I was always a little awkward around dogs. With their slobber and farts and fur loss. Always jumping and licking. Always staring at you with those helpless eyes. What did they want from me? I could never tell.
B, on the other hand, always loved them. And always wanted one. So a few years ago, we got one. A little brown Boston Terrier puppy we named Benson. My life hasn’t been the same since.
Now I’m approaching strangers’ dogs in public, posting countless photos of Benson on Instagram, and
annoying talking endlessly about him to anyone who’ll listen. I’ve become a full-blown, unapologetic doggy dad.
The transition, however, wasn’t smooth. At all. The first few weeks with Benson were very hard. Sure, we lost sleep. And potty training had its challenges. But the hardest part was the emotional adjustment. Separating the distance and detachment I felt around dogs my entire life. Embracing the idea that another life depended on me. Those first few days Benson felt like a stranger in my home. A stranger I had to feed and clean up after. Who kept me up at night. As much as I hate to admit it, there were moments when I regretted getting him.
What changed then? He started curling up to sleep on my lap. He learned to fetch. Our potty training efforts started paying off. We found a routine. He showed excitement and anticipation. He’d steal a sock so I’d chase him around the house. I started seeing loyalty and purity and goodness in his eyes. It was no one thing in particular but the accumulation of moments that built a bond, an emotional connection and dependence. Suddenly, he had purpose and relevance. Suddenly, I loved him.
Everything was much easier after that. Benson was family. I knew how to act around family. I knew patience and tolerance were required of family. And I knew that the rewards of family were unparalleled.
Before I transition into raising children, let’s just get one thing out of the way: I’m not going to compare pet parenting with raising a child. Or pretend they are equal. I think it’s clear that children require more time, more effort, more patience, more endurance, and every other exhaustible human resource.
Rather, I’d simply like to ask an honest question: Does raising a dog in some way prepare you for raising a child? In what ways, if any, are they similar? Are there any applicable lessons to be learned or wisdom to take away?
I ask because I constantly question whether I’m doing enough to prepare for fatherhood. Yes, I’ve painted the nursery and we’ve started amassing baby stuff. But if Benson has taught me anything, the struggle won’t be about buying enough stuff. It’ll be an emotional, internal struggle. Because similar to my past feelings about dogs, I’m not entirely comfortable around kids. There’s a barrier there. I can smile and wave and high-five. But beyond that, my experience with children is nothing to write home about. And to me, that’s scary. I’m a musician. I’m used to practice and rehearsal and more practice.
Of course raising a child isn’t a concert. It’s likely the single most important thing I’ll do in my life, and surely it bares the most responsibility. No one asks to be born. It’s your choice, not theirs. For that, you’re forever liable. And you better do all you can to assure your choice is supported by any and all resources to which you have access. You should feel pressure. You should feel worry. Right?
At the same time, I’m excited. If raising a daughter is at all like raising a puppy, the rewards seem abundant and exclusive. Just as there’s nothing like seeing Benson ecstatic when I come home or when he rests his sleepy head on my leg, I’m sure there’s incalculable joy found solely in things that your children do. Maybe it’s a smile. Or unabashed, surprisingly-insightful proclamations about the world around them.
I look back at my helpless dog days and smile. Knowing what dogs want? I’ve cracked the code on that one: food and attention. I’m guessing kids want similar things, but it’s exponentially more complex and infinitely more difficult to deliver.
Of the few articles I’ve found on kids and dogs, most are written by mothers frustrated or annoyed with people who compare the two. Again, I’m trying my best not to do that. I just wonder if there’s any relation. Because those of us wondering are simply trying to learn. Trying to prepare. Trying to find the best route to traverse in this great unknown that is raising a child.
The goal of this post was to hear from others, so please if you have thoughts, experience, or advice on this subject, leave a comment below.
Title image by Tiffany Walensky.