August 2015: Plus One

Why hello there. If you’re a friend of the network you may be peripherally aware of me. My wife Liz and I are parents now! Our little boy Abram is about a month old at the time I’m writing this and it’s crazy how much he’s grown in just that time.

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 You’re probably wondering how I elbowed my way onto Dennis’ blog. It’s taken months of careful planning and execution. My ruse began months ago, before Abram was even born. Dennis has been instrumental in providing a listening ear, emotional support and advice. So it’s an honor that he has invited me to collaborate with him on The Daddening. This is going to be fun.

When you’re a month removed from your first child, a lot of people ask questions like, “What’s it like being a father?” or “How’s parenthood?” For questions that are thrown out so casually and so often, I still don’t have the distilled, casual summary of the experience of fatherhood that I feel like people are expecting, and I usually end up going with something like “It’s great!” or “It’s an adventure”. The truth is that when I think of my role as a father it’s much more complicated than that. There are a lot more thoughts and emotions wrapped up in what it has meant to me to become a father, and a lot of those I don’t even have words for yet. That’s what I’m here for.

  Despite all the goodwill I have for Lauren Graham, it just didn't grab me…

Despite all the goodwill I have for Lauren Graham, it just didn't grab me…

Even after a whole month, it’s hard to nail down all the feelings that fatherhood brings and put them into words.  It’s changing me in ways I didn’t anticipate.

In terms of my expectations, the entire experience has been much easier than expected. Parents and non-parents alike have been warning me for months about the sleepless nights and not-so-quiet evenings ahead of me. (I’m not sure why people feel compelled to inform parents-to-be that babies are loud and needy and a lot of work when the ticket to parenthood is already bought and paid for. Am I supposed to change my mind or is it for some sort of sadistic hazing all parents must endure?) Ultimately, I don’t think it’s that I overestimated the screaming or that my child is remarkably quiet and sedate, but more that it’s remarkable what you’ll endure once it’s your own kid keeping you up at night. God’s blessed me with a real Zen attitude that I’m hoping will endure throughout parenthood. When we were initially trying to have Abram, Liz told me she was praying that if we had a son he would have a gentle sprit like his father. So far, that has really held true. Abram is pretty sedate most hours and easy to soothe. Obviously babies cry to communicate, but aside from when he needs us to meet a need, he is pretty happy to chill quietly.

Paradoxically, at other times, being a father affects me in other, less admirable ways. When it comes to me dealing with my child, it seems really easy to endure any number of hours of screaming and sleep deprivation, but when dealing with others and my kid, I find myself sometimes filled with an impotent rage that I can only recognize as a primal desire to protect my family unit. When Liz and I were still in the hospital with Abram after she had given birth, they put us on a locked postpartum unit and gave me a badge to swipe in order to get back into the unit if I left. One of the days we were there, I left to get some coffee and breakfast. When I came back, as I walked down the hallway toward the locked door, I was about 200 feet behind this woman. When she got to the door she swiped her badge to no avail. Another swipe, another rejection. I decided to hang back, knowing that my badge was functional, and not knowing who this woman was or what her motives were (almost certainly a relative hoping for some innocent baby snuggling, but that was neither here nor there to me.) As I continued to wait, she didn’t seem to see me. She continued for a solid 5 minutes to swipe, stare at the badge for a few seconds, then swipe again; maybe this time slow, maybe fast, maybe flipping the badge one or another way, maybe trying to swipe casually, as if she hadn’t been doing the same thing for five, now closer to ten minutes.

My frustration continued to grow. This was someone who was not only keeping me from my child, but didn’t respect the sanctity of the door or the safety of any of 30 or so babies that were inside. I didn’t say anything when she called the person she was visiting and said “Yeah I’m right outside 3700, the door won’t open” (she was actually outside 3800, but this person who didn’t respect the sanctity of the door didn’t deserve my help). Soon a cleaning person came by and said “let me help you” to the person who the multi-million dollar security system was consistently denying. The cleaning person then unlocked the door for this unauthorized stranger and let her into the unit where MY baby was currently sleeping under therapeutic light.

This flipped my frustration to rage. WHY EVEN HAVE A DOOR LET ALONE LOCK IT? I found the poor nurse and made what I thought was an important warning, the safety of babies was in my hands after all. I realize now it was incoherent tearful blubbering: “THERE WAS A WOMAN, AND THE DOOR, AND SHE COULDN’T GET IN AND I DIDN’T WANT TO LET HER IN, AND I WAITED BUT SHE DIDN’T GIVE UP AND THE CLEANING PERSON…”  I can only imagine what a fool I looked like and I’m really embarrassed, but I guess it highlights how these have been the most emotionally charged weeks of my life.

The intensity of the emotions I feel completely catches me by surprise. I never quite experienced things as vividly as right now. I can just sit with Abram in my arms and be in the moment, which sounds silly, but I spend a lot of time in my head, and being a Dad is a great catalyst to live more in the real world. In this regard, becoming a parent has been a real challenge for me, but It’s also been extremely rewarding personally and also in my marriage.

In a strange way, the typical euphemisms we tend to use when explaining where babies come from rings extremely true for me. When two people love each other very much, it makes a baby. It’s a cliché that’s so worn at this point that it has flipped from innocent and naïve back around to revolting, but I bring it up because I think there’s a nugget of truth in the lie we tell kids. This isn’t an entirely original thought, Liz is saying it all the time, but I look at Abe and see the product of the love I have for my wife – something that binds us together. I think that’s because we came into it prepared to serve each other and Abe, putting ourselves third. I’ve found this to be a surprisingly refreshing experience. I feel like my marriage to Liz is stronger than ever, and that any stress so far has been a tempering fire, making us even more solid. I’m going to stop typing because this sounds preachy. It’s definitely true that the mother does the heavy lifting for the first month, but being on the same team has really brought us together.

So that begins to encapsulate my first month of parenthood, but by the time you’re reading this, Abram is over two months and so much has changed. I’m not entirely sure what to expect, but it’s going to be crazy and amazing.