As a father, one of the most intriguing things I've discovered is that, even though they have the same parents and DNA, even though they are raised in the same house, they have such drastically different personalities and characteristics. Six have dark brown hair, two have blond hair. Five have brown eyes, two have blue eyes, and one has hazel. Some are, or are going to be, tall, and some short. Some are intensely focused on achieving goals, and some just enjoy life as it happens (they are still young though, so we'll see how this develops). All love to read though, which is something I am very proud of.
Being a father to so many for so long I have gained wisdom, if not through innate intelligence, then at least from experience and repetition. I have become an armchair expert in early child development, interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution, just to name a few. Today, I will share some of the things I've learned over the years. Use it as you will.
Like animals fleeing to higher ground before humans have a clue that a tsunami is coming, I've learned that, except between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., if you have a house full of children, the surest sign of danger is silence. If you can hear them then you know where they are and have a good idea what they are doing. It's when they are quiet that you have to worry. That's when they are trying to work stealthily, when they are experimenting with forks and light sockets, getting into tools and paint, or showing general inquisitiveness that will lead to destruction and chaos.
I've learned there is a powerful magnetic force, a gravitational pull, between toddlers and permanent markers. If you dump a box of a 1,000 writing instruments on the floor in front of a toddler, which contains 999 pencils, crayons and dry erase markers, and one Sharpie, there is a 100 percent chance that the toddler will go for the Sharpie. Likewise, if you have not retrieved said Sharpie from said toddler's grasp within 3.4 seconds, there is a 100 percent chance that you will be making a trip to the paint store.
I've learned that as a father, there is no more confusing and frustrating sphere than the inside of a 13-year-old girl's mind. There is no plains, no rolling hills, there is simply the peak of Mount Everest, and the depths of the Marianna Trench; they teleport between those two points at the speed of thought, completely bypassing the safer climes in between. As a man, there are few times I've felt more helpless than with a young, teenage daughter curled into me, traversing between heartbreaking sobs, joyous laughter, back to heartbreaking sobs, all within the course of 90 seconds. I have found some solace, a little anyway, in learning that this trait moderates with age. However, it is only moderation, and not a reversal. It simply leads to the phenomenon known as "I don't want you to try and fix it; I just want you to listen." Men, simply accept this and move on. To try to and understand this is to guarantee a trip to the place where they put you in the leather jacket that makes you hug yourself.
I've learned the likelihood that your young boy will run out of the house butt naked is directly proportional to the probability that your pastor is coming over for an unannounced drop-in to see how your family is doing. I've learned that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich inserted into a VCR renders it completely useless. I've learned that having a child give a phone a bath voids its warranty, and that 2-year-olds that sneak off with cordless phones to play with them have an uncanny ability to gravitate almost exclusively towards the numbers "9" and "1," and in conjunction with that knowledge I've also discovered that the sheriff's department is not amused at this period of said child's development (seriously, after the third time in two weeks, they tell you the next time they will come with an invoice).
I've learned that kids love to color in books, although they seem less inclined to color in coloring books than they do in college textbooks and first edition classics, and that expensive, remote-controlled cars have a life expectancy of 36--48 hours in a house full of boys. I've learned that children can be completely self-sufficient for hours on end, but the moment you get on the phone for an important call they will have something that absolutely must be dealt RIGHT NOW!! I've also learned that when you've just loaded up to go to church with eight children, the question "Does everybody have shoes on" is not nearly as silly as you might think. I've also learned that you should never, ever say anything in front of a child younger than 10 that you do not want repeated to neighbors and fellow church members.
That's not all, though. I've learned that there are few things in life that make you feel more like a hero than the sincere, tender voice of a daughter telling you, "thank you, daddy," no matter if she is 2 years old or 18. The same goes for a daughter curling up on your arms. Likewise, few things in life are more rewarding than teaching your sons how to build things (even if they don't exactly turn out the way the picture looks), and that despite being hot, sweaty and filthy, and getting a really uncomfortable night of sleep, you will cherish the times that you took your boys camping.
I've learned that if you don't make sure that you are the most important influence in your children's life, you'll not likely be please with whatever replaces it, so you better stay involved and make sure they know you care for them and their happiness more than anything else in this world. I've learned that my mother was not slightly crazy when she told me as a boy that she gets more joy at seeing us open our gifts on Christmas than she does in getting gifts.
I've learned that being a father is the most frustrating, ulcer-inducing, expensive, exhausting, underappreciated, confusing job in the world. On the other hand, I've also learned that no measure of success achieved in the world of business, sports, politics, or any other endeavor, will ever come within a 1,000 miles to being as important as being a part of my children's lives; that nothing will make you feel more important than a daughter that shares her every thought with you, or a son that earnestly seeks your advice because he thinks you are a fountain of wisdom. I've learned that children, despite my voluminous and glaring flaws as a human being and as a father, are kind, resilient, forgiving creatures with an unending reservoir of love to give if you will allow them to show it.
Finally, I have learned that humility, patience, wisdom, sacrifice, and unconditional love are the inevitable byproducts of a life spent trying to be a better father today than you were yesterday, and that, no matter how depleted the checking account gets from all of the expenses of having children, if I have their love and respect, I will always be the richest man in the world.
Louis DeBroux is a Taylorsville resident, married, with eight children. He is chairman of the Bartow County Republican Party. He owns Gatekeeper data backup and recovery. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.