the ergonomic telescoping handle on the Skate Stroller, that lures me into shopping for our first born.  Shopping, however, is the easy part in preparing for this next chapter. The trick will be teaching a child not to scream in public, throw temper tantrums or lie. To fight the underlying urge to give him everything I never had as a child: trips to Disneyland, piano and swimming lessons, football practice, a tree house, video game nights, a puppy for Christmas, bedtime stories, weekends at the grandparents and a college fund.

These are things my parents never gave us, not because they were bad parents, but because they were never exposed to these values growing up. In fact, they gave us the best they could and we are forever indebted. When we moved to Canada, my brother and I watched our cousins, who were born there, experience all the "normal" things of childhood. They genuinely believed in Santa Claus, took family holidays to Disneyland, wore brand-name clothes and even had puppies. 

When we took in a stray puppy, it ran away because we were feeding it mouloukhia, an Egyptian soup, and chasing it around the neighbourhood.  I am told every father wants to give their children what they never had, which explains my desire to do so. I want to explain, when appropriate, the story of the birds and the bees. I also want to walk him through the street of Alexandria, up the narrow staircase to where I spent 12 years of my life. I want him to learn the values of hard work, the taste of victory and defeat. I want him to witness the indisputable evidence of God's existence from the mountain tops and the valleys.

As much as I am scared to be a father, I am even more afraid of being a half-hearted father. myoussef@thenational.ae