My son might chew on tables and suck on wood blocks, but surely he knows exactly who I am when he says that. Or, maybe he doesn’t…but it’s irrelevant. The fact is:
I am now “Dadadada.”
As we approach the eve of Father’s Day, I find myself wondering how the heck I got here. It was 18 months ago when my wife sat me down, gave me a Marine Corps Dress Blue baby hat, and told me that I was going to be a dad.
I was stunned. The pregnancy wasn’t an accident and I’d hoped that it would happen eventually…but, as I sat on couch and heard the words, “We are having a baby,” I was speechless. After I celebrated that moment and overcame the shock of it all, reality set in…
“How do I do this thing?”
I’ve watched my wife spend countless hours slamming her fingers into her keyboard as she sits across the couch from me, swapping ideas, posts, and lessons with new moms online. I’ve watched her share her experiences with her peers by typing dissertation-length blog posts in record time. It was always neat to me to see how easily she could ask a question of other moms and get an answer.
And it occurred to me that I didn’t have that.
As a male, I wasn’t welcomed into groups for new moms. And even though today’s dads are more involved in parenting than ever, communities for them are limited.
When it came to becoming a father, my preparation from even the closest of the men in my family and friend circle amounted to the following (usually delivered with a chuckle):
“You’ll figure it out as it happens.”
I’m sorry, what? I’d “figure it out”?
I understood that I’d probably succeed in keeping this new family member alive…but how would I know how to help him to thrive? Where were my tips and tricks as a parent, and how could I prevent myself from having to ask my wife how to perform even the simplest tasks when the baby showed up?
This was important, people: I’d spent our entire marriage working on my image of infallible intelligence and ingenuity (ask my wife, she’ll still tell you that I’m both of these things.) I WAS NOT going to stand by as it crumbled thanks to one crappy, ill-fitting (but extremely full) diaper. I needed to start this “fatherhood” thing off while looking like a guy who knew what he was doing.
Well, it’s too late for me.
My son is now nine months old, and – as expected – I “figured it out.”
I’ve spent the better half of these last nine months trying to figure out what being a dad means, and I’m convinced I cannot put that into words. What I can tell you is that life changed a lot when my son, Killian, came along.
And that’s fatherhood: for better or for worse, life changes, and we must adjust. Long gone are the days of taking time to focus solely on yourself or your wife…but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a change.
So, for this Father’s Day – my very first Father’s Day – I am going to share my thoughts on the last nine months as “Dadadada.”
I don’t know everything anymore.
That was just as hard to type as it was to admit.
I’m in no way stating that my wife doesn’t know things or is a simpleton (I love you, dear!) I just mean that: as men, we love to be the ones that our family and friends can come to for an answer. I like having the nuggets of wisdom that everyone else files away for a rainy day or the knowledge only required to win an entry-level round of Jeopardy.
But when Killian came along, I was clueless. I wanted to help and to be the one that had the answer, but I didn’t. I would hold him and he would cry, and I’d look at my wife for an interpretation of what the gnarly screams in my ear actually meant. She’d nonchalantly say that it was time for a bottle or that his diaper was full. How she knew any of this from 40 feet away, I wasn’t sure, but I eventually figured it out…after the 55367th round of that game.
I found that there were a few troubleshooting steps to my son:
- Has he eaten in the last 14 seconds?
- Change the diaper.
- Would I enjoy staring at the same piece of ceiling ALL day?
If the answer to Step 1 was “no”, then I’d feed him. This was an easy one since there was always a bottle within arm’s reach (because babies never stop needing food). Killian was like a miniature cow in the sense that he spent 90% of his time eating 60% of his body weight each day.
Step #2 was usually non-negotiable, and I’ve probably changed 25 diapers that didn’t even need to be changed. Why? Well, If my wife came over to solve the problem (and I’d already checked off Step 1,) the issue would inevitably be a dirty diaper, and my (loving) wife would (lovingly) hold it against me until the stroke of midnight when my mistake counter would reset.
(Not today, wifey!)
So, I learned to never allow a possibly-dirty diaper to be the one thing that I’d forgotten to check. And this is my tip: Never pass a child to your loving wife without properly executing Steps 1 and 2.
(The answer to Step 3 is inevitably “no.” So, get up and show them some new scenery.)
While I may not know everything or be able to identify and differentiate every type of cry, I’m not clueless anymore. I’m no longer afraid to admit when a situation is new to me. My wife is a stay-at-home-mom whereas I’m away from Killian while at work everyday, so of course my wife is going to be better at interpreting his nuances than I am.
And honestly, I want it that way. She’s probably a safer role model. Sometimes, I still poke at electrical outlets just to see what happens.
There will be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Watching my newborn son develop into the little boy he is quickly becoming is the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced. Each day that passes, he gains just a little bit more independence.
It’s scary, how quickly the time passes; but I try to soak it all up as it comes. We’re still waiting on milestones like Killian’s first steps – and as much as I want to see those steps, I know that each of those following steps will be another one closer to someday being in my shoes.
My advice to other dads: slow down and absorb it all.
You also have to take the good with the bad. Your baby is eventually going to recognize you and be excited when you come home, but he’ll also be inconsolable in the middle of the night and he’ll drool more than a Saint Bernard when he’s teething.
It happens. It’s part of the experience. My son has been easy compared to some stories I’ve heard, and it has still been a tough road.
It’s hard work… but not just for you.
The world doesn’t afford a dad an opportunity to be there in parenthood like a mom. As an active duty Marine, I was afforded 10 days of paternity leave and then I went right back to work. I would’ve loved to have stayed home for another 5 weeks, but it wasn’t in the cards.
So, I went back to work and life resumed its normal, pre-fatherhood operations between 6am and 7pm.
But then I would come home and need to help with Killian wherever I could, because being a mom isn’t easy and my wife needed a break where I could give one. She was kind enough to do the midnight feedings during the work week, and I would handle the Friday-Sunday nights so that she could get some uninterrupted rest.
Getting up in the middle of the night on my only days off wasn’t fun, but in a weird way, I came to appreciate those little slivers of time with Killian. It was just the two of us. He would stare up at me and I would stare back, wondering what on Earth he was thinking. I was tired, frustrated, scatter-brained, and “over” it all…but I sometimes wish we could go back to those quiet moments.
What Father’s Day means to me now:
Growing up, my family didn’t make a big deal out most holidays. Things like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day passed with the simplest of gestures, usually consisting of a card or a meal out for Mom and Dad.
For me, that part really hasn’t changed.
I don’t expect to be lavished in gifts or showered in gold. I already get regular days to myself thanks to an amazing wife who recognizes my need for a “family, work, and alone time” balance. I work a lot and sometimes feel selfish for needing that time over a weekend to cast a line and be alone, but I go to sleep each night sincerely hoping that Killian knows he has a dad who would do absolutely anything to ensure his son’s happiness.
And that’s what the small gestures of Father’s Day will mean to me this year: I am a dad.
I am the one who Killian can always turn to for answers, the one he comes home to when times get tough, and one who he can always wake up in the middle of the night regardless of how tired I am or what any of my other obligations are in life.
I guess what I am saying is: Father’s Day is just another day that serves to remind me that I will always be the only thing that matters…
Because for Killian, I will always be “Dadadada.”