We snuck in the back as the instructor took a breath for her introduction. Parents filled the room, occupying three round tables. My wife and I took seats at the one furthest from the front, foregoing the popcorn as punishment for being so dangerously close to late. Our son was with the babysitter, and the drive over felt like an impromptu date. We joked, laughed, and made stupid noises at each other. I would have thought we were kids again except for the fact that we were going to a baby dedication class at our church. We parked, leaving our goofy smiles in the car with the windows cracked and putting on responsible-parent faces as if we were adults.
As the session progressed, I had the growing sense that my goofiness was long gone, replaced by stress and anxiety. My lightheartedness must have escaped the Equinox as we sat ignorantly inside, and I became sure it had gotten hit by a car and died to later be found splattered across Hulett. I felt the whisper of anxiety moisten my ear. How could I have been so foolish to have been that silly? I’m a dad now! This is serious business. My mental state declined fast as we discussed parenting with purpose, having the future in mind, and raising healthy kids.
Darth Vader Dad Anxiety
My anxiety interrupted the session like Darth Vader. Still seated, I heard the theme music chime in as the dark figure trailed a team of stormtroopers through the door on my right. Dun dun dun, dun-da-dun, dun-da-duuuuuuuuun. The instructor froze and fellow parents cowered at the sight as it raised its black fingers at me, employing the force. I felt my throat clench and breathing stop, overcome by anxiety. More specifically, I was immobilized by a typical mental health issue among fathers known (not so) commonly as Darth Vader Dad Anxiety.
Darth Vader was kind of a bad dad. Having grown up without a father, Luke Skywalker discovered the unfortunate truth after daddy Darth cut off his hand, dangled him over the edge of the Death Star, and confessed those famous words, “Luke, I am your father.” Luke screamed, “Nooooooo,” through tear-filled eyes as the imagined childhood hero he thought of as Dad, was in fact, the jerk trying to blow up planets. I’m sure it was a rough time for little Lukey, and if MTV did a True Life: My Dad’s A Supreme Commander Of Imperial Forces, we would certainly see loads of his emotional baggage from having had a Dark Lord as a father.
Darth Vader Dad Anxiety is the stress I feel when thinking about the results of fatherhood as if, when my son grows up, he’ll pass me a report card telling me how I did. Dismally, I think, I’m certainly going to screw things up and end up as a shame to my family, just like Vader. I imagine the darkness of depression and anxiety consuming me so much so that I become unrecognizable to even myself. I worry he’ll someday look at me and scream, “Nooooooo,” as I stand there not knowing what I’ve become. Sitting in a class about good parenting, I feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of fatherhood and the unknown future. Surely, between now and eighteen years from now, the darkness will devour me, my son will hate me, and I’ll be eternally lost as Darth Doug, Supreme Commander Of The Depressed And Dying.
The Future Is Made Up Of Moments
The ride home was quiet. With a clenched jaw and a distracted mind, I didn’t flinch when we passed my goofiness as roadkill on Hulett. My body was in the present, but my mind was way into the future, threatening worst-case scenarios. My wife and I talked about the anxiety I was feeling, and she was helpful in reminding that the future is unknown, but the present is ours to control.
When we pulled into our driveway and entered the front door of our house; when I saw the soft, pudgy cheeks of my nine-month-old son spread with a gummy smile and his arms and legs flap with excitement as the babysitter held him like a greeting card, I grabbed him and kissed him, being reminded that it’s the moment that counts. Darth Vader Dad Anxiety was defeated in the light of truth. The future is made up of moments, and every moment is an opportunity. There is no need to fret about what is to come when I can be content in the present, holding my son, loving and serving him, teaching him the ways of the Jedi, so we can battle the darkness together.
This is my 50th post! Feels good. Please share and comment!