In true dad fashion, after being told that my wife and I had successfully conceived, I immediately started looking for a new television. I mean, obviously the old floor-based projection I had wouldn’t cut it. The baby would surely launch herself into the screen and cause all sorts of problems! That’s what babies do! They’re little powder kegs!
So off to the internet we went to land a brand new 50-inch wall-mounted plasma. A few months before she was born, a number of friends came over to help me mount it, like we were Norse hunters back with a kill. It was very clearly the closest we would come to something like a baby shower for dads. As we tightened and adjusted and leveled and tested, we discussed at great length the benefits of a wall mounted TV so the little monster wouldn’t befall any number of hilarious and improbable catastrophes with the old floor-mounted one. The only thing funnier than this scene would be how often it would be repeated as each of my friends started preparing for their new babies.
[shareable_quote]While you might not feel qualified to be a new dad, if you make it the most important thing in your life and give it everything you’ve got, you might not be absolutely horrible at it.[/shareable_quote]
Over the next five years, I would come to learn that this completely irrational rationalization about buying new stuff to satiate my never-ending and nonsensical need to protect the baby from hard things wasn’t a phase, but my new normal state of mind. There is a name for this condition: new dad. But it’s far from the only symptom.
1. They’re going to do things that look extremely dangerous, and we’re supposed to let them.
Even though they’ll probably fall off the slide and break their little arms, and everybody will think we were just checking ESPN. We have to watch them climb up the ladder and almost slip off and knock themselves silly on a slippery wooden rung worn from thousands of little Keds that have almost slipped before theirs. We have to watch them amble across the little suspension bridge unassisted, on shaky little legs, because quite frankly, we’re just too damn big to climb up there with them. Then we’re supposed to sit there and look confident and encouraging as they balance precariously at the top of a 10-foot tall slide made of aluminum that’s been sitting in the hot sun all day, waiting for little legs to come and brand themselves on the scalding hot metal ruts. Or maybe they’ll be fine. Either way, you just have to let them. This is like being stabbed in the eye—every time. Get used to it. Apparently it lasts for like 30 years.
2. They’re going to have to learn all these things, and you can’t just do it for them.
They’re going to be trying to put their shirt on by themselves for the first time, and they’re going to keep trying to stick their head in the arm hole. They might squeal about this. Every single atom in your body will want to take two fingers and fix the whole thing. You can fix it in 2 seconds! But you can’t! You have to talk them through it. You have to console and encourage them to figure it out themselves. It’s, like, a learning opportunity or something. So you have to just sit there while they stick their head and arm out of the neck hole and try to run away and play. You have to help them so they don’t look like daddy dressed them when they get to day care.
3. They will like broccoli if you tell them it’s so good that you want to eat theirs.
OK, this is pretty amazing. This never works on adults. Well, not on sober adults. Seriously, kids are learning things 100 times faster than we can, but they’re still too young and honest and pure to recognize blatant manipulation using one of the oldest tricks in the book. Here’s how it works: Just tell them that you’re going to eat all their broccoli, turn around and act like you’re eating it, and bam, they’re going to throw a mini-tantrum until you give it back and let them eat it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve made this work. My kid is 5 now, and it still works half the time. When they’re siblings and they fight over meaningless things, it’s even better. Just take the one neither wanted, start talking it up, then presto.
4. You have the magical power of making them go to sleep anywhere.
The only trick is they have to be on you. Not like, on your head, but you have to be carrying them with enough contact that they smell you and feel your warmth and recognize that it’s you. And after you master this Harry Potter-like magical gift, you can literally do anything you want as long as you can do it with a baby in one arm. They don’t care what you’re doing. Just don’t let them go. Make breakfast, replace a lightbulb, fold the clothes, go bowling. Just hold onto them until they feel safe on their own. As they get older, they start to repay this by holding onto you when you need it back.
5. Sometimes they’ll hurt a lot, and there will be nothing you can do to make it better.
Sometimes it’s just a kiss on a skinned knee. But sometimes, as was the case with one of mine, they’re in the hospital at 3-weeks-old with needles sticking out of their little skin in preparation for surgery, cold and crying and not sure what’s happening, and all you can do is let their little fingers wrap around yours and keep one of your hands on their little chest. This also never gets better. The pain may get different, maybe they fall off a bike or get scared at night or get their feelings hurt at school, and all you’ll be able to do is hold their little hand and let them know you won’t leave them until it gets better. And hope that’s enough.
While you might not feel qualified to be a new dad, if you make it the most important thing in your life and give it everything you’ve got, you might not be absolutely horrible at it. Maybe you’ll even get an extra hug on the tail end of a random Father’s Day. And that will be enough.
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