The Anxious Father

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A all-too-realistic look at the trade-off’s of fatherhood for new and expectant dads.

On the surface, fatherhood seems like such a natural event. But once a pregnancy has begun, certain uncomfortable realizations start dawning on men. Before the process was begun, most men think that you just “sort of” get pregnant and then just “sort of” have a baby.

After the process has begun, however, the change of life becomes apparent. Thoughts of an appropriate car to haul the baby and the supplies that accompany the baby start brewing, casting aside, seemingly forever, that two-seater convertible that was always one paycheck away from an auto loan commitment. And if such toys seem like they’re being teasingly snatched away when you were so close to glorious self-indulgence, it’s probably true. But you must think about what you’ve traded for.

There’s a saying: the one who dies with the most toys wins. Once you have children and are committed to them, you realize what a pitiful and empty goal such a saying boasts. But you’d be lying if you said you didn’t miss this acquisition game. Especially for your first child, one of the most shattering realizations is that the party’s over. Life isn’t just one big date with your wife anymore. And you’re definitely not going to die with the most toys.

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is shown a family life he passed up in pursuit of his monetary goals. Now old, alone, and childless, as he sees a beautiful daughter of the woman he cast aside, he muses, “I could have had a child like that.” This play teaches many other lessons, but in one line are contained volumes of regrets.

So yes, you’re trading the sports cars, the latest flat screen TVs, and the extra vacations for a life of human accomplishment. Now that you and your wife are expecting, a new party has begun. In place of the fun comes fulfillment, which is a kind of fun that stretches out forever — a kind of fun you can die with, when all of the toys you might have died with pale in comparison. The mourning for your old life will bring you down at times, and you will be disheartened at times that children take a lot out of you and from you.

But they give more than they take.

Even being married, you’ve still felt somewhat independent, so when your son or daughter comes, that’s another shock. No decisions can be made without taking your child into account. For at least a couple of years, you may not be caught up on all of the latest movies; you’re going to be leaving social gatherings early, revolving your schedule around a babysitter’s bedtime. You will no doubt wonder if you’ve made the right decision. 
You will suffer.

But you’ll be reacting from a position of ignorance because the hardest years are the first few, when you not only have to deal with the labor-intensive rituals of baby’s day — every day — but you also have to accept, begrudgingly at times, that you’re may not doing everything you had hoped to be doing with your life. You’re living in a bubble, though, and that’s where your ignorance engenders your selfish thinking. What?

That was phase one of your life. Now you’re into phase two. It’s too bad you don’t have a crystal ball, because phase three is wonderful: seeing your children come of age; watching intellectual processes bloom; sharing the joys of a complex personality; and being the most important person in another person’s life.

Enough of philosophy — you’ll have an epiphany one day when your baby smiles at you for the first time (and means it). There are also some mundane realities.

First of all, as important as music has been to you, you can probably downsize that stereo system, because just having a glass of wine while listening to an entire CD won’t happen anymore. But fret not! Put some extra money into your car stereo, because that’s the only place you’ll be able to enjoy music uninterrupted.

If you know all of the middle names of the characters on Friends, you’ll be watching The Family Hour instead from now on, and that family is yours (and it’s not just an hour). There may be whole seasons of must-see TV you won’t have a clue about, but you will laugh and laugh (and sometimes cry) over real people you love, not a character that flowed from the pen of a Hollywood writer.

If you think transportation means just hopping in a car and going, you’re going to have to change your mindset to welcome the extras that go with fatherhood, like the wheeled pod, both strollers (the umbrella model as well as the deluxe), the roll-up playpen, the bag — oh, that bag — of bottles, wipes, disposable diapers, powder, spit rags, vomit rags, and…well, you get the idea.

Cherish now what going to sleep and waking up the next day feel like, because even when your new baby begins to sleep through the night, there will come the sudden fevers, croupy coughs, or colic attacks to send you — your baby’s champion — running into the nursery to make things right. And when a child has every confidence in your being able to make things right — including dealing with monsters — that’s a feeling like no other. No good night’s sleep ever felt that good.

What it all comes down to is the emergence from the cocoon of self-indulgence into the mature adult who knows what the really important things in life are all about. And when you realize the positive trade-offs involved, you will be the richest man in the world.

This article is written specifically for the first-time expectant father, but if you’re expecting for a second or third (or further) time, it would be good to review it so as to make sure that you haven’t forgotten what you wanted to keep important in your life.

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