One Way My Dog's Better Than My Kid
He offers something my child simply can't.
"He's so innocent," I cooed into the phone, gazing down at my lap.
'Which one?" asked my wife.
It was, I think, the first time I completely forgot that I was a father to a human. Our infant son was asleep in his room.
"I guess they both are," I replied, artfully obscuring my guilt-riddled parental amnesia.
It is an especially endearing time in our household. At 10 months old, our Gerber baby look-alike, Nicholas, is about the same size as his four-legged, 22-pounds-of-terror doggy brother. They are portable, pose-able and altogether lovable.
And they are both beautifully innocent.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Nicholas will commit his very first sin. I don't mean this Biblically; I simply mean that this perfectly aloof baby will soon develop sufficient consciousness to know right from wrong - and that he, being human, will inevitably choose the latter on occasion. Free will leads to smudged souls approximately 100 percent of the time.
This is, of course, normal. And fine - incredible even. My wife and I will have the privilege of watching Nicholas make his mistakes, face his challenges, discover his talents and ultimately claim his individuality.
I once heard that the only honest relationship status, on Facebook or otherwise, is "It's complicated." Nicholas will soon slide into this muddied category. He'll defy as a toddler, lie in middle school, rebel in his teens. My wife and I will simultaneously come to admire his increasing independence while mourning, however selfishly, the purity of his infancy. We'll learn firsthand that the only constant in parenthood is constant change.
Not so with Vector. He, like all dogs, lives a life forever free of sin. His is the eternal sunshine of the spotless soul.
He'll never talk back, or refuse to go to bed, or throw a temper tantrum in a restaurant. He'll never wish me dead for grounding him. Our relationship is uncomplicated and unchanging: a wholehearted, mutual love that is both unbreakable and unconditional. Vector will never be vexing.
Considering their inevitably diverging paths, there is surreality in Nicholas and Vector's current spiritual equality. There is also bittersweet urgency: My wife and I press to fill our memory banks with this present version of our still-perfect pair, documented by near-daily photo sessions and amplified through social media. These are golden days, and we are nostalgic for them in real time.
It is at least partial parental heresy to admit that, in certain circumstances, we prefer our dogs to our children. In an age defined by the often competing norms of two-income households and helicopter parenting, moms and dads dedicate the vast majority of non-working hours to nurturing our children.
We prepare preschool applications for 2-year-olds, attend concerts for budding kindergarten maestros, cheer at Little League games and high school events, and shell out tens of thousands of dollars for college. Our children demand top priority; everything else is a distant second place.
But for dog lovers like us, this doesn't completely sit right. Vector isn't a benchwarmer on the depth chart of life - he's a family member, one who brings unique value to our lives unavailable elsewhere.
Even before I put my keys down after a long day, Vector's sheer joy provides a reassuring, it's-all-worth-it boost. His tireless pursuit of food has made our creepy, annoying Roomba obsolete. And who else can I depend upon to soundly beat me at tug-of-war?
But more than anything, Vector's gift is his easy, everlasting innocence. Our relationship will be forever free of enmity - to his credit, not mine. My furry best friend is permanently pure and, given my many flaws, incredibly forgiving. Even if he had opposable thumbs, my sin-free sidekick wouldn't cast stones.
Sometimes I need a spiritual reset, a return to simplicity amid a life whose blessings can seem like obligations. Sometimes I need a close friend who isn't judging me. Sometimes I just want to focus on something that I know, with certainty, is and always will be 100 percent good. Vector, with his sniffing, in-the-moment nature and limitless loyalty, provides all that and more.
Animal lovers with human children have all endured the awkward, angering scene of a relative or friend who, while obsessing over our babies, discount our pets as suddenly irrelevant also-rans. We had a nanny who would literally push Vector out of the way. That nanny doesn't work for us anymore.
What they don't understand is the value our dogs, cats and other pets bring into our lives and families. Vector's eternal innocence is just one of his lengthy list of contributions that enrich the worlds of my wife, my son, myself. There are no second-class citizens in this family.