However, being a dad is more than being a social media manager. It’s equal parts rodeo clown, bullpen closer, and Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada (except my boss wears onesies accessorized with spit and his only language is screams). I’ve learned to despise every cliché about fatherhood while also accepting that exactly 50% are frustratingly accurate. Here’s the stuff I thought was interesting from the first three months:
1. There’s really a baby in there. When Will emerged, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m not sure what I was “expecting” (sigh) but, despite a thorough understanding of biology and the overwhelming evidence presented by Julia’s body over the previous nine months, I was entirely unprepared for that moment. Pregnancy becomes such its own journey that it’s difficult to comprehend that it’s only the beginning of everything. Like when you watch Part I of The Hobbit, then your wife cries because there are two more. Unfortunately, my first words to Will were, “Oh my God, you’re a real baby!” Never in my life will I experience something as bonkers as a tiny alien who is equal parts me and the one I love basically materializing out of thin air into my life.
2. Diapers are a joke. I always imagined that diapers were going to be the biggest deal in the world. This is probably a symptom of being 33% raised by 90s sitcom dads such as Tim “The Toolman” Taylor who believed that parental responsibilities were the shameful opposite of testosterone, America, and prediabetes. I’m sure diapers will get considerably worse and more colorful once Will starts to eat real food but, so far, they’ve been the most low-effort, high-reward thing a dad can do. Diaper change? I got this, honey. Forty-five seconds of work and, boom. Dad credit. Of course there is the occasional did-you-crawl-to-Chipotle? mess, but those are more impressive than frustrating.
3. When your baby smiles, you will die. I never really understood why babies are born only to spend the next six weeks trying to recreate the womb experience on the outside. Grow up already, right? The best moments of the early days are like a good day hiding from the undead: There were no loud noises, everyone looks alive, and the only thing trying to gnaw on you has no teeth. To be honest, at that stage, babies are just hyper-realistic dolls. But everything changed the first time Will smiled. It was the most pure and honest display of affection. It was as if he was saying, “I still don’t know that I have feet but I recognize the general shape of your face and I have made a connection between said face and the feeling of comfort and safety. Also, I love you.” Even more surprisingly, his best smiles came the instant after waking up. When was the last time you smiled the moment your eyes opened in the morning? When do we start becoming such jerks?
4. Motherhood is a marathon, fatherhood is a sprint. The biggest disappointment of the first 12 weeks was that I thought I would get to play a bigger role in this thing. Mom is food and life and Dad is a rodeo clown between meals. For 10 minutes every hour, I was on. It was my job to come in after a major meltdown or frustrating feeding session and do my best minion impression while Julia recovered. Then I was the lights-out closer who put Will down for bed because, apparently, moms smell like milk and that scent to babies is like midnight ice cream to pregnant chicks. Finally, like a scene from a WWII movie, Julia would hand me a crumpled piece of paper, whisper “just go on without me… you can make it,” then collapse dramatically into a heap of burp cloths on the bed. These Enigma-machined grocery puzzles contained essential, cryptic notes such as “NEED Peepee Teepees” and “nipples falling off, find cure.” I relished these opportunities to contribute but after being nothing better than the cheerleader in the delivery room, I felt almost guilty for not being a miracle-of-nature milk-dispenser.
5. Trust your instincts. Parenthood is a full-time, constantly evolving science experiment in a science where there are no equations or unifying theories, and all of the data is wrapped in hyperbole, cuteness, condescension, and subjective anecdotes from friends and internet strangers. It’s really disappointing that 108 billion babies have been born on this earth, but we still don’t have the formula for raising a normal child. I’m confident there’s even a pediatrician behind a shed at a preschool who insists that male babies be raised by wolverines. So, good luck trying to feel prepared when there are libraries of books and they all contradict each other. “Want to co-sleep just once? Do it! But here’s a coupon for a tombstone.” “Put your baby in a crib. It’s the safest option! Also, his feeling of abandonment will be an insanity defense at his trial someday!” (Books written specifically for dads are hateful in their inefficiency and stereotyping. “Explaining parenting to men” is the same literary style as “Michael Scott talking to black people.”) It’s always convenient and wonderful to hear, “Do some research, but trust your instincts!” When there’s a tiny human relying on me for survival, my instinct is to buy the sharpest sword and breed dire wolves. It’s a fun game to ignore the monsters in the corner of every non-organic, deathtrap crib however, it’s much healthier to chill and not see how much you can worry before your body shuts down. Much like deadlifting and running from tigers, caring for a child is in our DNA. And, according to our pediatrician, “It’s hard to break a baby.”