After enduring a life threatening event with his premature daughter, Andy Shaw offers insight into fatherhood that he was never told.
I want to tell you a little story about something people don’t tell you about becoming a father. Actually, I’ll start by saying some of the things they do tell you, either from pop culture or from your friends, about adding a baby to the mix:
- Taking care of a baby is overwhelming and you’ll be dusted in baby powder all day while getting peed on.
- You will have to make all new priorities. See ya later, friends! Goodbye, rec league. So long, movies with nudity unless it’s really tasteful like Titanic or something.
- You are about to take a back seat on everything. Your needs don’t matter.
- You can be a “cool dad” who takes your kid to the park or who gets your nails painted with your daughter and it’s nothing but laughs and good times.
- You won’t have sex ever again.
All of these are various degrees of b.s., and I hope you know that by now. You may be overwhelmed temporarily but you’ll find a routine. You’ll adjust your priorities. If you plan correctly, you can also still find time to see friends or be in a league or watch Entourage. Your needs still matter (it’s just a matter of being patient about when they can be addressed). You won’t care about being a ‘cool dad’ as much as you care about making your kid happy, and you’ll also realize that the photos you see of ‘cool dads’ don’t show that 30 seconds after it was taken, that kid had a meltdown. You will get to see your wife naked again without a breast pump involved.
Here’s something I was reminded of recently, though, that matters more than any of that stuff, and it’s what makes being a father such an entirely unique experience that you truly can’t get it until you’ve done it. Please feel me, here, it doesn’t mean if you’re not a dad that you’re not a man – that’s some 15th century garbage. You don’t need to sire a child to have a fulfilling life. The hell if I have ever tried to sire anything, actually.
What I mean is that there’s something about fatherhood that you might not have really thought about as you enter into it, something that is at the core of everything you’ll be doing from here on out and yet it’s rare to hear guys talk about it.
So, back to the little story I want to share: you have to soak in the good moments because you don’t know when things might change. This is a picture of my son, my cockapoo, and one of my twin girls, Quinn, all taking an epic nap on me. Just about a week later after this was taken, Quinn had to be rushed to the hospital.
My twin girls were born in April, making me a father of three kids ages 2 and under. The thing is, my girls were supposed to be born the last weekend in June, due date wise. That led to 6 weeks in the NICU as they gradually gained weight and needed less and less support. Hannah came home first, then a week later Quinn was released, marking the first time all 3 kids were under one roof. It was such a relief. The NICU – a topic for another day – is such an intense experience, and we were so glad to be home.
A week and a half later, my wife and I discovered Quinn was extremely pale and lethargic just before bedtime. Within an hour, she was getting CPR after having stopped breathing in the emergency room. Within a few hours, she had been intubated and was nestled into a special box for preemie babies, and then flown away in a helicopter to a top children’s hospital.
We found out she had pneumonia and a cold, a potentially fatal combination in a six-pound baby and also something that, essentially, just kind of happens. Hannah had the same cold, and she was fine.
My wife and I spent hour after hour bedside, her tiny body barely a bump in the child-size bed that had more than a dozen wires and tubes flowing over the side.
Here’s what I learned: when you see a tear roll down your baby’s cheek as she’s being intubated; when you hear her silently cry as the tube muffles her voice; when she’s lonely in the bed and no one can hold her and there’s no way to explain why; when you are grappling with a life-or-death situation with a child you have held in your arms for less total time in her life than you’ve held your phone in the past day – that’s when you feel it in your bones that being a dad is so much more than a title or a Facebook status update or a conversation topic. It’s not something guys talk about much, and yet it’s the very best part of being a dad.
Being a dad is vital to the very core of your being because someone else depends on you to the very core of their own. You’ll discover that, without thinking of it, the mental hold-ups you might have had about giving up this or changing that aren’t that big of a deal, because you’d rather do something for your child than anything else in the world.
You don’t even need a life-threatening event to feel that. It might be when your daughter first smiles at you, or when your son reaches for your hand because he’s scared. It might be after an exhausting day when you get home and your baby has been crying non-stop but then suddenly, for no reason, passes out on your chest. But I do hope you let that feeling sink in and appreciate it for what it is: you have a new purpose in life that is flat out better than any you had before.
What is a 21st century hero? Being an engaged and present dad. And we love to show how great dads are. Want more like this? Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.