If I have one thought about fatherhood so far, it is:
Becoming a Dad is easy; being a Dad is hard.
It is startling just how easy it has been to refer to myself, completely non-sexually, in the third person as “Daddy.” There’s some deep evolutionary shit going on there. It’s almost like we’re predisposed to adapt our concept of self to include a pooping, crying ball of meat.
And cry he does. Life as a parent is a life of constant interruptions. And that’s just now, when the only way the kid can interrupt you is by crying for attention. I can only imagine how that gets worse when they can walk into the room and really pester you. Or go to their room and play loud music. Or any number of things to distract you from whatever it is you think you’re supposed to be doing.
I can see my future pain points already. I become irritated when I’m interrupted, when my train of thought is broken. I get angry. I’m afraid of outbursts at the child when he’s older. I don’t want to be the kid of Dad who yells at his kid. If I was the kind of person who prays, I would pray for patience. Instead, I cogitate on it. Try to drill it into myself with a mantra:
“No matter what you’re doing, he’s more important.”
In general, I believe it, but in the moment, I don’t always. I’ve spent a long time now in an adult world where a person could be delayed a moment. “One second,” to an adult is no big deal. To my kid, it’s meaningless, and even if he did know what I was saying right now, a second probably seems like a pretty long time to him.
And I am distracted. Usually for a good purpose. I hit the ground running when he was born; booked buckets of work. For a few weeks, all I did was feed the baby, sleep in fits, and build websites. No reading, no real television except for what I could sneak in while the baby was eating a bottle, and certainly not any video games. I still have to schedule my video game time like some kind of serious business man. Times like that, I realize what I gave up. Nothing like what Sarah sacrifices every day, mind. But in these early days, the rewarding part was slow to come.
I think the reward of it all was theoretical until he started smiling regularly. You feel… protective more than anything else, before that. But when he finally started to genuinely smile at me, I knew I was sunk. There’s no emotional distance when emotions can pass between you and your child.
I have a photo of him smiling on the lock screen on my phone. For the traditional reason of “I love my kid,” sure. But it’s also a talisman. A reminder. It says: “remember this guy? Is what you’re looking to do on your phone more important than spending some time with him?”
I put my phone away without unlocking a lot more often these days. Maybe enough. I don’t know.
So now he smiles, and he almost laughs, and he bounces himself in excitement when he sees a boob, a bottle, or the changing station. He is happiest on the changing table, right after a feeding, right after a new diaper. And now, almost inexplicably, like some kind of miracle, the ball of meat has begun to make talk-like sounds.
“Aguh,” he says. Over and over. Stringing them together like sentences. Sometimes they sound like questions. “Mmm, yes, indeed,” I say. “‘Aguh,’ indeed.”
Because really, what else can you say to that?
In those moments, I can see burning within him a fierce desire to interact with the world; to understand it. An impatience and curiosity we share most days. I am possessed with a strong curiosity as well but I am also tired. Regardless of sleep or lack of it, he is determined to observe everything, and cries hardest when he’s afraid he’s missing out on something interesting. I am instructed through conditioning to hold him upright, no longer cradled in my arm, so that he can look around and see the world. He can’t control his limbs yet, and I fear for the fate of our possessions when he learns. In my minds eye, I see him disassembling everything with hammer or screw driver, just to see what’s inside. This child is not going to have the patience for murder mysteries for a good long while.
And I resolve again to myself that I shall not be the kind of father who responds to questions of “why” with “because I said so,” but my resolve is weaker than before because now I know exhaustion and it is conceivable that I will be too tired at some point to explain, perhaps at two in the morning when all well-behaved children should be resting, I will perhaps be just a little too exhausted to explain how prisms work.
“Go to sleep,” I will possibly perhaps bark. “We’ll Google it in the morning.”
It is entirely conceivable that this kid will learn to Google before he learns to walk.
But then, I am rushing forward again, as I seem predisposed to do. Time travels fast enough; three months in but a flap of a butterfly’s wings, and before I know it, I will be dead and my grandchildren will be colonizing Mars, but before then I must tether myself to the now. Work keeps me here, but not as a weight, I suppose. It’s my laziness, and the realization that between now and the future, there is an awful lot of work to be done. Best to reside in the now just a little bit longer, please.
Slowly, inevitably, we’re dragged forward to the future and the work that waits for us there. But also, perhaps a smiling, laughing, talking child. So the future isn’t so bad, despite the work it takes to get there.