Marriage was a big life change. But I think fatherhood was even bigger. For the first time, I (along with my wife) was totally responsible for every aspect of the well-being of someone who wasn’t me.
I’ve been a dad for almost 10 years now. Fatherhood has changed me, and I’ve learned a lot. For all the new fathers and soon-to-be fathers, here’s a little bit about what to expect and some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned…so far.
Kids don’t care if you’re cool, and you’ll care less, too. You and your 17-year-old friends in that horrible garage band may have signed a blood-sealed pact never to do so, but after you have children, you will purchase a minivan or a station wagon. Yes, you will. The laws of physics dictate it at this point. You simply cannot fit two adults, a car seat, a Pack ’n Play, portable plastic high chairs, diapers, that four-ton diaper bag, three cases of formula, and a side-by-side stroller in your ‘99 Corolla. And, you know what? Here’s the dirty little secret. Probably, at some point along the way, you’ll nestle into that bucket seat and—while you may never say it aloud—think to yourself, “Man, I like this minivan. It rides high, has lots of room, and it’s great for carpooling.” Yes, you will.
Expect your brain not to work as well. Like your aforementioned ‘99 Corolla, your noggin can only hold so much. So the brain will prioritize for you. Remembering to attend that important business meeting will be replaced with making sure a child doesn’t go to school without pants. Given the choice, it’s a relative win.
Your children will be little cavemen and cavewomen. When born, children have basically one way of communicating their needs: screaming at the tops of their lungs. Then, at some point, comes the inevitable fascination with flatulence (and/or belching). At this point in the child’s life, this bodily function and its associated sounds and smells will become a cornerstone of all humor. They will learn ways to mimic flatulation with their armpits, mouths, and any other body part that can trap and then release air in such a manner as to produce a squeaking or fluttering noise.
You may grow stronger in ways that you didn’t realize you were weak. We men are built to protect and defend, and we take great pride in our strength. Many a hernia has been incurred (often following the phrase, “Watch this!”) by men exhibiting that strength…or attempting to. But to be a good father, you have to understand that being strong is about more than brute force. It’s learning to say “no” to yourself, to your own desires. It’s getting up with a sick child so your wife can get some much-needed sleep. It’s giving up the dream of getting your doctorate so there’s enough money for school clothes. It’s reading “The Little Engine That Could” for the 300th time after work instead of falling asleep in your recliner. It’s…well…love.
You will become more familiar with bodily fluids than you could have ever imagined. You will smell and clean up so much poop that you will look forward to nasal mucus.
And, while on the topic of bodily fluids, you will cheer over a successful poop in the potty as enthusiastically as you have ever cheered for your favorite NFL team. And it won’t be fake. You’ll be genuinely excited. And you will say, “Good job, Timmy” in a high-pitched “Romper Room” voice. It will be unmanly and you will realize how unmanly it sounded and you will feel a little ashamed even though no one else is around. But you’ll still be really excited that Timmy went in the potty, and you’ll call relatives to tell them about it.
You will realize you forgot how awesome Legos are. And you’ll be annoyed by the overly-specific sets with those super-specialized pieces they come with. (Maybe that’s just me. And I actually never forgot.)
You’ll view your father more sympathetically. You’ll understand the weight of stress he carried, and why he was so obsessed with every penny the family spent. You’ll more easily forgive his mistakes as you make your own. You’ll start to understand just how much he did for you, and you may regret not appreciating it more. And, hopefully, you’ll find a way to tell him so.
J. Shane Mercer is the digital marketing specialist at The Village Family Service Center. He and his wife, Amy, live in Fargo with their three children, Ariana (9), Talia (9), and Will (5).
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