Let me just come out and say this, I love being a daddy. I love it all. Yes, even the crappy parts. (Sometimes literally, but that’s another story.)
It seems that my entire life has been leading up to fatherhood. I’ve been told that I was going to be an awesome dad since I was ten years old! So for twenty years I got the swagger on, just knowing that some day there was going to be some kid born in my life that was going to get its socks blown off by my awesome parentage. This kid was going to sail! It was a lock. All I needed was the “World’s Best Dad!” Tshirt and mug and I was going to be set. Yep…easy peasy mac-n-cheesy. Taking care of kids is SO simple. You just hug them, read them stories, make sure they clean their plates and bust a butt when they step out of line. That IS what being a dad is all about, right?
If it’s so easy, why does it terrify the shit out of me some days? If it’s mac-n-cheesy then why do I lose my cool? Why do I get frustrated at the littlest things sometimes? Why do I get aggravated when my son (16 months) does something I KNOW he’s going to do? I have the fridge open and he crawls in. I know he’s going to do it. He does it EVERY time I open the door. He crawls up and starts grabbing for all the delicious bottles. And I get mad at him. Because he didn’t listen? No. Not so much. Okay, truth time, that is a burr under my saddle at times. I know he heard me. I know he’s listening. He just CHOSE not to listen this time OR more insidiously, he’s choosing to directly disobey me. Little turd…
The fact is, he’s a kid.
A terminally curious child who is fervent in his lust of discovery. He’s not content with pointing at something and learning what to call it. No, he already wants to take it apart and look at the guts to see HOW it works. And sometimes, I forget. I forget that the world isn’t what TV, Hollywood, and Hallmark have taught us it is. Andy Taylor and all of Mayberry can just kiss my butt right now. And really, Hallmark could afford to toss us a bone here once and awhile. You know, a card for dads: “Hey, I heard you just got shit on.” or “Honey, the toilets backed up!” You know…something. Why? Because being a daddy is hard work.
Not being a father. That’s chump work. ANYONE can be a father. Hell, Darth Vader was Luke’s FATHER. He never said, “Luke, I am your Daddy.” (Would have been awesome…but I digress.) Reason was, he wasn’t a daddy. Nope, being a daddy is scratching your nose and smelling diaper cream because you forgot to wash your hands after the last diaper change. Being a daddy is staying up all night with the baby, so momma can get a full night’s sleep every once in awhile. (Just don’t whine about falling onto your own sword, champ. Rub some dirt on it and soldier on.)
See, we’ve been taught that to be a dad, a movie-worthy Awesome-Pop, all you had to do was take your kid camping or fishing and have a good heart to heart talk with them. Maybe ruffle some hair after a tough loss on the field and toss in a few non sequiturs for good measure. And your kid will listen and love you for it. Yeah, right. Kids don’t learn that way. You can scream at the top of your lungs for YEARS about something and they won’t hear a word you’ve said. Drop an F-bomb in traffic and you’ll never get them to stop saying it. See what I’m getting at? The little boogers are like miniature learning Ninjas!
You teach them you love them from a very early age. (Story time! Get comfy.)
When we first learned that my wife was preggers I immediately went out and bought baby stuff. I bought a book, and a duck. Every single night, save for two, I read a book to our child in utero. About the 8th month she got put on hospital bedrest. I traveled back and forth from the house to the hospital to make sure everything was okay. I worked my butt off day in and out. And I never missed a story time at the hospital. The nurses all thought it was cute. Well, except the pragmatic one. She told me that they could always tell in the NICU which dad was the most involved with the pregnancy. They would have the mom and dad read to the premie to coax them to fight for their lives. The baby’s always reacted to an active daddy. ALWAYS.
Due date came. We went to the hospital and they induced labor and something like ten and a half hours later, she’s being rushed in for an emergency C-Section. I come sauntering in the room as they have my wife cut open and I get to witness them pull this little bundle of bloody flesh into the harsh light of the O/R. This kid is screaming. I look at my wife and I swear to GOD she was green. She had no color to her face and it broke my heart. She had given everything she had and then had to have surgery on top of it. I had never loved her more than I did at that moment. I could hear this little dude screaming across the room as they did all manner of things to him. And then…they called me over. Holy SHIT….it was like being the bench warmer that was finally being called into the game to kick a game winning field goal of the championship game. Could I do it? Was I up to the challenge? I walked calmly and confidently over to the table and snipped the umbilical and fired a debonair grin that oooozed dad-charm. Okay, I stumbled over there and in a mix of shock, mild panic, and more love than I ever thought possible, I did the only thing I knew to do to help this screaming scared little boy.
I said, “Hey buddy! It’s good to finally meet you.”
The crying stopped instantly. His eyes were closed but he turned his head to me. I thought the head nurse was going to have a baby of her own right there on the spot. She went from being a brash pseudo-bitch to silent instantly. In fact the only sounds being made were the people in the background counting bloody gauze and clamps making sure nothing got left behind.
The point of the story is that I had been teaching him things from a very very early age. Kids are like that. They pick up on the subtlest things. In fact, I would venture to say that your most elaborately planned morality lessons will be the ones forgotten the quickest. Or remembered only for their awkwardness. (My dad’s ‘sex’ talk with me when I was 16 was particularly traumatic for both parties involved.)
Just remember, every diaper you change, every booboo you kiss, every piggyback ride, every hug, every act of kindness is teaching them something. Sure, tell them to rub some dirt on it. Tell them to put on their big people underwear and deal. Just make sure you’ve backed it up with all those silent I love you’s along the way.