Since learning his wife was pregnant, Brian Meehan, has tangoed with every emotion on the spectrum. Here are his 5 signposts on the road to fatherhood.
In the waning days of January, my wife and I found out that we had a little bundle of joy on the way. I remember (and always will) exactly where I was standing when she called me from the doctor’s office, letting me know that we had, in fact, just +1’d our family. It was an awesome moment. That phone call (and the few months that have followed it) have been the most surreal journey in my life. And in that time I think I’ve tangoed with every emotion on the spectrum (fear, it turns out, is a terrible dancing partner), sometimes dancing with them all over the course of five terrifying minutes.
My road to Fatherhood has been characterized by stages. Similar to the stages of grief…or, not…well, ok, clearly not. Fine, it’s nothing like the stages of grief, except for the fact that they are two emotional journeys with discernible signposts. This analogy seems forced. So, let’s go with signposts. The Signposts on my road to Fatherhood have numbered five in total and represent a healthy percentage of what our imaginations are capable of producing when faced with unknown situations.
1. Shock and Awe. The initial phase is called the Shock and Awe phase (“We’re having a baby?”), which is alternatively known in baseball circles as the Left Field phase. Interestingly, men are quite familiar with this signpost. We’ve seen it before as it sums up most of our athletic careers. All things considered, semi-familiar territory isn’t a bad place to start; even more so when you consider that in the child-making equation, our side is starting at an emotional disadvantage from our female counterparts. It’s sort of like playing basketball after hitting thirty against a bunch of college kids. We either have to foul, or band together and learn to play zone (note: we still foul in the zone, but it’s no longer the primary strategy). If you’re a man who has just been told he’ll be adding “fatherhood” to his resume in just a few months time, I highly suggest learning the zone.
2. Pure Joy. The second phase comes quickly, once you’ve made it a few steps past the first one. For many of us, these two markers were reached during that initial conversation. This is the Pure Joy phase (“WE’RE HAVING A BABY!”). During this second phase, you begin planning where your soon-to-be child will go to school, what their curfew will be, and what sport they are going to play in the Olympics (if you’re curious, “M.I.T”, “not leaving the house” and “swimming”). Having a child is exciting and lends itself well to carefully laying out well-made plans for their entire life. To those of you who already have children, please hold your laughter, and allow us “rookies” to believe that things will go as they are planned to go. I ask for this temporary illusion for at least a few more minutes. Thank you.
3. “Don’t Worry I Got This.” Also, veteran fathers, don’t mock us as we breeze into the third stage of this mission, which I have dubbed the Don’t Worry I Got This phase (“Yeah, man. Sup. Me? I’m just havin’ a baby.”). After a couple of weeks, or even months, of planning out this baby’s life from infancy all the way through supporting us in retirement, first-time fathers start to relax a little bit. We’ve been accumulating advice from all corners and start to convince ourselves we have a handle on the light heading down the tunnel towards us; namely the cutest, most adorable little freight train we’ve ever encountered.
4. Realization. Luckily for our children this nonchalance is short-lived. Mostly, the mirage is shattered by our own dads, or other dads we have around us, and their aforementioned mockery when they hear us talking about “how it’s gonna be.” This shames us into the fourth stage, which is Realization (“We’re having a baby. Crap, what about…”). This is when the enormity of our inbound responsibility—in every sense of that word—hits home. We start doing math, figuring out that diapers are expensive, we need to take out a mortgage for daycare, and “…can’t we just dress this kid in a towel until they’re mobile?” We consider calling in the Army Corps of Engineers, primarily to help us figure out the logistics of hauling everything this baby will need to the family barbeque. (“So many things, such small bags; there must be a better way”.) We start thinking about diet and how our kid will never survive on ramen and Gatorade like we did for…well, pretty much until we met our wives. For those of us having daughters, there are whole swaths of human culture we need to make ourselves aware of. I’ve made it almost thirty-two years without having visited the “feminine products” aisle but I know now that my streak is on borrowed time. And sleep. We can’t forget about sleep. We listen to the one piece of advice that is common across all cultures and generations and really start savoring that precious commodity known as “uninterrupted sleep”.
5. Acceptance. The fifth stage has made for the bulk of my journey towards Fatherhood. It can vary, based on our personalities, but the inevitable final stop on this road is simply Acceptance. This is when we realize that all of the fears, all of the worrying, all of the self-doubt needs to be met head-on. We realize that all of those negatives will wilt in the face of how happy this child is undoubtedly going to make us.
And so I find myself repeating the following sentences to myself:
“Yes, I am going to be a father.”
“Yes, it is the most important thing I will ever do.”
“Yes, I know I’m not going to be perfect and I know I will make mistakes.”
“Yes, I would be disastrous without my wife (and this isn’t limited to fatherhood).”
“Yes, I will miss sleep for the next forever years.”
“Yes, I have to give all that I have, all that I am, to this little person.”
“Yes, I’m just as scared as I am excited.”
But, no, I cannot wait.
photo: futurestreet / flickr