The first year of fatherhood hit me like a freight train.
It was an adorable freight train with an infectious laugh and insatiable appetite, but a freight train none-the-less. It’s blown up and rearranged everything in my life, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Fatherhood has exceeded my expectations in every imaginable way, and it’s already hard to remember what I did with myself before Luke arrived. As his first birthday draws to a close, I thought I’d take the chance to capture some of the highlights.
The biggest surprise: Mommy Magic
For me, the biggest surprise of fatherhood came right at the start. When we got home from the hospital I had pumped myself up to be Super Dad. Jen was still recovering from a rough c-section, and I was going to do everything in my power to ease her transition back home. I would walk through a wall for my new family; not just prepared for sleepless nights, but excited for them.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the only way I could help most times was to hand Luke over to Jen.
She had what we dubbed “mommy magic”: a soothing effect on Luke that I just couldn’t replicate. It didn’t matter if he was hungry or full, tired or awake; he knew the difference between my arms and Jen’s, and he had a preference. I didn’t want to admit it at first. I would try to soothe and cuddle Luke well past the point of knowing it was time to hand him off, and I’d feel like some kind of failure when I finally did. It caused a sense of helplessness and even rejection that completely blindsided me. To love someone so intensely, to want to give them anything they need, and then to have what they need be simply “not you” is hugely disempowering. Of course it was nothing personal (at least I don’t think it was), and it wasn’t all the time, but I’ll readily admit to being jealous of mommy magic. It faded as Luke got older, but we still catch glimpses of it, and I imagine we always will.
The biggest milestone: Cruising
It felt like Luke was hitting new milestones every single day during his first year, so it’s hard to pick out which of them had the most impact on us. Everyone told us that baby going from stationary to mobile was the biggest change, but I’m not sure I agree. Crawling was a big milestone to be sure, but while it allowed Luke to GET to things, it didn’t necessarily allow him to GET INTO things. As long as we kept a relatively small number of bases covered (stairs, outlets, cats), Luke could crawl to his heart’s content. It was the ability to pull himself up to standing that opened up a solar system of new worlds to Luke: flat surfaces other than the floor! Suddenly an item being in its correct place was no longer a guarantee of its safety. Remotes, lamps, tablecloths, computers; nothing was safe. It’s awesome to see the curiosity a baby has towards everyday things, but it’s also terrifying given that they use a two-question heuristic to approach every object they encounter:
- What does this taste like?
- What happens when I smash it on the floor?
Luke has become the ruler of end tables and the master of sofa debris. We’re just trying to keep up.
The biggest fail: Childproofing
Jen and I joke that we somehow missed the first-time parent gene. This has been good in some ways, but it’s also made us procrastinate in areas we probably shouldn’t. Like I said above, the basic precautions we took when Luke was crawling aren’t really cutting it anymore. At least once a week Jen and I will narrowly avert some disaster, look at each other, and say “We have GOT to baby proof this weekend!” The trouble is that it never happens. We’ve managed to get a baby gate up in front of our tool room—you know, the one with saws and power drills—but everything else is still wide open. The joke is really on us, as this means we have to follow Luke closely around the house. Just a little effort could create a safe, baby proofed area where we could “set and forget” him while knocking out household chores and the like, but instead we’re doing it all with him on our hip our at our feet. We’ll definitely get around to baby proofing this weekend, though.
The biggest win: Documentation
I like to think we’ve gotten a couple of things right as parents. We remember to feed Luke most days, and we’ve almost never lost him overnight. Far and away, though, the thing I’m most proud of is the collection of photos we’ve captured in our first year. All the credit for this one goes to Jen. She’s taken a PVC frame with some fabric and turned it into the most impressive baby photo studio I’ve ever seen. I could go on for pages about the amazing creativity of her shoots, but it’s probably better just to show you.
This is only a small sample of what’s on Facebook, and what’s on Facebook is only a small sample of her total collection. Each of these photos helps crystalize a year thats often been a crazy blur, and looking through them brings instant happiness. Plus, I can’t say I’m displeased with the amount we’ve saved on photographer fees. The only concern now is how to keep the pace if/when baby number two arrives.
Through all these ups and downs, probably the biggest theme running through my first year of fatherhood was this:
I can’t do this alone.
I mean that in two ways. First and primarily, I mean it in relation to raising a human being. This goes so far beyond the indispensable support from Jen and our immediate families. It’s our CrossFit box, who watch Luke while we work out and teach him a spirit of adventure. It’s the dads from church who model what it looks like to be a great father and coach me to improve with equal parts truth and grace. It’s the random friends on Twitter who share in the wonder and hilarity of parenthood. I’ve stepped into something so far beyond my capacity it passes “not even funny” and circles back around to funny again. Even in my best moments as a dad its clear that I’m only standing because a full crowd of support is holding me up. There’s something beautiful in that kind of dependency, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The second way I mean “I can’t do this alone” is in relation to this blog. I was posting roughly once a month pre-baby, but this post will make my post-baby average roughly once a year. Now I’m pretty delusional about the number of balls I can keep in the air, but even I have to recognize that getting back to monthly posts would be aggressive. With that in mind, I reached out to my good friend Geofry Lawton. He became a father in June, and we’ve talked off and on about the idea of collaborating on something family-related. Rather than starting a new project (which was a legitimate option discussed—told you I’m delusional), I thought it made more sense to bring him in on The Daddening. He’ll be writing August’s entry, and then we’ll alternate monthly posts going forward. I’m super excited to see what Geofry has to say, and you should be too.