I knew I’d love being a dad, but it’s 100 times more amazing than I ever imagined
I find myself constantly amazed by the wonder and inquisitiveness of my daughter Zoe. As the father of a 19 month old, I am most amazed by the deep understanding and knowledge that precedes language acquisition. She knows so much, but can’t yet verbally express all that is going on inside her head.
For example, the week before Zoe celebrated her first birthday, we got her a cupcake to “practice” for her birthday party. Like the good parents that we are, we wanted to make sure that she knew what to do when we crowded 30 excited people around her high chair singing happy birthday. We lit the candle and told her to “blow it out.” At first, she put her hand to her mouth to blow a kiss. Then, we told her to instead “blow on it like it was hot.” And she did that instead. She immediately demonstrated the difference between the two definitions of the same word. And yet at the time, she could barely utter the word “da-da.”
In the past six months as she has gotten older, I am, on the one hand, in awe of her curiosity for the world around her, and on the other hand, terrified as she learns the difference between right and wrong. What was once a playful act has recently turned into a malicious decision to do something that “she is not supposed to do.” As she opens a drawer that she is not supposed to open, climbs on a box, or picks up a dangerous object, she chants “no, no, no” alerting me that she is well aware that this is something that she should not be doing.
While I have only a year and a half of experience as a parent, I have picked up a thing or two that are worth sharing before I forget everything I have just learned. These are important pieces of guidance for new or would-be-fathers that will help you as you sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride:
1. For the first two months, just live in the moment. Enjoy each minute, each hour, and each day because the time spent with your kids is as precious as they are. For the first 48 hours, remember to count the hours. These hours will soon turn into days and weeks and months. I don’t have years yet, but my months will eventually turn into years. Besides, if you think that you’re going to remember any of this time in the beginning, you’re very misguided. Neither you, nor your spouse, will be getting enough sleep to form any memories during the early days (you’ll know what I mean once you get some REM sleep in a few months). Therefore, you might as well just enjoy the experience and live in the moment!
2. There are no right answers to parenting. You have to figure out what works for you and your spouse when it comes to parenting. While the worst thing that can happen is that you cause long-term damage resulting in years of unnecessary therapy for your child, the short-term consequences are relatively minor. As long as your kid doesn’t fall from a height much taller than they are or discover that she loves the taste of your dime-sized ninja throwing stars, parenting is relatively intuitive and self-explanatory. Child development moves at a pace that is predictable and methodical. While the behaviors may occasionally seem illogical and nonsensical, you’ll soon find out that was because you made the mistake of thinking you’ve “figured it out.”
3. Everyone else’s parenting seems a little strange. Since you have to figure out what works for you, the parenting practices of others never make sense. Why would they let their child sleep in their bed every night? Why don’t they put their child to be earlier than midnight? Why do they only feed their baby tofu and frozen cabbage for dinner? Is it true that refusing eye contact make your child love you more? At the end of the day, who cares? It’s not your responsibility to worry about their parenting unless it impacts your life, and more importantly, it’s therapeutic for you to feel like your crazy parenting practices are absolutely normal.
4. At some point, your spouse will ask you to do something irrational, and that’s okay, you just need to be there to support her in her temporary insanity. While you may feel the need to solve every problem that arises in a logical way and comfort your spouse regardless of the situation, there will come a time when logic no longer works. She will ask you to turn on the oven to warm the baby’s diapers to help the baby latch more effectively. You will think she is insane – and, in this moment, she is. You will say, “I’ll take care of it, honey” and you will just walk towards the kitchen with the diapers pretending to turn on the oven. She’ll come around in the morning, but for now, just pretend to do as your “told” to support her in this time of need.
5. Don’t take the advice of anyone that is more than two months away from your child’s current age. I wasn’t sure this was true until I was trying to give advice to someone having a baby when my kid was just learning to walk – I realized that all of my current examples were irrelevant and my memories were too old and vague to be useful. Fortunately, I have been building my list of useful tips and tricks to share with my future self as my wife is due with our second child – a baby boy – in April. I am sharing the best of what I have to offer with you before it’s lost.
6. Once you think you’ve figured it out, it all changes. Invariably, every time we congratulate ourselves for being good parents, everything is different the following week. Expectation leads to anticipation, which leads to disappointment. Just go along for the ride. Enjoy the nights that you get 6-8 hours of sleep. Embrace the times where your parenting appears to be working. Relish the firsts of everything no matter how mundane.
7. You’re not a good parent because you have a good kid. It’s easy to take credit for your saintly child, but the reality is that some babies are, in fact, more well-behaved than others. This is entirely out of your control and it has nothing to do with you. I’ll give you a pat on the back, but you don’t deserve it. As I suggested above, just go along for the ride
8. The apple is still on the tree. The philosophies are flawed that believe that your 1 month old understands the nuances of the world better than your 30 plus years of experience on this planet. You’ll see that tough love does work for getting your child to sleep through the night at 5-6 weeks. Children that whine will stop whining when they forget why they were whining in the first place. You are in control and know far better what is important than your newly minted human. Besides, you created the apple in your image and you earned the opportunity to mold it into the apple it deserves to be when it grows up.
9. Size does not matter. While you might want to compete with other parents that have a child that is off the charts or well-proportioned. The difference between 20% and 80% is a matter of a few ounces or a few inches. Your child will find a height and weight that are just right and it’s not your fault that she did not drink that extra ounce of milk or pooped before the three-month check-up. But if your child’s head circumference is too small, well, you’ve got a problem.
10. Fatherhood is 100 times more amazing than you imagine it will be. While you know that it’s going to be awesome, it far exceeds the expectations. Once you have a child, you are connected to the seemingly infinite continuum of humanity. You are able to appreciate your purpose on this Earth in a truly amazing new way. You are part of the circle of life, in your corner of the world, in this time and place. And you are now in charge of a tiny human that loves you back unconditionally before she can even smile. These are heady times, which is why it’s okay to be a little heady. Enjoy being a dad because you’re on the hook for the rest of your days, pop!