I am a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk’s book Fight Club. The book and the film struck a nerve – and not just in me. In the tangled identity of the story’s unnamed protagonist and his partner Tyler Durden a generation saw a bit of itself. Google Tyler Durden’s name, or search Fight Club on YouTube, and you’ll see a range of remixes and responses. The story, and especially the dialogue of the main character, has become a cultural meme and metaphor. (Here is one of my favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbMa4MGFCOg)
I stumbled upon one of these creative reuses recently. Playing off of one of the key monologues in the film (see video above) the author of this blog post uses actual quotes from Tyler Durden as guidelines for innovation and creativity.
I am going to shamelessly repurpose those same quotes from the book here, and apply them to something which is about as foreign to the story line as possible: Parenthood.
Here, then, are Tyler Durden’s 8 Rules of Parenthood:
The First Rule of Parenthood:
“No fear. No distractions. The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.”
OK, let’s face it. Parenthood is full of fear and distractions. However, the truly amazing thing is the way that the fears and distractions of parenthood put the rest of your hang-ups and hesitations in perspective. You rethink what matters. You boil things down. You focus in. There is a lot in this world that matters deeply, but as parents we weigh those things with new eyes, and understand them in new ways. And, as we stare in the face of our children, as we hold them at night before bedtime, as we feel them breathing softly, we are given a profound gift – the ability to let that which does not matter truly slide.
The Second Rule of Parenthood:
“No fear! No distractions! The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide!”
See above. It’s worth restating. (If you don’t get it – read the book.)
The Third Rule of Parenthood:
“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”
There is nothing like parenthood to dispel the notion that we can ever be perfect. We are wild works in progress, and our children remind us of that all the time. But they also remind us how wonderful it is to not be complete, to still be growing, to still be learning. So let’s evolve, let’s focus on what matters, and like Tyler suggests, let the chips fall where they may.
The Fourth Rule of Parenthood:
“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
I used to sneer at people who said that once you have a baby everything changes. But its true. Granted there is plenty that remains the same, but you’ll never look at it the same way. But that’s OK – in fact its great. And that is the part that too often goes unsaid. Yes, everything changes, and thank goodness it does. Having a baby is like losing hold of everything you once knew, and there is incredible freedom that goes along with that if you are willing to let go. It’s your choice, parenthood can make you feel trapped, as though you have lost everything, or it can make you feel free, as if you have nothing to lose.
The Fifth Rule of Parenthood:
“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”
I have the good fortune to love my job. I get to work everyday trying to make the world a better place, and I define myself to a large extent through that work. But I am not my job, not the way I am my son’s father. And while having a child tends to decrease the contents of your bank account and your wallet, and likely makes you reconsider the car you drive (minivan anyone?), it redefines your relationship to all these things. As for your fucking khakis, chances are they’ll be covered in peas or sweet potatoes before you know it, so you might as well forget about them now too.
The Sixth Rule of Parenthood:
“People do it everyday, they talk to themselves… they see themselves as they’d like to be, they don’t have the courage you have, to just run with it.”
It’s impossible not to wonder what kind of parent you are, to want to strive to be a little bit stronger, a little bit more patient, a little bit more relaxed. But most of the time, there isn’t time to wonder, you just have to run with it. And that takes courage, it takes trust (in ourselves, in our families, in our children), and it takes love. As my son is just standing up and learning to take his first steps, I am reminded that when it comes to this rule, we can learn a thing or two from our children. We can sit and think, we can wait and imagine, or we can just run with it – knowing full well we will make mistakes, we will stumble, we will fall. But at least we’ll be moving forward, a little closer to that toy that is sitting across the room.
The Seventh Rule of Parenthood:
“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.”
While this sounds like the moral from some bizarre children’s book, it is in fact a useful reminder. You can buy all the parenting books – and you probably will. You can rent every parenting video – and you probably will. You can bookmark every parenting blog – and you probably will. But all the know-how, and all the advice, will not make you a parent. It may not even make you a good parent. If you want to be a chicken be a chicken. If you want to be a parent, all you can do is roll up your sleeves and begin. If you do it with love, care, respect, and gratitude you’ll be the best chicken/parent you can be. I can only wander so far from feathers up your butt to sappy (but true) cliches, so I’ll leave it there.
The Eighth Rule of Parenthood:
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
Seems like a real downer to end on right? But, it is true. As parents we live in a unwieldy paradox in which we witness our children’s lives beginning, moment by moment, milestone by milestone, as we inevitably feel ourselves getting older (oh my god, I can’t believe he’s turning one already!). And for most of us, we wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Because while our lives may be ending one minute at a time, each of those minutes are invested, imbued like sun in leaves, in the lives of our children. As our children learn, as they start their lives here, we begin anew with them, experiencing so many things again for the first time. And so, somehow, in the heart of this contradiction between beginnings and endings, we find a life so worth living that we live it without concern for the ending.