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I still remember the first time I suspected that, contrary to my early conceits, I might actually be a terrible father. When our oldest child was 2, I was clipping her fingernails and snipped her pinkie instead of the nail. As I saw the pinpoint of blood ooze from her tiny fingertip, I made a strange wailing sound, snatched her up, and ran her to the bathroom. I apologized profusely as I wrapped her finger in a complex set of bandages that effectively quadrupled the size of her pinkie. (Any parent will tell you that, if there's anything more difficult than clipping the nails of a toddler, it's trying to find a bandage that will fit her fingertip.)
She returned my apologies with a look of confusion. Truthfully, I don't think she was aware that anything was wrong.
As a young man, I had imagined myself ideal father material, mainly because I loved holding cute babies at church and had served as a youth pastor for three years. So I was ready. Then my wife and I had our first child, and it became clear to me that I was anything but.
Since the finger-clipping mishap, I have doubted my parenting skills on several occasions. There were the times I should have been paying attention to my four children, but was preoccupied with something of profound importance, like checking my Facebook news feed for the tenth time that day. I would hear the sound of Thunk, thunk, thunk, THUNK, followed by crying, which every bad parent knows is the sound of your kid tumbling down the stairs, her head hitting each and every step along the way. There were the times when I got upset at my children for being cranky, disobedient, or otherwise unpleasant, and tried to browbeat them into having a better attitude instead of checking to see whether they had a fever of 103. They almost always did.
What was more revealing than my technical incompetency was my attitude, which could have been described charitably as "impatient" but was often something closer to "mean ...