When you are a new daddy and you first bring a newborn baby into the home, you’re typically a jittery ball of nervous, boundless energy and wild-eyed curiosity.
In you come, with the best intentions you’ve ever had in your lifetime and nothing is going to get in your way of being the best father ever, dammit. Wanting so badly to be able to really help out with your little one, you reach deep inside and find that part of you that has lay dormant down in the dark caves of your inner soul for all of your days until this moment; the part of you that actually dives into diaper changing and burping and rocking him or her to sleep without so much as a moment’s hesitation, you know?
You are overcome with love for this kid and you show it just by doing stuff that would make you sad to miss if, heaven forbid, you ever had to.
Still, those first few weeks of parenthood aren’t really a fair show of what things are going to end up being like in the end. Your partner or your wife, whoever you are sharing the love/work with, he or she looks at you in your 3 AM bedroom during the latest crying jag or midnight poop festival and you both sigh together, your eyes meeting in the dim lamplight to scream:
“THIS IS SO F!$#@%G DIFFICULT!!!”
And what happens is that, for a second there, you actually have no idea that parenthood is ever going to be anything but really hard work on your part, and that your kid seems destined not for the greatness you once hoped for, but rather to lay there like a blubbering bump on a soggy sad log.
You think to yourself,” Hmph. This must be it. THIS is it.”
But it’s not it.
Not even close.
See, in the days and weeks and years to come, as that little upturned pot of squirming clay begins to smile and crawl and walk and eat dirt out of the houseplant containers and fall asleep on your chest right there on the couch while you’re watching another episode of Blue’s Clues, you will begin to reap the wild windfall of incredible moments and priceless rewards that come to dudes just like you, guys who have put their hearts and their guts on the line for a teeny tiny baby.
Every day will start to bring you something new, something spectacular and wildly cool, as you start to reap the rewards of being a father. Every day will be a superb adventure. And you will deserve and cherish every single one of them… trust me.
Real quickly, you are going to find out that fatherhood makes you easier going and a lot more likely to laugh at stuff that once would have made you crazy. It’s a survival mechanism, being able to crack up when your little baby pukes up a wet cloud of formula all over your work clothes. Otherwise, you’d have at least one or two major heart attacks a week when your blood pressure shoots through your forehead. It’s a beautiful thing, really. You become a father and you learn how to be a more patient, easy going man. Who knew?
2. Comfortable Together
After the birth of my first child, my daughter, Violet, I began to notice something about becoming a dad that really blows my mind even to this day four years later. What I noticed was that Violet and I were a perfect fit right from the start.Sure, there were many nights when I was watching her alone and she wouldn’t stop crying/howling until I began to think she might be turning into a cute little werewolf, but for the most part life suddenly attached us at the hip and the head and I reveled in that. It was as if we were always meant to be together, but we had to wait until the stars aligned.
One thing that never fails to surprise me is just how brazen and brave little ones can be. As a parent we tend to think of our babies as our ‘babies’ forever, but the truth is that they change pretty fast. Their courage/fearlessness will fade at times to new lows that we grown-ups can barely get our heads around. They will be crawling across the floorboards one day and then the next day…BOOM….they are climbing up on top of the toy piano in the playroom (just like my son Henry did when he just 15 months old!; see photo).
4. Chase Me!
Never underestimate the power of pursuit! Every single little boy and girl on Earth hits a point where they simply love being chased around the house or the backyard or wherever by dear old dad. If you close your eyes and think back in years, I bet you have at least a few memories of giggling your face off as your own Daddy ran around in his work clothes trying to capture you from room to room as he growled like a T-Rex and kept mumbling that the Tickle Monster was going to get you. At least I hope you have that memory because it is one of the best ones. I adore chasing my two kids around these days and I feel safe in saying that I think they are crazy about it too. It’s the simplest game that I never really saw coming. And it is awesome.
5. The Art of Being a Teacher
We all know, of course, that being a parent involves a nearly non-stop set of decades in which you are constantly trying to pass on the best secrets of life that you know down to your children through lessons and stories and whatnot. Still, what is quite unexpected by guys like me, is the fact that we also end up being teachers in between all of the big life lessons, too. I never realized just how much I would be showing and telling them, day in and day out. From teaching them the ins and and outs of using silverware to showing them the right direction to turn the pages of a story book to telling them to make sure that their bath water felt comfy to them before they plopped their butts down in it, I have been teaching them the art of living from our very first moments together. That’s something I kind of never want to end, either.
6. Daddy was a Dumb-Dumb
At times, I swear that my brain must be melting up in my skull as I think I’m doing everything right as I try to make the kids some dinner, only to realize that I just served them each a nice helping of completely uncooked instant mac and cheese just sitting there in its container, without even any water added or anything! It happens to all of us along the way, at work or even when we are in the middle of a conversation at a dinner party (blah-blah-blah…someone is talking to me but I am now retreating to a very dark little corner of my brain known as my “Mind Cave”!). It’s just that when it happens with our kids and we are driving down the road only to suddenly realize that our three-year-old is standing up on the backseat because you forgot to strap her in when the one-year-old was having a tantrum, it really alarms us and surprises us that we are so capable of being such fools sometimes.
7. The Toss-Up
When your child has been holding his or her own had up for a few months already, then the two of you are prime players for a magical game of The Toss Up. Just swoop ’em up and give a slight count… ONE… TWOOOOOOO… THREE!!!! and let ’em fly and you will never ever know a happier moment in your life than when that kiddo of yours looks down at you with a Grand Canyon grin, eyeballs lit up like meteorites, the giggles dripping off of them like driving rain.You always knew about this little game; heck, you might even have hazy recollections of ‘flying; when you were a boy; still, I promise you that you had NO IDEA how happy it was going to make each of of you so darn quickly.
8. Loving Life
One of the nicest surprises that comes with fatherhood is how we all of the sudden begin to see the world around us with brand new eyes. Nothing that has ever occurred to us before the birth of our first child has ever allowed us to unchain certain sections of our heart like that tiny baby has done, and so no matter how old we are, or how experienced in other ways we are, we are still being introduced to a whole new Upper Level of love and consciousness that we never even knew existed. You will see yourself in the way that a mom or dad cat licks their kitten clean. And you will even have a deeper and more positive connection to simple crap like making sure you recycle your trash, just because you want to help maintain a planet worth living on for that baby out there crying in the other room.
9. Just My Imagination
Kids will bring out the kid in you, which is a really good thing when it come unleashing your imagination’s powers because kids are the supreme beings when it comes to using our minds to come up with the best stuff ever. Once you sit down on the carpet with a two-year-old and see how they are stacking up the giant LEGOS; or once you bust out the sidewalk chalk for your five-year-old and blow their tiny mind with that fact that they can use the entire street, the entire planet as their canvas, then you will finally begin to take the journey into the most wildly artistic crevices of your mind.
10. I’m Your Biggest Fan
What many dads-to-be don’t foresee is just how intensely loyal they are going to end up being to their kid, quite empowering, I think. We gather new and unexpected strength in the wake of becoming a dad as our entire reason for living begins to head down the most selfless, genuine road we have ever traveled. For once, we have no problem putting the needs and concerns of another human being before our own. In fact, we simply cannot help it; we want the best for them and we won’t stop or compromise that for anything. In turn, this new found deep love begins to guide us through our days with a confidence and belief system unlike any we had ever known before parenthood. In a way, our kids make us stronger and better people… and that makes this world just that much of a better place, I’d say.
11. Laughing Man
No matter how much of a tough guy or a no B.S. dude you have always been, by the time your son or daughter is a few years old and is scribbling crayon on the walls or coloring your skin with fresh magic marker while you are having a much-needed Sunday afternoon nap, you have already been practicing the kind of patience a good dad needs for a while now. Sure, there are going to be times when you might blow your stack a bit, but don’t forget to recognize the surprising fact that you now laugh off crazy crap that your kids end up doing wherein, once upon a time, you probably would have been tearing your own hair out of your scalp.
12. Other Dads
Before you had kids, you didn’t care an elephant’s fart about what other dads did or said. You would listen to how they talked about their own kids and your eyes would glaze over as if you were about to start going Full Zombie right there on ‘the softball field. Then one day you woke up and you were that other guy; the one with a baby, and all of the sudden you started watching and listening to all of the other dads who surround you. Where once you tried hard not to fall asleep in front of them now you either find yourself curious about what they have to say/offer about parenthood or you cannot even believe the dumb crap they say and DO. Either way, you are newly initiated into a very old and prestigious gang now, The Dads, and from here on out everywhere you go you are watching and hearing and learning from your fellow members, some you will look up to,and some you will want to go Full Zombie on after all.
13. Young Again
After the baby comes, you will be astounded by the fact that you spend so much time hanging out with a tiny young soul. Osmosis will occur to various extents and you will end up acting and even feeling younger in lots of ways. You are more than likely going to end up watching Toy Story at least 500 times and you will learn to love it almost unconditionally. The true test will come on that summer afternoon when it pours rain, though. Your kid will be out there splashing in it, in weather you once would have done anything to avoid, and out you will march…into the driving storm, laughing and spitting out big mouthfuls of rain as you and your best friend pretty much become the exact same young age for a few minutes there as if you were splashing around in the Fountain of Youth itself.
Whenever you first become a dad, other people are always telling you: “Enjoy it, buddy! It goes by fast!” And they are right, in a way. But there is a very surprising little feature about parenthood that we never hear about much. I am here to let you in on that secret. When you make time for your children, when you take them down to the park on a warm summer day and chase them around in the green grass before you collapse and let them climb all over your belly and your chest as you tickle them until they are about to pass out with giggling…time stops, man. When you and your little ones are on your backs in a freshly-raked pile of November leaves or making snow angels on the cold white February ground, there is no time. Try it; I’m serious.
15. Easily Persuaded
It’s kind of nice to reach a point in this hard ‘n’ fast world where you can let your guard down and be easily persuaded by a small select group of humanity. Especially when you consider the fact that the group we are talking about often have this kind of magic power over you even though YOU are the son-of-a-gun who pays for EVERYTHING and has to listen to loud music coming from ‘certain’ bedrooms all of the time! Even though my children are just 2 and 4, I am still blown away by how much influence they have over me. There was a time when no one on Earth could have convinced me to spend my afternoon running around in the yard pretending I was an old airplane as I hauled them around under the hot sun, my lips buzzing non-stop, in that old airplane fashion. But that time is gone….and I am just as pleasantly surprised by that as anyone.
16. Daddy Super Powers
I can’t lie here: there are times when I pretend that I am seriously magic or super-powered to my young kids and they believe it. These are times when maybe I should feel a bit ashamed about pulling the wool over their proverbial eyes, but in all honesty, I never do. I feel awesome, instead. Convincing my kids that I keep hot pancakes (that I just microwaved while they were in the other room) under my t-shirt or that I talk to Santa Claus right there in front of them on my trusty banana phone (kids are gullible) has become one of the most satisfying feelings I have in my life. There is a special trust between a parent and their kids, I understand that. But there is also a fine line between being seriously serious and having a damn good time now and then with The Force while you’ve got it.
17. Sense of Humor
Without much advance notice, I have found myself thrilled to see that both of my kids seem to have inherited my slightly ‘off’ sense of humor. Whoopee cushions, scaring each other in the stairwell, breaking into full on song and dance routines in the middle of the day just to prove to the rest of the world that we really don’t give a hoot, all of this and a million other things have led me to understand that I am a truly lucky man; lucky to have such fun kids; lucky to know the value of being silly and simple. And lucky to be foolish enough to let my freak flag fly whenever I can with my daughter and my son. Someday they are going to remember that part of me, they are going to remember how damn crazy we were together at Halloween/whenever Fresh Beat Band songs came on the TV/in the morning after Dad had his first chug of coffee… and they are going to smile big time. Mission accomplished.
18. Big Pride
You don’t imagine how proud you are going to be before you have a child. You go through life doing your thing, doing your best, and rarely do you have time to try and imagine what it might feel like to burst with pride in a humbling world. Kids change that in a matter of seconds though. In that instant when they pop their heads out of Mom and you lay eyes on their toes and their face, grown men like me and you are swept up in a flood of something bigger and more powerful than we ever thought possible. These days, in between all the life lessons and the scolding and the meals and the cartoons and stories at bedtime, I always make room everyday for at least a minute or two of staring at my kids when they don’t see me, my heart swelling to burst with the kind of pride I once thought only tumbled down out of the open pages of some old musty fairy tale.
19. Forgive and Forget (sort of)
No matter what your children do, no matter how insane things get, or even how much cash they end up costing you after some of their more epic messes, a new father finds himself unable to hold any kind of grudge for any length of time. In other words, you just naturally learn to forgive your kids with a kind of mercy you probably never knew before, no matter how advanced in the art of humanity you might well be.I have found my kids flat out crayon destroying freshly painted walls in my house before and, although my initial reaction was to turn into the Incredible Hulk and burst through the side of the house, I quickly realized that the whole thing was actually pretty funny, and that they had no real idea what they actually just done. It’s a good way to live life, if you think about it, being a forgiving person. Kids surprise us with that power better than anyone.
20. Little Partners
These days we do everything together, my kids and me. We go grocery shopping together, we hit the bookstore together. The beach, the mall, the lake, there aren’t too many places I find myself heading without at least one of my little partners in tow. Some people might find that strange, even a bit unhealthy. We need our “alone” time as adults, they say. They’re right, of course, we do need that. But nowadays, I am often surprised to find myself missing Violet and Henry after I have been out there on my own for a few hours. I wonder what they are up to in their preschool or back at the house with Mom. Then, before too long, I surprise myself by packing things in and making my way back into my kid’s world just because I can.
21. Down the Road
When my kids came into my world, I quickly realized that life is a big steaming cup of friggin’ magic if you let be. By taking your own kids by the hand and not only leading them down the paths you think are the right ones for them, but also by letting THEM lead you down a bunch of trails you’ve never ever imagined yourself worthy or brave enough to travel down, you begin to understand that one of the secrets to making the most out of time here is by allowing ourselves to love a person more than we ever thought possible. That’s the biggest surprise of all when it comes to being a dad, I think. We are grown men with the capacity to love a little human being with every 0unce of our guts, every drop of our blood, and every string dangling from our heart, just begging to be tugged.