There is no way to know if you are going to be any good at being a dad. That is quite possibly the scariest part of it all. Once you start, there is no going back.
Have you ever heard the stories of a girl buying her boyfriend a dog as a sort of trial run? Honestly, you can buy all the dogs in the world, but for anyone who has ever been a parent, you know how ridiculous this idea is (but dogs are awesome pets, so it’s not a total loss).
That first car ride home…
I still remember the day I put my oldest son in his brand-new car seat. His head slumped to the side because the seat seemed way too big for him. Of course, nobody tells you that no car seat in the world will fit a 3-day-old.
You are driving home, and as you keep getting closer to your house the feeling is sinking in—my life, in every way, shape and form is changing forever. Then you walk into the house, set the car seat down in the middle of the living room and wonder “now what do I do”?
This is the scariest time. You are out of the relative safety of the hospital. You are walking on the wire without a net now. Sure there is internet advice or advice from family or friends, but they are not there! It’s just this helpless little baby and me!
Then it all starts to change…
Before I had my oldest son, I have to admit that I always thought that kids were like puppies and kittens. They were cute and funny when they were these tiny little things, but as they got older, you and your pet began to settle into a pleasant, yet mundane routine. I know that is a terrible thing to say, but you can’t help how you feel.
Sure being a new parent is tough. You are not sleeping much; you have this feeling that everything you are doing is wrong, you wonder how you are going to manage all this for the next week let alone the rest of your life.
Once you start to get used to all that quite possibly the single biggest parenting surprise hits you. These little helpless, eating, sleeping, pooping blobs are turning into little people right before your very eyes.
You watch them learn; you watch them develop their own personality with all its quirks and nuances, you watch them recognize you and not just smile or giggle but actually interact with you. That is truly the most amazing part for me—watching your kids grow and learn and become just a little more independent from you every day of your life.
You selfishly start to long for the times when they were wholly dependent on you but you revel in their inquisitive nature and the funny, off-beat and sometimes downright nonsensical things they say and do.
Of course, there is a flip side…
Suddenly every story about ANYTHING bad happening to little kids gives you a pit in your stomach. I worry about everything!
What if I lose them at the park? What if they fall off their bike? So many other terrible things that could happen that are far worse.
Becoming a parent doesn’t just change every part of your life, it changes you. It is amazing to start to realize how your entire world has now had a fundamental shift in its priorities. Every decision you make, no matter how inconsequential, now starts with the fundamental question of how will this effect my kids. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing—it just is.
So am I just like my parents…
The ironies of life are endless. I can remember so many times from my childhood where I wondered why my parents were so over-protective, or so demanding, or so goofy for crying, or laughing at me or hugging me for seemingly no reason. Then you become a parent and you suddenly have the “a-ha” moment (actually you have them over and over again all the time).
Of course your kids love you and want to be with you but as every day of their lives go by they want to keep pushing the boundaries of their world. How far can I swim from the edge of the pool today? How far in front of dad can I run? Can I balance on this chair and reach that toy on the top shelf? As a parent you of course want the opposite.
I’m constantly reminded of the Jerry Seinfeld joke that everything with kids is “up” and everything with parents is “down” (slow down, get down, settle down-hilarious). You literally have to fight the instinct to hold them close to you, both literally and figuratively, every minute of your life.
That might be the biggest surprise of all—the balance of wanting to protect them, with the unknown of letting them go and learn and experience and succeed or possibly fail. You feel every up and down they feel, yet just like the old saying about kids having to touch a hot pan on the stove and burn themselves to know they shouldn’t do that anymore, parenting is always the balance of protecting your kids versus letting them find their own way.
So what is the biggest surprise of parenting? Yes, you have no way of knowing if you will be any good at it until you try it; however, you also will never know how totally and completely amazing it will be until you are watching your babies grow and learn right before your very eyes.
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