I’m married to a wonderful woman, and I have two happy, healthy boys, one 5 and one 3. I had plenty of time to learn plenty of things about life before diving in to this whole ‘family man’ lifestyle. In fact, I’d worked for nearly two decades in the ‘caring’ professions and had managed behavior and cared for children that required more support than mine do. You could argue that I was as prepared for fatherhood as one can be. In addition to all of this, I am lucky enough to be the son to two genuinely amazing parents, and I grew up in the middle of a gigantic family. Like smack dab in the middle. Life has always included room for everyone at the table for me.
All of this gave me a leg up, I suppose. But that leg up made me merely ‘completely unprepared’ as opposed to, say, the dad I would have been at 22 who would have been ‘utterly and completely unprepared and destined to fail.’ I appreciate the advantage I had. Still, there are some things that you learn when you become a dad.
Here’s a short list of some of the more important and impactful ways I’ve changed:
I Control So Little in Life – As men, we are perpetually rewarded for acting upon the world. For being determined and decisive and for behaving as such. Having a kid will teach you that this quality is much more useful when used sparingly.
What Love Is – I love my wife as much as a man can. It’s with my whole person, and it’s amazing. But the feeling you have when you hold that little baby needs a different word.
Instantly, life before that moment becomes irrelevant, and as you hold this little baby you realize that you have a purpose. You have a reason to be here, a profound reason that is an elegantly simple one. So much of what was important before is not even on your radar anymore. If it is, it’s because it serves a bigger purpose than it ever did before. An example for me would be the gym. I’m back into it now after the baby years made me, ahem, large again. Now when I’m working out, it’s not about vanity, ability or attractiveness. It’s about being healthy longer so I can see as much of this show as I can.
How to Fight, Apologize and Forgive – Fighting. It’s our territory. We have a running tally in our heads of our fights, and it’s a huge part of our identity. I, for one, am not much of a fist fighter, but I’ve been lawyering people to death since I was a kid. I had, like, an 896-0 record going until we became parents. Seriously, I was amazing.
Quite improbably, most men have a similar record prior to parenthood. This is what happens when you leave us to keep our own records. For a short time after the kids arrived, I kept fighting like I always had. Take no prisoners, win at all costs and end the relationship if it preserves your perfect record.
Good men quickly learn this is not sustainable if we hope to be around these people for any length of time.
Turns out, winning isn’t everything. We still take our victories when we know we are right. We just figure it out quicker when we aren’t, and we value a return to peace and love over all-out war. It’s hard as early on there’s a lot to agree and disagree on. Learn to disagree productively. At the very least, learn to disagree in a way that minimizes any long term destruction.
Moms are HOT – They were literally invisible before. Now, without ever noticing when it happened, you hardly see anything but the moms. This is biological. I’m telling you, once you notice how hot moms are you can’t stop. My wife was a stunner when I met her. It’s true. But she’s never ever looked better than she does today. She thinks it’s just me being nice. Its not. She’s super hot, and I’ve never been more attracted to her.
How Precious and Short Life is – Perhaps this is a temperamental thing and not everyone experiences it like I did. Maybe it’s just an older dad thing, doing the math and worrying now that there’s a good reason to not die. Whatever it is, I became truly aware of my mortality the second I saw my son the first time. The giant clock that ticks over us all made itself known to me. I know there’s an alarm set on that clock just for me. It sucks.
If there’s anything in life that I want to see through to its end, it’s the lives of my kids. But that’s not how it works. It’s probably for the best as I wouldn’t be able to survive seeing the end of their stories. I’m invested in making it as long as I can, but I can’t ever stop being aware that all of this is so magical and to be appreciated in the moment because it won’t last forever.
The learning curve is steep for all parents. Moms have to start sooner, and as a result, men sometimes make big mistakes early. Have some patience. Good men don’t know anything about being good dads until they are given the chance to learn from experience.