I bumped into my friend Dave in the elevator today. His wife recently had a baby and he hasn’t been getting much sleep. He looked haggard.
I can sympathize. I was that dad once: praying, wishing, begging for the tiniest bit of sleep. The way babies need you in the beginning is relentless, exhausting. The irony: One day, my friend will miss those sleepless nights. Even if he’s too exhausted right now to realize it.
My own daughters are 9 and 12. I’ve become one of those parents who looks longingly at babies, even when they’re screaming at the top of their lungs. Those moments in which your children need you, depend on and cling to you give you a clear sense of purpose. But as they grow older — their childhoods slipping away — those moments are few and far between and even more precious.
Case in point: I stood in crowded Times Square recently with my 12-year-old daughter, Sam. As we traversed our way through the burgeoning crowd, like salmon swimming against the current, she grabbed my hand and held it tightly. She grabbed my hand.
In that moment, as a dad, I felt completely electric; she held onto me just to feel safe. It felt like I had been put on the earth to do just one thing: Be there and hold her hand. Everything in my universe made sense.
I had always wanted to take Sam on a business trip with me — to London or New York City. Sam will turn 13 in a few weeks and I jokingly told my friends, “I want to take our trip before she grows up and starts to hate me.”
These days, particularly with Sam — who’s just started her first year of (gulp) junior high, I liken fatherhood to that feeling you have when you’re on vacation: You spend the whole time dreading that it’s almost over even before it’s over. I want to command time to stop. Right here. Right now. I want this time with my daughters to last forever.
Which brings me back to my friend in the elevator. What do we, as “veteran” dads, say to our friends when they look at us with those wide eyes with the dark circles around them? There’s no way to trump their need for sleep with trite advice and cliches like “enjoy it, it all goes by so fast.” They have no idea that we long for the days when our own children were small. But one day — they will.