The first year of being a Dad is something that you are in no way prepared for. I thought I would be, was even arrogant about it, in fact. After all, I am the oldest of seven and like to think that I helped my Mom quite a bit (my Mom is laughing somewhere for reasons she has not yet realized at this moment while I am writing this). I did, actually help with my youngest sister who was born the summer I turned sixteen.
I have very fond memories of my sisters as babies, remembering only the good times and how they seemed to always be peaceful little humans, loved and cared for by everyone. At the age of sixteen, which was a very, very long time ago, I lived at home with my parents and family. I had a job, was preparing for my senior year of high school, applying to colleges, or more accurately, depending on my parents to help me/make me apply to college. My Dad had given me a car of sorts, a vehicle that I hated with all my soul but did get me from point A. to point B., at least until I crashed it in ill-attempt to travel from Claypool Hill to Marvin, which was roughly seventeen miles of crooked back roads, in fourteen minutes, in the rain. Did I mention the car was a Ford Escort Wagon? Those things were never known for speed, dependability or handling. Cheap? Yes. Good gas mileage? Yes. How much fuel could 45 horsepower possibly burn, anyway?
It turns out that the car could burn just enough fuel to wrap itself around a bridge embankment with me inside it. I somehow managed to lose both my shoes (socks were so out in 1990, thanks to Sonny Crockett) and most of my clothes as I tumbled down the highway after going through the windshield head first.
My little sisters were most upset about the crash, except for my Mom of course, who locked herself in the bathroom and prayed and cried, thankful that I was safe and relatively unscathed. My sisters followed me around like lost puppies, making sure I was ok, and I shamelessly gloried in their hero worship.
All these experiences and many more had given me the wrong impression of what being a father would be like. First and foremost, I am terrified that he will be like me. He is too little and too precious to be as stupid as his father has been most of his life, but I see traces of the stubbornness that I have in him already. He is developing a personality now, at one year of age, which I dimly recognize as a conglomeration of genetics that will, when combined with his parental and developmental environments, largely drive who he will become. My job as a Dad is to try to guide this young boy as well as I know how in the right direction, to teach him to be kind and thoughtful, respectful, curious, relentless in the pursuit of knowledge, honest in all things, install in him a proper work ethic and through it all allow him to become himself.
As I think any new Dad is, I am overwhelmed by the thought of these responsibilities, but eager, maybe too eager, to do my job. That is a fault of men, we want to jump in and fix things, then go away. Thousands of years of evolution have driven us to become problem solvers and to regard ourselves as heroes and soldiers, bravely confronting each situation that your poor trembling female partner just could not possibly do on her own, to be rewarded with huge chunks of meat served up fireside as you regale your doting family and friends with ever-escalating tales of conquest and battle.
Alas, this is not so. From day one, what nothing, and I mean nothing, really prepares you for is your utter and complete helplessness with the new baby. My wife knocked on heaven’s door to have little Nolan, to bring him yelling into this world. I was mainly in the way. She nursed him, changed him, dressed him and loved him as only a Mom can. I had a hard time even dressing the little guy, terrified that I would pull off an arm or leg, or drop him on his head. I became better at diapers, but nothing like his Mom. She could change his diaper while he slept and not wake him up.
Your ineptitude begins to wear on you, especially if you aren’t the primary breadwinner on top of having a new baby. My wife now had all the cards – the top earner in our household, the mother, the emotional stabilizer and effectively, the boss. The baby could not live without her, we could not have paid our bills without her, and I, the one who had been so confident about my abilities as a father before the baby was born found myself increasingly on the outside, looking in at the cocoon of love that swaddled little Nolan 24/7. Things were as they should be, except for my feeling of increasing worthlessness.
Did I love my son less for these emotions? No, I love him as completely and fiercely as any father could. Honestly, during those first few months I almost wished for a disaster, maybe an attack by very slow and mentally handicapped werewolves, or maybe a rabid kangaroo missing a leg or two, or a drunken koala bear – a situation where I could really strut my manhood without anyone being in too much peril. I simultaneously was ashamed and prayed for complete tranquility and peace, not only for our little household, but for the whole world that Nolan had just arrived in.
Then, a day came when he was approaching his first birthday. We were at my wife’s parent’s home, where is even more doted on than usual and I was truly feeling a little lost. I was carrying an endless pile of presents and new clothes and gifts and luggage to the car while the rest of the family played with Nolan, happily and merrily making him the center of attention. On one of my endless trips down the hall to the garage, feeling out of sorts and a bit lonely, I heard a tiny pitter-patter following me. I turned, luggage in hand, to find my little son crawling as fast as he could behind me with a look that I can only describe as confusion. I smiled inside and knelt on one knee, placing the luggage to the side. He stopped about twenty feet away, struggled to one knee, then placed his other little foot beside him and tried to stand.
He couldn’t, not at that moment. Instead, he did what he somehow knew to do. He lifted both his hands over his head to me, smiled from ear to ear, that innocent and most loving smile that only babies have, and said, “Dadadadada.”
Luggage forgotten, I scooped him from the floor and fled to the garage so that no one could see me cry. As soon as we got home, I burned all the baby books for new Dads. They’re worthless. Just love your little one, your wife, and be thankful for every single day that you have, for they turn to a torrent and the future, uncertain though it may be, will bring you joy and a gift that you could have never imagined.
I’m still prepared for the drunken Koala bear. You just never know.