‘ Daddy?’ The whisper at the door is two hours earlier than you’d like, the alarm clock showing 6:30 on a Saturday morning. You’d like to sleep in, but the kids are up and there are diapers to change, breakfast to make, teeth to brush, and, most of all, chaos to contain. You could ignore the calls, or tell them to go away, but you know that if you don’t get up it will only be minutes until a fight breaks out or something else breaks, probably something expensive. Still want to have kids? Of course you do, because even with all that changing your name to Daddy and having a mini-you to bring a whole new sense of joy to your life is an experience which cannot be duplicated in any other way.
Now I’ll be the first to tell you, if no one else has, that bubble gum is really hard to get out of hair, but I’ll also tell you that I’ve never laughed so hard in my life than such times when my children have managed to do things that I thought were not possible. They’re not just amazingly adept at getting their hair tangled and other such undesirable consequences of bad ideas, but they are amazingly smart, too! Right from the beginning, just watching how your infant child takes in all of their surroundings, playing little games of peek-a-boo and exercises of squatting and standing, you will not believe that it was possible that you took part in creating this thing.
When I first found out I was months from morphing into a (hopefully) responsible, caring parent from the carefree, unbound non-parent of my past I was extremely frightened. I can’t say I had enough money to run around downtown spending willy-nilly, but I was able to do pretty much everything I wanted to do when I wanted to do it because I had both the time and the money to do so. My wife and I had the option of jumping on a plane and heading off to wherever, we just had to turn off all the appliances and have the neighbors watch the dog. We could go from work to the movies, and from there stay up or go to bed at will. But that all changed, and will change for you, when children became part of the picture.
From pregnancy on it changes. All fathers have horror stories of their significant other while she was pregnant: it can be downright terrifying living with the mood swings and somehow every craving involves something near impossible to purchase at midnight. As the mother begins bonding with the soon-to-be child she seems to withdraw from you and life can become just not as fun as it once was.
One of the biggest ways I made this entire experience infinitely less unexciting is to become involved. I accompanied my wife to her doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds. I did my best to help around the house around the house and even went to the baby showers, bringing some guy friends along. I purchased a particularly helpful book, ‘The Expectant Father’ by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash, which outlines what is happening, by month, with the mother and baby and how those things might affect me as well (did you know that men sometimes exhibit many of the same symptoms of the mother?). This book, and other resources, also helped me identify all of the things I needed to plan for from clothes and diapers to college funds. It can all be very stressful just trying to do the math of all that you will need to put money and time toward, but you certainly are not the first one to go through this, so reach out.
As the due date approaches time seems to slow. Sometimes baby comes early, sometimes late, so you and mommy start getting anxious weeks prior and sometimes have to wait for weeks after. Once the water breaks and labor starts, though, everything speeds up and it doesn’t stop. You rush to the hospital then wait, could be hours to days. You pace the hallway, you hold her hand, you manage visitors and find places to put flowers. Then suddenly you’re caught up in a flurry of pushes, breaths, and gloved nurses and doctors until, finally, you’re left with a tired, sweaty mommy and a pink or blue clad, wriggling, red-faced baby. Watching that union between mother and child for the first time is amazing, and even more amazing is holding that bundle yourself, having him or her sleep in your arms for the first time, knowing that you have actually and finally become Daddy.
That is just the start, though. Next come the long nights and early mornings, sprinkled with amazing moments like first steps and first words. Rarely in there do you find the time for the old bars and movies, yet you don’t feel as though you have missed anything because you have also found a new joy in taking the little one to their first ball game, kindling that flame which will later lead them to put on a jersey and swing for themselves. Instead of a concert you’re watching a recital, going camping instead of going to a rave. It’s not that you gave up all of the things you used to do, but that you have found new and greater things to do with that child that once had you so worried, and it all goes by so fast.
I’ll tell you, sometimes it’s hard. I have to remind myself constantly that I was about the most difficult child a parent could have, always doing things my own way and having to learn everything through my mistakes. When they are really small you wish they would just understand, and when understanding fails that they would at least just do what you tell them to. You read Freud and Piaget and all sorts of other psychology references trying to figure out why your child is acting up in school, or why they are not catching on to the potty-training thing when other children their age did months ago.
It can be really difficult remembering that each child is different, with a soul and attitude all their own: the trick is finding our exactly what that unique personality is and helping to develop it in the best way possible. We may want them to be a basketball star but they want nothing more than to make it on Broadway. We may disapprove of their friends or what they do when on their own, but at every we have to try really hard to remember that it is their life they are leading, not ours.
So what do you do when you wake at 6:30 instead of 8:30? You smile and get up, letting the little one help put the blueberries in the pancake batter. When they spill their juice on the couch, despite how many rules you’ve made about them not having drinks outside of the kitchen, you smile and help them clean the mess. You turn grey and go bald with worry, you sit in line at the emergency room waiting for the doctor to mend a broken arm, you do all of these things with vigor and joy because that is what you do when you are Daddy.