Part of getting a little bit older has been admitting the parts of personality – good and bad – that are basically baked in, either due to genetics or my upbringing. Admitting my own helplessness in this regard has been largely a good thing, but it comes with some obvious drawbacks when it comes to big life changes. So when I found out that I was going to be a Dad in 2016, it was often hard for me to shake the feeling that I wasn’t up to the task of parenting, and that this failure was somehow beyond my control. I always had a pretty good sense that I’d be up to the domestic tasks – the diaper-changing, the nap schedules, the otherwise fatherly participation in the rituals of parenting. But what really frightened me were the elements of parenting that I didn’t have any control over – Would I really love him enough? Would I resent him for changing my life so acutely? Would I be spending most of my waking hours with him out of obligation instead of love? Despite the raft of literature on parenting (to be clear, I have read none of it), there doesn’t seem to be much guidance on this front.
I know I’m supposed to say “I fell in love with him the first time I saw him.” And that’s true, in a way. Something did click when Simon was born, when it turned out that he was a real, breathing human instead of just a concept trapped inside a belly. And a lot of my other nagging concerns were answered early on: Not only was I good at fulfilling my fatherly duties -changing diapers was oddly satisfying (no one talks about this), and my adherence to a sleeping schedule easily could have been diagnosed as a mental disorder – but my sense of responsibility towards his well-being was rooted almost exclusively in my love for him. After a few months, I found myself thinking, “yeah, I can do this.” I had NO idea what I was talking about. I had NO idea what I was in for. I probably STILL don’t, because as it turns out parenthood is a form of insanity that alters your brain chemistry faster than you can possibly keep track of it.
Right from the start, Simon had this knack for producing ridiculous moments where a kind of love I didn’t know existed in me would just get sling-shotted to the surface, and these moments seem to happen every day. A couple of months ago we brought him into bed early one morning, and after some quiet snuggling, he lifted up his head to look me in the eye, broke into a huge smile, and whispered “good morning,” which sounded like “good moaning” but with a long and exagerrated “o” sound. We recently upgraded to a toddler bed, and the other night I was lying in bed with him at bedtime. At one point I lifted my head up to see if he was asleep, and he immediately reached his hand to forcefully push my head back onto the pillow, with a simple command: “Dada snuggle.” I experience each of these moments like tiny deaths. All of my brain synapses fire at once. My heart leaps out of my chest and punches me in the face. I hardly know what to do with myself.
Then there’s the fear. I thought that as he got older and less fragile, this would dissipate. I could not have been more wrong. The morning after my 35th birthday, Simon climbed out of his crib for the first time, and when I went into his room I could hear him crying but I couldn’t find him, which is the literal plot of 100% of my parenting nightmares. As it turned out he had landed in his clothes hamper face down and was helplessly screaming into his dirty clothes during the 60 seconds when I was looking for him – 60 seconds where I wasn’t there for him, where he was helpless and all alone, where he didn’t know where I was. And while he forgot about the whole thing in about five minutes, I’ve thought about it every day since. A couple of weeks ago he fell out of his chair after dinner and hit his head – a scene which replayed in my head over and over again as I tried to fall asleep that night. The other day, I was downstairs watching a movie after he had gone to bed, when I heard his crying upstairs immediately followed by Laura’s hurried footsteps to his room. And while I “knew” that nothing was actually wrong, that sound – the crying, the footsteps, the running – was enough to make me want to die. Because losing him is never far from my mind. Because every day that he is alive, there is more of him to lose, and more of me that he would take with him.
I know it’s only been two years, which means the verdict on my parenting disposition is far from decided, and my helplessness in the face of all of it is more apparent than ever. He’s at an age where he’s still pretty obsessed with me and his Mom, which is in equal parts amazing and transient – so much can happen in the next 30 years. Maybe someday he’ll decide that he’s a Libertarian, maybe he’ll decide to use his considerable brainpower to get into investment banking or the oil industry. Maybe he’ll decide that his bleeding heart Dad is just a disillusioned kook who isn’t worth seeing during the Holidays. Or maybe as I reach old age, my grip of reality will slip just enough that I start to view him as an enemy. Maybe the physical degeneration of my brain tissue will cause me to disown him because of some imagined slight. Anything can happen, and so much of it is still beyond my control.
But right now, this shit is real fuckin’ good; better than any drug I’ve ever done. And it seeps into every part of my life. I’m constantly stopping myself from over-sharing the most mundane parenting anecdotes with my friends who aren’t parents, because COME ON have you seen this kid? Have you ever watched him eat blueberries? Have you ever heard how he says the words “I love you?” (“Ah wah wah”) FOR GOD’S SAKE, HE POINTED AT A GUY WITH A BEARD ON THE FERRY AND CALLED HIM SANTA, HOW IS THIS NOT THE FUNNIEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD, WHY ARE YOU WALKING AWAY FROM ME, WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY CALLS I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT MY SON.
This love is painful. It’s bracing. It fills my every waking moment. It feels like too much to contain. That probably sounds like bragging, and it might be. But have you seen the fucking face on this kid? Have you heard his voice? Have you put him in timeout, only to discover that he feels and expresses genuine regret at the act that put him there? Have you watched him shuffle out of his bedroom in the morning while rubbing his eyes, in a slow-march-to-inevitable-snuggles, on a collision course for you? Have you held his sobbing body after he’s hurt himself? Has he asked you, unprompted, for a kiss? Have you lied down next to him as he’s falling asleep, your face only inches from his, and been 100% certain that he is falling asleep both knowing that he is loved and thinking about how much he loves you in return? No, you haven’t. Not with this kid. Because you didn’t have anything to do with his creation.
That’s MY son, and I’m his Dad. And I couldn’t be happier with this arrangement.