I’ve had a good year to let this whole fatherhood thing sink in. Actually, this is my second Father’s Day proper; the first one doesn’t count, as it was spent in that dazed, semi-comatose fugue state that you can only truly understand if you’ve ever ministered to a two week-old baby.
Having spent many a year on the periphery (if strictly in an observational/cleaning-up-after role) of a culture that values outward appearances above all else, knows only one kind of gratification (that of the instant variety), and sees the path of no resistance as a foregone conclusion, it has become obvious to me why so many “men” run away from fatherhood in the maternity ward, if not at conception. It is because virtually everything to do with raising an infant runs directly counter to the value system I mention above. In less academic terms: It’s fuckin’ HARD, dawg!
Tending to an infant child is a merciless grind if you’re just phoning it in; I don’t know how good parents manage. I really don’t. Nevertheless, this past year has been nothing, if not educational. For example…
No matter how laid back and patient you think you are, fatherhood is the ultimate harsh light of reality; you are almost guaranteed to be extremely disappointed at how easily you can collapse into a silent (if you know what’s best for you) rage, and question your very existence.
The same goes for intelligence. Think you’re smart? Become a daddy and think again, buster. I don’t know if we’re just not wired to handle parenthood nearly as well as the women, or if it’s just the physical exhaustion taking its toll on our cerebral function, but you can bet that you will turn stupid. You will be mentally outmatched and overpowered on so many occasions, that The Trentonian will start to read like James Joyce.
I have smelled so many things throughout my two score and one year on this planet. The fetid, raw-sewage breeze off the Delaware that usually kicks in at around the sixth inning of the Thunder game. A bag of sweaty hockey gear, left in the trunk overnight. Bourbon Street at noon, in the middle of July. Garbage truck juice. The Mack Administration. Nothing – and I mean nothing – compares to what will assault your nose when it’s time to empty an overstuffed diaper pail.
Prior to becoming a daddy, I had a feeling that my hungry, cranky baby would not really care how many beers I had last night, when he decided it was time for “service.” Trust me when I tell you this was one thing I guessed correctly. It turns out my wife cares even less. Can’t say I can blame her.
Sleeping until 10:00 am is overrated. Oh, how much of my life I’ve wasted, spending precious daylight hours under the covers. I don’t care if I sleep that late ever again.
Sleeping until 8:00 am is underrated. Seriously, kid. 6:15 am is fine on work days, but you must stop waking me up while the overnight BBC broadcast is still on WHYY. How can you not know it’s the weekend, dude?
Having my first child days before turning forty was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, as I can safely say my best days of physical fitness are in the rearview mirror. However, I hear there are many men crazier than I, so maybe I won’t be the oldest guy at the Class of 2028 Commencement. Anyway, be forewarned: it turns out that a baby will consume every last bit of energy you possess, and then some. If you’re putting off this whole starting a family thing for whatever reason, I would suggest taking better care of yourself than I have.
In short, this gig is by turns humbling, sloppy, thankless, infuriating, sticky, entertaining, messy, exhausting, smelly and gooey. But most of all, it is insanely – ridiculously, on an intergalactic scale – rewarding. Whoever invented babies knew what he/she was doing, as Junior has this uncanny ability to make you forget that just ten minutes ago, his latest and loudest screaming fit had you wondering how it would feel to take a Henckels to your radial artery.
So, Father’s Day. I’m a little bit indifferent about the whole thing, truth be told; probably because I feel barely worthy of salute. While I most definitely am a full participant in The Parenthood Experience around here, my forte is the big picture-type stuff that pretty much any monkey can do. Feeding the boy, changing diapers, bathing, and dressing him? I can, and sometimes do, accomplish these things in my sleep. Cleaning up around the house? No problem! Prepping for a day trip up to the grandparents? Even after three trips from the driveway back to the house to retrieve forgotten items, I still remember everything only about 80% of the time. I’m a real genius.
My wife, on the other hand? When I think of what I do for this kid, and what she does, that old email forward about “The American Barbecue” comes immediately to mind. You remember; the lazy mongo who handles one important task – putting a slab of animal flesh on the grill – while the woman slaves away behind the scenes at myriad smaller, yet equally important jobs, only to watch her jack-off partner revel in accolades from the assembled guests?
That’s pretty much how the childcare scene runs around here, except I like sleeping in my own bed too much to accept more than a tiny sliver of the credit. Those tasks I mentioned earlier, which I generally get done with a mild to moderate degree of competence? That’s me, the big oaf, grilling the meat. But what about making sure we don’t run out of any of our 27 different types of baby sanitation supplies? Planning the diet, knowing what new foods to start and when? Making, and remembering to go to, doctor’s appointments? Making sure our precious snowflake has clean clothes? That actually fit? Nine months of breastfeeding? Just straight up knowing what to do when nothing else works (far better than I could even dream possible)? Dozens of additional things that I can’t recall at present, and others I probably don’t even know about? All of this, plus covering for my sorry ass by running the whole damned show while I’m away on business, which can run anywhere from two days a month to four days a week (and where people are paid to cook my meals and clean up after me, let’s not forget)? And hardly ever complaining about it?
I could go on, but you get my point. So, on this Father’s Day, don’t celebrate yourself, doofus. Rejoice in the fact that against long odds, you have a far better wife (significant other/whatever) and child(ren) than you probably deserve, and acknowledge that your existence has far more meaning with them, than it ever had without them.
Now, run along and grill some meat.