If Father’s Day is approaching and you are waiting for your first baby, expect it to be a day of mental confusion, very much akin to the first time someone referred to Mr. (insert your last name here) and you realized they were not talking about your father. While “being pregnant” is kind of hard to ignore, even for a man, there is something about one’s first Father’s Day, whether in-utero, or post-partum that changes the way you look on life forever.
My daughter was born in the wee hours of the morning on an election day, and on a break to run home for a shower, I squeezed in a quick trip to the neighborhood voting booth. While waiting my turn to sign in with the voting officials, I ran into my neighbor and told him the good news. As he congratulated me, from down at the end of the long table, came the wizened voice of a wrinkled volunteer, “It’s not about you anymore,” she croaked. My first reaction was, “What an odd way to react to what was the happiest moment in my life.” It didn’t take me long to understand, and intensely feel the meaning of those words, which I’ve turned over and over in my mind many times since.
Whether you are a dad at 20 or 50, the passage into the fraternity of fathers is a mysterious event, which will conjure up strange thoughts as you lie awake at 3 AM after middle-of-the-night feeding.
First, most obvious, and most parodied will be thoughts on your place in the universe. Whether you’re religious or not, it’s hard not to feel tiny in relationship to the heavens now that you have a family to protect. Expect to lose some youthful bravado in the transition. You are not a fish in a fishbowl, though. You have immense power with the new life in your house. For thou art God. Perhaps less to your wife now, but all-powerful, all-knowing to your offspring.
Second, you’ll likely be silently worrying about your new responsibility. Men were hunters and nomadic through almost all of human history until agriculture was invented 11,000 years ago. We killed our food and when there was no more, we moved on. Very early woman had babies — nursing for many years to avoid another pregnancy – and early dads kept their lives portable so they could always be moving. Now you likely have a 300-pound couch and a wide-screen TV and a new crib, not all of which could even fit into that new honking minivan your wife made you buy last week. You are stuck and will be stuck for a long time. Embrace your stuck-ness and see beyond it, Grasshopper. Your new family will present enough adventure, transition, psychic challenge, and physical exertion to equal an Outward Bound adventure. No, it will likely never make the bestseller list, but it is the stuff from which life’s poetry is written and you can’t understand the human experience until you see life as a dad.
Third, your current sex life is now officially on hiatus, for at least six weeks after childbirth as recommended by your wife’s OB/GYN, and most likely, sixty years. If you are still waiting for childbirth, enjoy (!) is all I can say. Books should be written on this topic but very few are for some reason. You’ll have to figure out how to negotiate the next sexual chapter of your life that involves fitting sex into tending to children who always seem to know the exactly perfect moment, as if they had a monitor under your bed that would ruin your most magic moments. Good luck, my brother.
Fourth, you’ve probably never thought of money in this same way. Whether you’ve even pondered a 529B savings plan for your new baby, the weight of the net present value to fund your bouncing baby annuity is likely pressing down on your chest like a set of unspotted 300 pound barbells. For most of us, this doesn’t change from when we first wince at the double digit pricing of diapers and formula, until we blanche at the six figure pricing of college.
And finally, it’s Fathers day and you’re a Father. You can look down at the baby and know a few things. Your seed will live on and you are immortal. The love you feel is new, immutable and different than anything you’ve ever felt. But unlike mom, who’s biological role is unquestioned, you have to grow into your position as father, by working even harder to be present for your kids and to help them to develop by your words and example. You are the father, and with determination, will become their dad.
Happy Father’s Day to you, Dad.