Dear Soon-To-Be Parent,
You are about to experience a deep, mysterious bond with a tiny creature that will turn your world upside down. I know its cliché to say “kids change everything” but its true. This new relationship will most certainly test your limitations, surprise you, and reveal parts of yourself you did not know existed. I am excited for you.
I think your best move is to admit now you are in over your head. Humble thyself and acknowledge you don’t know what you are doing and ask for help. I wish I could say I was prepared to be a father, but I was not. Sure, I anticipated dirty diapers, spit up, and sleeplessness, but I did not understand how a child alters every facet of your life. Nobody does. This is okay.
What changed in my life?
The moment my son arrived he was as grey as a sheet of newspaper, face scrunched, and soundless. Dangling him by the neck, the doctor passed him to a nurse who darted to a warming table where she rubbed his chest. My mind raced with thoughts: Why is he not crying? Is he breathing? Is he alive? In that vulnerable moment, a new sense of fragility seized me. You will feel this too. Your insides will wobble like jelly. Babies have a knack for waking us up to our illusions of control. This is healthy.
Another thing your precious baby will provide is a new lens to see the world through. This lens will magnify your true priorities and draw them towards the center of your life. And it will filter out the not-so-important stuff. I know you think you understand the importance of family, but your little one will give you a richer definition. Mother Nature will grow a bond between you and your child so deep it will reach to the center of your being. An unfathomable connection. This is a beautiful thing.
Speaking of beautiful things, a few days ago I watched my neighbor push his newborn in a stroller for the first time. My neighbor typically bounces around his front lawn and marches to work, but on this day he moved at a snail’s pace, clutching the handlebar, head down, and maintaining eye contact at all times with his baby. He moved so cautiously it appeared he was strolling a load of dynamite at risk of blowing up any minute. Mother Nature worked her magic on him. It was magnificent.
For the first month of my son’s life, I stared at his stomach and watched it raise and lower with each breath. In the middle of the night, I woke and sat straight up in bed, consumed with fear my child was lost. Of course, he was always sleeping in the bassinet next to the bed. You will probably be equally anxious. It’s okay. This is normal.
I’m betting a new level of happiness will fill you, the kind so rich that it only arrives on the special occasions of life–weddings, graduations, and anniversaries. The experience of your first child is unparalleled and so fulfilling that the corners of your mouth will stretch across your face wider than ever. Enjoy it. Bask in it. Put work aside and allow yourself to be consumed with the moment. Just do it.
Oh, and be sure to tell your spouse you love her and celebrate the tremendous miracle she performed to bring this baby into the world. It’s an act we will never truly appreciate as men.
In addition to new levels of happiness, parenthood will surprise you with parts of yourself that lie dormant. Caring for my son taps into the sensitive, nurturing, and patient side of myself. It teaches me that I do not have to bow to rigid, traditional views of fatherhood that do not suit me. It challenges me to not divide the roles of provider and protector from nurturer and caregiver. It encourages me to be a whole person. I hope it will do the same for you.
I don’t mean to portray parenthood as an ongoing mountaintop experience because you will eventually end up in a valley, maybe a dark one. There will be moments that nearly break you. At 3a.m. when your child screams, thoughts will cross your mind you will be too embarrassed to share with others. When your child bites you on the inner thigh you will be tempted to toss them out the window. You will be so sleep deprived you will get on the subway going the wrong way multiple times or repeatedly take the wrong exit. Be kind to yourself. This is hard.
Parenthood has pushed me to the edge, especially as my son’s primary caregiver. For the first time in my life, I am taking medication for anxiety and sleeplessness. For an undercover control freak like myself, a small child is the best joke the universe could have played on me. Above, I mentioned illusions of control. Yeah, mine have been shattered. Shattered to pieces.
Instead of asking how things have changed, I think a better question to ask is how they have not changed. I struggle to answer this question. My son has reshaped nearly every aspect of my life, mostly for the better. Two years later, its hard to imagine life without him. (What that heck did I do with my time before him?) I believe your life will be reshaped for the better too. It might take a while for you to see it this way, but I think you will come around.
Many people portray parenthood as a type of death: a loss of freedom and time and opportunity. I don’t think this is accurate. Of course, it is a tremendous sacrifice, but is also an opportunity to fulfill our potential as human beings. Parenthood is not a roadblock or a limitation, but an opportunity to grow and mature. I hope you will see it as an evolution of yourself, an unlocking of a new dimension.
A Dad Still On The Learning Curve
P.S. I recommend investing in a quality coffee maker.