This has taken longer than anticipated to write, but everything takes longer now and far fewer things matter. I am currently holding a screaming miracle in my arms. She has a pacifier hanging out of her mouth like a hand-rolled cigarette, as though she weren’t ordained by God but rather by order of the Peaky Blinders. I am the proud father of said gangster, and as such would like to recount our misadventures and jot down a few reflections thus far.
Update: “currently” in the previous passage was actually written nearly two months ago
A Sobering Revelation
Parenting is not hard.
I like doing hard things. Doing hard things makes me feel a sense of accomplishment that the mundane cannot. Earlier this year I ran four miles every four hours for forty-eight hours. That was hard. I did it because it was hard. I did it because I saw somebody I admire trudge through it, and I wanted to see how I would respond to that same suffering. Being a father isn’t like that at all.
Parenting an infant (for a man) is a culmination of easy things.
Some men make holding newborns seem like rocket science, but it turns out there’s not much to it. Support their head and neck and respond appropriately when they flail.
Changing a diaper is not difficult – open up, grimace, wipe until everything is flesh-colored again, and cover it back up.
Burping a baby is simple enough. Pat, pat. Rub. Pat, pat, pat. Rub. Pat. Belch (or not.)
Soothing a crying baby is a touch more complex because there are options. She may need to be fed, might need to be changed, or perhaps she needs to — Go. The hell. To sleep.
The issue is that none of these things make you feel good, but they all need to be done. And they all need to be done every day, all the time. That is hard, only without a sense of achievement.
Months 1-2 are hard for dad
I cried when Savannah gave birth to Harper, but I didn’t cry because I was overwhelmed by how much I loved her. I cried because I was incredibly proud of Savannah for what she’d just done, and to some degree because I felt like it was expected. I would’ve done anything to support Savannah in taking care of Harper from the moment she was born, but I had little true connection with Harper herself.
The first week was by far the hardest. Savannah had to get up to feed Harper every two to three hours. I tried to get up with Harper anytime that she wasn’t feeding so that Sav could rest. One night in particular, Harper wasn’t going to sleep at all between feeds. I tried the things I knew to do: shush, rock, cradle, swaddle, side lying — one after the other and Harper only screamed louder. I am a patient man which is why it was so concerning how angry I got once I’d run out of options. I woke Savannah up sobbing, she asked if she could pee real quick or something else that I quickly refused and hurriedly handed her our screaming daughter.
I struggled to see Harper as a person at the beginning. She didn’t respond to any stimulus, she didn’t get excited to see me, and I really wasn’t directly responsible for feeding her or caring for her in a way that felt meaningful. Conceptually, I understood that it wasn’t rational to get angry with her as she could do no wrong. In theory, I understood that it would be difficult to build a relationship with an infant. In reality, I felt terrible for not falling in love with her immediately and even still it is hard to write.
Months 3-6 So much cooler
First came smiles, then giggles, and now I’m hooked. She knows me and I know her. A guilty pleasure of mine is taking a screaming Harper from somebody that’s not named Savannah and feeling her whole body relax immediately. Harper smiles when I walk in the room and we have inside jokes. She has a ticklish belly and ticklish feet, jumping cracks her up, and for a minute she really really liked when I imitated Jim Carrey’s “The-the-the- THE GRINCH!” (sidenote: not all babies like this, in fact I’m only batting .500 as Harper loves it and her sweet cousin Ellie hit that startle reflex and cried real loud. Still sorry sweet girl.)
I love that Harper can grab things and interact with me. She picked up sitting up on her own last week and it is so special to watch her grow and develop. I am also soaking in these last few months of having a stationary baby. I’m sure it will feel like starting all over once she starts to crawl, walk, run, go to school, drive, go to college, get married, make me a grandfather. That made me a little lightheaded. Yesterday, I got overwhelmed imagining myself pretending to be Santa. Now I’m walking her down the aisle. Oy vey. (Pretty sure that’s yiddish for shit.)
Everyone Knows Everything and Nobody Knows Anything
It is often said that vegans and cross-fitters struggle to keep their mouths shut about what they have going on. But when you have a child you unlock the untethered opinions of everyone who has ever had, held, or seen a baby. Susan will tell me a lengthy story about how different her triplets were and go on to advise Savannah and me on how we should care for Harper. Susan does so unironically. Between sleep schedules, diaper changes, and baby-lead weening there is so much conflicting information that in a somehow freeing manner, one cannot be right — or wrong. Savannah’s gynecologist told us, “there are a hundred ways to raise a baby. So long as she is warm, dry, and fed you can’t go wrong.”
One interesting thing about being a parent is the immediate connection one has to other parents. All of a sudden there is something to talk about with everyone who has children. I get along with most people anyway, now I get along with more. I am particularly grateful for the relationships that have developed with other people willing to admit that they’re simply doing their best. It is difficult for people without children (or at least some proximity to children) to understand the difficulties that come with scheduling time together and because of this some friends drift away, while others are pulled closer. I appreciate those who are able to stay close, even if they can’t stay present.
I have a better perspective on decisions that my parents made. I can’t say that I’ve been given a clear understanding on whether those decisions were right or wrong. However, I now have a ballpark figure on the weight that they carry, and what it feels like to bear it.