There are certain things in life that books can’t prepare us for. Skydiving from a plane, for instance. You can read all the books you want, but there is no written account that can accurately describe the feeling of your body hurtling toward the Earth after jumping from a plane.
To a first-time father, parenthood often feels like jumping out of a plane. You can read every book out there, watch every video and listen to all the advice that people want to give, but there is just no way to understand fatherhood until you’ve actually experienced it. And like skydiving, some men enjoy it and look forward to doing it again, while others find fatherhood traumatic enough to decide that once is enough.
When my wife was pregnant I read all the books, which prepared me for knowing the stages of my son’s development during each trimester and little else. But I was lucky – my wife was born to be a mom and helped guide me through the largest pitfalls. Even so, I found there were a few things about being a father that I was unprepared for.
1. Seeing your child for the first time – Few things in life will overwhelm you like seeing your child for the first time. I’ll admit it, I cried when I first set eyes on my son. It was a completely unexpected reaction, as though all the dormant love inside me suddenly welled up and overflowed out of my eyes. I have a feeling I’m not the only father this has happened to.
2. The drive home – The three-mile drive to take my son home from the hospital took approximately two hours – not because of traffic, but because I drove so slowly and carefully. I’m not one to drive ten miles an hour below the speed limit, but I certainly did that day. I also took every side road I could find to avoid traffic. In no book I read was there a description of the nervousness I felt while delivering that valuable little package to our home.
3. The crying – We’ve all heard babies cry. Nobody likes it. If it isn’t our baby, we can tune it out, or just leave. But you can’t just leave when it’s your own baby. We’d like to, but we can’t. You’ll soon find that not only is the volume of a baby’s cries surprising, but the length of time that a baby can cry is horrifying. A loud scream for a couple of minutes is tough, but when it goes on for an hour or more you’re ready to break out the whiskey and start pouring shots for both of you. The only positive thing I can say about this is that it will eventually pass. I won’t say you’ll look back on it and laugh, but it will pass.
4. Being ignored – Part of being in love and in a relationship is focusing on each other’s lives, having someone to talk to. But when a baby is born, that baby becomes the center of the universe. Your exhausted wife doesn’t want to hear about your tough day at the office or your bad week in fantasy football. You might as well be a paint-by-numbers next to a Rembrandt, because that’s how much attention you’ll be receiving now that there’s a baby in the house.
5. Loss of sex – Speaking of being ignored, you may be feeling amorous, but your wife likely won’t be. A baby is exhausting, even with two people caring for it. And let’s be honest, the mom always does more. Your wife likely feels tired, stressed out, unhappy about her body and completely unconcerned about your sexual wants or needs. In fact, she’s probably blaming you and your sex drive for every late-night shitty diaper she has to change. The last thing on her mind is doing the thing that got her into this situation in the first place. Your sex life as you knew it, carefree and uninhibited, is over for a long, long time. Get used to it.
6. The joy of feeding a baby – From the outside, feeding a baby always seemed like a joyless necessity, sort of like watering the flowers. But once I became a father, it quickly became the highlight of my day. I’d come home from work and sit in the recliner with my son and his bottle (and a beer for me) and watch television until he fell asleep on me. Often I’d fall asleep as well. I’ve never felt as calm and relaxed as when my son’s warm, tiny body was tucked into my arm, dozing off with a bottle in his mouth. It’s better than any therapy or pill ever invented.