Just over 16 months ago, after 41 hours of labour, my strong/brave/amazing wife gave birth to our 8 lbs., 6 oz. first born child, a wonderful little girl. Oh how beautiful this child is! From that moment on, I have have been forever and inexplicably changed.
Prior to that moment, and hard to admit, I had no idea if I could be a father. We had always talked about kids, and while I wanted kids, I never quite
painted the whole picture in my head. I've always been slow to adjust to changes. I like my little routines. My whole life has been laid out in a very measure six times, cut once, maybe, but only if it will work out way... I guess I'm saying I'm cautious
. For better or worse there have been situations where, paralyzed but some unknown fear, I've been too afraid to even have fun. Although, as I get older I'm realizing that that
is not always my fault. So to say I had reservations about my ability to actually pull this fatherhood thing off is probably an understatement.
All of that changed the minute I held that twee, doe-eyed and wondrous creature in my arms. I was, and continue to be, smitten. At that moment, I knew that this beautiful baby girl was going to have if not the best father, the best father her
father could be. I was going to pour myself into the act, and savour every minute of it.
So obviously, 16 months on, I'm a parenting expert right?
Nope, not even remotely close. I make mistakes. All the time. I don't always read the cues. I react the wrong way. I over think things -- a lot. I worry. Oh Lord do I worry! I'm probably worrying about something, somewhere as you read this.
So what am I trying to say? I guess I thought some of you might find some of the things I have observed to be helpful. Maybe you're thinking of having kids? Maybe you already have kids and like reading about other people's experiences? Maybe you're a sadist and hope there's some misery in here somewhere. You sicko!
At any rate, here are a few observations I've made.
Let me be perfectly clear: fatherhood is not for everyone. Nor is it a badge of honour; simply being a father does not get you anything. There are no bonus points for getting someone pregnant and fathering a child. To be present, to be available and willing to do whatever it takes is however, an incredible amount of work.
The first thing that settles in right away? It is a full-time, no breaks, no breathers job. That might sound like a complaint, but it's not. From the moment my wife went into labor, to this very moment now, I have been, in one form or another participating in the act of being a father. Whether that was not really sleeping for 6 months, balancing the books, wondering if she's having a good day while I'm at work, or dropping her off at daycare, I'm on the clock.
You get tired, you get cranky, but you love every minute of it. Your children are the reset switch (and sometimes the cause) of your bad moods.
You would kill for your child.
I don't mean that figuratively, like, "Oh, I would do anything
for my kid!" No, I mean you would kill another human being if it came down to it. It was something that my mother always said to me that I never really understood, or thought was hyperbole.
I'm sure there's people that think, of course you would -- survival instincts and all that, but what struck me was how palpable that sense is. Your in the doctor's office because your baby's lost weight, or she's not eating right or something, and maybe the doctor doesn't take you seriously, or is telling you something you know in your gut is not right. Maybe somebody cuts you off while in the car with your baby in a dangerous way. You become protective. You become defensive. You become... parents.
You wouldn't (and you shouldn't) stop asking questions and pushing for the truth until you were satisfied. You wouldn't let any harm come to that child no matter what.
You will be changed forever.
What you thought about life, about what was important for you and where your priorities are will change. I know that sounds like a smug, "Your not a parent, you don't understand" statement, but it's not meant to be. Your
priorities will change. That doesn't invalidate the priorities of those who don't have children. It simply means that some of the superficial things in your life might take a back seat. Even some really important things will have to back seat. Some things that were important will not be. Some other things that were not important will become very important.
You may not have as much time for twitter, or tumblr, or Facebook. You may not catch all the latest YouTube videos (I heard the term "Gangnam Style" for almost a year before I knew what it was, and longer than that to actually see the dance, not even the original video -- not always a bad thing). You probably won't see a movie in a theatre for a long while. You'll start to care more about savings accounts, and life insurance, and lowering interest rates.
Most importantly though, at least for me, you won't miss the things that aren't important, and you'll find the time for the things that are.
You won't be changed at all.
What I mean to say is, you don't throw on Dad jeans, grow a moustache, and start listening to John Denver. You're still, at the core, you
. You're just you, for lack of a better description, as a parent. Your musical tastes don't change. My daughter and I bopped around the playroom to the Afghan Whigs just this evening (Black Love
- a near perfect album if I've ever heard one), and we're learning she's a huge Al Green fan. You're still hip (if you were hip).
Your life is not over.
For me, it felt like in a lot of ways it had begun. Or at least a very important chapter of it. We had travelled quite a bit before our daughter was born, and will again, but I've said to my wife on more than one occasion that I'd wished we started our family earlier. One of my biggest fears was losing myself in all of it. Now that I've seen that that doesn't happen, it seemed like such a silly thing to be scared of.
Everyone has an opinion.
Part of your job, from now on, will be carefully navigating the social and family circles you reside in to come out the other end having done the parenting job you wanted to. From older generations not understanding why things can't be like they were, to friends (with kids) chiming in on how they'd done it (or are doing it), you are now on display and open to public opinion.
Don't read anything on the Internet, ever.
Of course you will. But don't. But you will.
I once texted a picture to a friend who has three kids of his own to ask "Have you seen this colour before? is that normal?!?" I've looked up symptoms that had no less that seven different conditions they could be a part of. I've read all the forum posts, and shudder to this day to think about them.
The basic message, for any ailment your child has goes one of two ways on the internet.
a) My child had that as well, and everything was fine.
b) My child had that and exploded, may he/she rest in peace.
Don't. Read. Anything. On the Internet. Ever.
Your child will not fit the mould.
I feel like this is a really important point, and not one that's always easy to find answers on. It sounds obvious, but when you're experiencing everything for the first time, it's a little overwhelming.
Our daughter is smaller than most kids her age. She doesn't chart high in any height or weight percentiles. She didn't do everything the books said she should when they said she should. She was barely on time, or late to some milestones. Some things she did far earlier. At this point, she says almost triple the words she's supposed to. She skips some steps towards other milestones.
The point is, the idea of a child hitting all of these milestones on a schedule is absurd. I read it best that milestones are not for doctors, they're for parents.
There are countless other things I'm sure I'm missing. I'll probably learn and forget a dozen little lessons tonight. The only real advice I can give you is to hold your baby, get on the ground with them and play, act like a complete idiot with them, and enjoy it.
There are a few topics I didn't touch upon, some too big for a tiny footnote in this article. Don't get me started on, upon having a daughter, how you become hyper sensitive to how appalling the media and entertainment venues (and some of your friends and colleagues) are to women. Maybe I'll revisit this every couple months or years and put it all in perspective.
All that said, becoming a father truly is one of the best things to happen to me, and I really feel like the luckiest man in the world.
Labels: advice, fatherhood, kids, not advice, parenting