I wasn’t ready for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I was prepared. The nursery was painted in a soft shade of green and adorned with all the cutesy owl décor my wife was so enamored with at the time. The crib was assembled. The tiny infant car seat was even installed. My video camera was fully charged and had a fresh memory card in it. I had been rubbing my poor wife’s swollen feet for months.
I knew this was coming.
Still, nothing could have emotionally prepared me for the moment when I stuck my finger into my newborn little boy’s hand and he squeezed it, tighter than I ever could have imagined.
A sensation came over me that is still hard to describe.
The closest thing I can compare it to was the time I got hit in the head by a fastball when I was about 10 years old and knocked unconscious. That felt very much like the pins-and-needles feeling you get when your foot is asleep, but encompassing your entire body.
It was just like that, with an added wave of almost-heat, and I think joy on a different level from anything I had ever felt. I understood the meaning of the word “surreal.”
It’s hard to be ready for something like that.
The flip side of being an often-underemployed journalist is that I’ve also been a stay-at-home dad for a big chunk of my son’s 3-year-old life. While the circumstances that make that a reality aren’t necessarily ideal, I am grateful that I can be right there with him every day. I’m learning more every day.
With another little boy on the way (joining us sometime in October), I find myself thinking a lot about the first weeks and months with Miles.
It’s not always easy or fun. But you keep plugging away, through diaper changes, midnight feedings, teething pain, temper tantrums and all that other stuff, because that’s just what you do. It’s worth it.
And then one day, it’s like you wake up and there’s this little person standing in front of you.
Somehow, he’s managed to put his shoes on all by himself and he wants you to take him to the park to watch the ducks. Or fix him a peanut butter sandwich or get down on the floor and play trains, or play Rush’s “Fly by Night” on the stereo for the millionth time that week.
I think that’s really when you start to become a dad. That’s the time when you begin to understand that your actions are really going to shape that little person’s world.
Let’s be honest: the diaper I changed two years ago doesn’t matter. He doesn’t remember it.
But if I blow him off now and don’t get down on the floor to play trains, he’s going to remember that. Or when he’s eight and wants to play catch, or when he’s 15 and wants to learn to drive.
Because someday he’s going to be 30, in some delivery room somewhere, getting ready for his own pins-and-needles moment.
So I get down on that floor anytime I can.
Because I know that’s not just what he wants, it’s what he is entitled to. I owe it to him.
After all, I’m his dad.