Eighteen years

Young parents know the phrases. “Don’t blink.” “It’ll be gone before you know it.” “Cherish these times.”

Old people talk like this when they see your child screaming after two hours of sleep on a work night as you wash excrement off a teddy bear. Typically, the words fall flat. It’s baffling to imagine time flying when the hours crawl slower than your loud baby.

But all of a sudden, that baby gets up and walks. Then he picks up a chainsaw to cut up some downed trees, like mine did last weekend.

Our oldest son Henry turns 18 this week. I’m sorry to say, I blinked. It was gone before I knew it. And I’m trying really hard to catch up on cherishing these times.

I was 25 when Henry was born; now I’m 43. I hold bountiful memories of the past 18 years, but it also feels like I’m crawling out the other end of a time portal, marveling at this strange future and contemplating what I’ve become. My wife and I have spent some time looking at baby pictures. Who was that kid? Who were those parents?

Back then, I was thin with dark brown hair; now I’m grey and portly. But I was also a lot more selfish and immature back then. While I miss the 34-inch waistline, I wouldn’t trade places with that guy. He knew everything. It’s amazing how much you learn when you don’t know everything.

Dads are supposed to be wise. Some days I hit the mark and other days I’m just a neurotic mess, projecting my own problems onto any given situation. It’s hard to miss when you know what it is. You can’t go to a youth baseball game or public event without seeing fathers pile nine generations of paternal baggage onto an overstimulated toddler or defiant teen.

The most important rule is to remember that the kid isn’t you. They’re not going to make the same decisions as you or want the same things out of life you did. If you remember this, you have a chance to model the kind of values you want them to have. But it has to look like a good idea to them. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. That kind of zen often comes and goes.

The other day I was cooking dinner. In a scramble for ingredients at a key moment in the process, a stack of foil baking pans on the top shelf of the pantry kept falling on top of me. I’d throw them back up on the top shelf only to have them fall on me again. In full view of my teenage sons, I called these inanimate objects one of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” and threw them at the back door.

The boys stayed quiet. After a few minutes, Henry retrieved the step stool from the hall closet and returned the pans to the top shelf. Fatherhood isn’t about winning all the time. It’s about winning when it counts.

This is by no means the end of parenthood. Doug and George both turn 16 this summer. If we survive three teenage drivers at once we will have truly accomplished something.

The best part of parenthood has been seeing what kind of people those amorphous blobs from the hospital turned out to be. It’s the ultimate in delayed gratification. If you develop patience you will meet an unexpectedly amazing new person. Times three, in our case. You will be constantly surprised by their growth and change, only to see that you were growing and changing, too.

In parenthood, you lay down part of your life — your time and precious ego — and become part of something infinite. It starts with diapers and lullabies, and ends in a hospital when your lights go out. You don’t need to have kids to find your corner of eternity, but damn if the little buggers don’t accelerate the process.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, May 20, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Terri Elias says

    It’s obvious you have done a great job with all 3 boys. While you did think you knew it all, back in the day, you learned and grew. Congratulations on becoming a great father and role model for your boys. We certainly consider you one of Cherry’s success stories. Keep on writing, keeping us entertained and continually educating your readers.

  2. Jon Ofjord says

    All you and your wife can do at some point is to stand back and observe the results. Of course, the kids can look back and say, ” Nature or nurture. Either way, it’s our parents fault.” Congratulations on getting them this far.

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