Mickey Fuertes learns how to walk the fine line between who he was before he had kids and who he is now as a father.
My son was born in April 2007 when I was 25 years-old. To be completely honest, I was utterly unprepared for the level of maturity and responsibility my new role as a “father” would require of me. While I was physically 25 years-old, emotionally I was roughly 16 years-old. Prior to having my son, I had never done a single load of laundry (something I had actually bragged about with pride to my herd of fellow brutes) and my culinary expertise was in preparing the most delicious bowl of cereal you have ever enjoyed (it’s all in how you pour the milk my friends).
Like most young fathers, I had the distinct impression that my world was going to irrevocably change; the previous version of me, the young, cool, well-dressed and completely unfettered bachelor would now be replaced by this slow, dim-witted, fat and terribly dressed “dad”. I had nightmares of receding hairlines and expanding midsections, of minivans and car pools, of ill-fitting jeans and hideous sweat pants. At the same time, I was equally horrified by the newer generation of “hipster dads” I saw popping up all over New York City. The kinds of dads who treated their children as if they were the latest fashionable accessory, who bought the most expensive and cumbersome strollers (“Look, it has a heated coffee cup holder/iPod charging dock and it’s also weather-resistant and bulletproof and it comes in an ironic black color pattern!”) and who named their children after Aztec gods (“His name is “Quetzalcoatl” but we just call him ‘Q’ for short”).
Today, I am 32 years old and I have the wisdom and clarity of vision afforded by hindsight. The truth is, when you have a child, your world does change. This is a statement of fact. No one can refute this. Prior to having my kids, babies were just a vague “concept” to me. I knew they needed to be fed, changed, burped, and put to sleep. What I didn’t know was that these routines were not set in stone, were subject to change at the child’s sole discretion and would be completely useless at 2:30 in the morning when all you want is just 5 minutes of uninterrupted, deep, blissful sleep.
However, while your world does change, it does not have to happen in extremes. You do not suddenly have to wake up and be “Doofus Dad” wearing sweat pants as evening wear and completely disregarding your need for personal grooming; nor do you have to suddenly become “Hipster Dad”, an advocate of organic baby toys and vegan diapers. Here’s a secret few people will admit to: you can and should remain the same person you were before you had a baby. You can still enjoy football and beer and well-tailored suits and R-rated movies. You can still have a life outside of the four walls of your house. And with other people too! People who do not have to have children of their own. The trick is to find the balance, to walk the fine line between who you were before you had a baby and who you are now as a parent.
Here is an example to illustrate my point: when you have a baby, you can still go out and hang out with your former herd of brutes; however, while “hanging out until last call and sleeping off the hangover the following day” used to be the norm, you should probably be aware that your new baby does not care what you were doing the night before and will wake up for their morning feeding as per the usual custom. Here is another example: when you have a baby you can still go out and hang out with your former herd of brutes; however, while “conversations about the frequency and consistency of dirty diapers” are the norm at home, there is a very high probability that your herd of brutes is not interested in discussing this particular topic. Especially if you’re at a noisy club.
My point is that neither extreme is appropriate. You should never lose a sense of who you are as a person just because you are suddenly a parent. At the same time, it should be said that you should never forget that you are a parent just because you are hanging out with your friends. It is easy to get caught up in missing your former self, in remembering the fond nights of disorderly conduct encouraged by alcohol, in looking back and reminiscing about the time you and your best friend stole that huge potted plant from the hotel lobby (I’m not sure what prompted this idea but, in retrospect, our plan was doomed from the start). However, if you spend your time looking at the past, you’ll miss all of the amazing opportunities that now present themselves to you: the smile on your son’s face when you put him in a swing for the first time, the sound he makes when he is content and snoring, the discovery that waking up at 8:00 in the morning is no longer a blasphemous thought and actually means you have a longer day to enjoy in the sun. You have to find a way to walk the thin line between the two extremes and do your best, whenever applicable, to merge the two worlds.
When I was a 25 year-old brute, I was an avid fan of nice clothes, good food and great company. Now, as a 32 year-old dad, I am still an avid fan of nice clothes, good food and great company. The difference is that I have compensated for the addition of a new little brute in my herd. This little brute is developing his own taste for nice clothes (anything with a super hero on it), good food (chicken tenders and French fries) and great company (his own growing herd of fellow brutes). I bring him with me whenever I go shopping, whenever I want to go to a museum, whenever I want to just go outside for a walk. I want him to be a part of my world. I want to introduce him to all of the things I have come to love and cherish. At the end of the day, I realize that my world has changed. And it has changed for the better.
photo: fauxpress / flickr