Dan Coxon is lucky.
1. You are not, and will never be, a mother.
In this age of growing equality—sexual, racial, interspecies—men are still second class citizens when it comes to parenthood. Never mind that your sperm helped make the whole kid and caboodle: your lack of breasts and a vagina will forever be held against you. In fact, if you do grow breasts—or a vagina—it will only make matters worse. Men are still portrayed in the media as cartoonish fools, incompetent diaper-illiterate Stooges who are about as capable of looking after a baby as they are of making a casserole. Women, we are told, have an innate ability to nurture, which includes a genetic predisposition for cleaning up poop with moistened wipes, and a built-in Spidey-sense that detects squalling infants at a range of up to five miles. Men, meanwhile, are quite good at playing games. Or pulling faces. Or, in the case of the truly talented, both at once.
If you choose to be your child’s primary caregiver, this genetic inadequacy will be pointed out to you in movies, novels, magazines, parenting manuals, commercials, and conversations until you’ll start to wonder if it might actually be true. It isn’t. Take strength in proving the parentists wrong every day. And get used to being the (playful, face-pulling) elephant in the room.
2. Breastfeeding is not the solution to all of mankind’s ills.
La Leche League may have minted it, but we’ve all heard it: Breast Is Best. We’re told that breastfeeding your child isn’t just free and completely natural, it also increases their antibodies, regulates their intestinal flora, and probably gives them the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. On top of all that, the LLL would have us believe that it’s the simplest thing in the world. Just show your baby a breast and he’ll latch on like a laser-guided milk-seeking missile.
In some cases this may be true. In many it isn’t. There are so many potential stumbling blocks surrounding breastfeeding—latching, low supply, over supply—that it’s a miracle anyone manages it at all. And if the mother of your child is one of the multitude who encounter feeding issues, then expect tears. Expect stress. Expect heartache. And, most of all, expect spiraling, Greece-sized debt. In a country where healthcare doesn’t come cheap, this free, natural process can end up costing you a small fortune.
But here’s what the Leches keep close to their swollen chests: breast is best, but formula is okay too. Talk to someone who was raised on formula and you’ll find that they aren’t a sickly, one-legged, drooling idiot. Admire the healthy luster of their hair. Swoon at their admirable physique. And then, when you encounter problems with breast feeding, go out and buy yourself a can of formula.
White lines. Do it.
3. Just when you get a handle on it, that’s when it all changes.
Consciously or not, we all try to control our children. We want them to eat right, behave well, go (the fuck) to sleep. We want the best for them, but we also hang on to a semblance of our previous life, the gossamer-thin wisps of adulthood that cling to us from the years we now know as B.C. (Before Children). We secretly hope that our lives will continue pretty much as they did before, but with a little Mini-Me in tow.
This will never happen. Babies are an elemental force of nature, a squealing, squalling, time-and-energy-draining disaster in a diaper. This doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to control them. It just means that you will fail.
There will be moments when you fool yourself that you’re finally getting a handle on things, that a corner has been turned and real life is about to resume. These are a mirage. As soon as you conquer one hurdle—sleep routines, solid food, potty training—another springs up in your path, sending you tumbling flat on your face again. If there is one constant, it’s that each day will be utterly different from the last. So savor the good days, and allow yourself to wallow in their easygoing, gurgling charm. Because there’s already another shitstorm gathering on the horizon.
4. It’s the end of your life as you know it …
Your Xbox is now obsolete. Your Netflix subscription is now obsolete. Your sports package is now obsolete. Your Bluray collection is now obsolete. Your cds/records/books are now obsolete. Your alarm clock is now obsolete. Your best going-out clothes are now obsolete. Your golf clubs/baseball mitt/hockey stick/basketball hoop are now obsolete. Your season ticket is now obsolete. Your gourmet cooking skills are now obsolete. Your 20-year old single malt Scotch is now obsolete. Your Napa wine club membership is now obsolete. Your friends are now obsolete. Your penis is now obsolete.
Your credit card, however, is surprisingly useful.
5. And you feel fine.
The biggest surprise of fatherhood isn’t its energy-sapping relentlessness, or the fact that you can actually survive on three hours sleep, or that something so small can spit, pee and excrete several times its own bodyweight every 24 hours. It’s that none of it matters. Not really, not when you finally have a moment to sit back and take stock of where you are in your life. Yes, you’re exhausted beyond reason, and you haven’t seen your friends in a month, and the last time you saw a movie Edward Norton was still the Hulk. Yes, you barely have the mental energy to formulate a thought, never mind articulate it in a sentence. Yes, you now live a life that would be turned down by most prison inmates.
But, beyond all reason, you’ll find yourself smiling through the blowouts, and the screaming fits, and the 2 a.m. feeds. You’ll find yourself buoyed even as your tired limbs drag you down. Every time your little one smiles and gurgles and hiccups and burps and laughs you’ll feel that tiny fire glowing inside you, that spark of home and a lifetime of love that makes it all, somehow, worthwhile. And you’ll huddle around it for warmth, your cupped hands shielding its flickering flame, as your bundle of joy lays waste to everything that used to be your life.
Read more in the Real Fatherhood series.
Image credit: hahatango/Flickr