Long before the birth of my first son, I concocted an ideal of fatherhood.
It was a cocktail, really. I saw myself as a blend of John Keating from Dead Poets Society; a bearded Jeremiah Johnson in the wilderness nodding over his shoulder as if to say “Damn right, we’re in the woods and LOVING IT”; and how I imagined Crash Davis from Bull Durham would act if he ever became a Dad.
What no one tells you, however (or someone did and you had selective hearing) is how your grand vision of fatherhood, the way you foresee yourself as a Dad, it’s probably not gonna happen. No way.
This parenting stuff is way harder than anyone anticipates.
Much of how we foresee ourselves as Perfect Dads grows out of the things we do. We have hobbies. We have passions. We watch a lot of sports.
Then tiny humans arrive.
And tiny humans arrive with a reality check attached to the pacifier. Being the ideal Dad the way you’ve envisioned, oh boy, it’s way more difficult than anyone ever anticipates.
It’s good in some ways. It’s bad in others.
Here’s a dispatch from the other side of fatherhood, a list of all the things you might do now but might not after having kids.
RELAX ON VACATION
Vacations will no longer be about you. No no.
I once dreamt of vacations at OCNJ with my children, where we would play in tidal pools and I could introduce them to the culinary magic that is soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on the boardwalk.
The children would sing my praises.
What I didn’t anticipate was how vacationing with kids could support an entire national pharmaceutical chain of adult tranquilizers. JFC.
First of all, astronauts flying to the International Space Station have shorter packing lists than parents on vacation with their kids — the diaper bag, the portable crib, the stroller, clothes, extra clothes, more diapers than you’ll ever actually need, an entire Target Store’s worth of toys because the kids might get bored, bathing suits, sunscreen rated for SPF iron curtain, and more.
[bctt tweet=”Wanna know why, despite all you hold sacred about manhood, you will fall in love with a minivan?” username=”PidgeonsEyeView”]
Then the kid tries to eat sand. Not kidding. They’re gonna take a whole handful and jam it into their mouth like candy.
And nothing beats a kid on vacation who refuses to take a nap. When later at night bed time comes around, it’s a John Carpenter horror film.
But look. You go anyway. Because vacations are about them, the tiny humans, their experience. The good far outweighs the bad.
IRON CLOTHES OR CARE ABOUT STAINS
I remember caring about personal appearance. Those were good times. I used to iron my shirts before work and change clothes should food find its way onto my apparel.
Now? F*** that.
I pull a dress shirt out of the closet, one that has more wrinkles than an AARP commercial, and then, I do something crazy. I put it on.
I figure in a few hours, it’s gonna smooth out anyway. So what if it doesn’t? What parent has time to iron? You’re lucky to eat three spoonfuls of cereal before the kid spits up on his onesie and needs to change outfits. Plus a fresh diaper.
And food stains on you clothes? Ha!
Here’s a great benefit of parenting. Let’s say you’re eating in the company cafeteria, and a blob of mustard lands right on your shirt.
It looks bad. Real bad.
Then your coworkers come in, point at you, and ask what happened. You shrug. “Kids,” you say, you cowardly but clever liar. And instantly, your coworkers show empathy. They understand. Parenting must be a mess.
It’s like a get-out-of-jail free card. It’s awesome.
BUY A LOT OF NEW MUSIC
Tuesdays used to be like Christmas morning every week. That’s when new music rolls out on iTunes.
I’d spend an hour or four perusing the new stuff. Take my money, Apple. I gotta have that new Hold Steady MP3.
It felt cool. It felt right.
Parenthood does something strange to our music tastes. It’s as if the moment the kid enters the world in the delivery room, your interest in new music, and your willingness to spend a crapload on MP3s, it’s mostly disappears.
I care about one or two performers who put out new music ever two years or so. Otherwise? Pssssht.
My parents stopped carrying about current music right about when Bob Seger put out the Stranger in Town album. I sometimes wondered why. Now I know. I came along in 1979.
Spending huge amounts of money on new music when you have a baby feels about as selfish as it gets. Sorry. You start thinking twice about this kind of stuff.
There’s hope. It’s called cheap, used vinyl.
READ BOOKS WITHIN ONE MONTH
They used to think of me as an intellectual.
I’m just kidding. No they didn’t, but I did read books. A lot of them.
Then I had kids. And the only books I’ve consistently read cover to cover come with drawings, written by an author whose name rhymes with “goose.”
When given the choice between two hours of reading the greatest book ever and a nap, a parent chooses … c’mon, do I really need to say it?
Or, let’s game out another scenario. You collapse in exhaustion onto the couch. It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon. A copy of Fellowship of the Ring stands on the shelf, begging you to read it for the tenth time.
Nuh uh. Not when that InstaPot needs scrubbing. It’s almost time to make dinner.
GIVE A DAMN ABOUT PROFESSIONAL SPORTS (MUCH)
Oh sure. When the kid’s born, you dress her up in a onesie with a sports logo on it. If you live in a city with four different professional sports teams, you mighta bought four onesies.
Good for you, you bright-eyed fanboy.
What many fathers discover one of the following things when they have a baby or a threenager:
- The score of the game seems trivial compared to other things like making sure the toddler isn’t sticking his finger in an electrical socket
- When you want to watch a game, the kid wants your attention. You really don’t have a choice.
- You’re too tired and busy to care much about sports
I used to like them all: baseball, football, some hockey, major golf tournaments, that random Pepperdine vs. Utah State college basketball game on ESPN 5.
Now? With two kids? I only have the energy to care, and I mean really care, about one team (the Cincinnati Reds). Everything else, meh.
Even baseball’s taken a hit. Our bedtime routine begins around 7:30 p.m., right at first pitch, so by the time we have the kids bathed, in their pajamas, books read, and their tiny heads on their pillows, it’s the fifth inning. And by then, the Reds are usually down by four runs. Sigh.
Here, wife, take the remote. Watch Fixer Upper on Hulu. I … I … I just can’t anymore.
WATCH MOVIES FROM BEGINNING TO END
We pass out in an hour.
Did I mention being a parent is exhausting?
GO HIKING AND BACKPACKING
Each and every one of us dads-to-be have hobbies which define our identity. Hell, it’s more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, dammit.
I was like that. I slung a backpack on my shoulders and camped out in the woods every month. The mountains called and I listened.
And when I learned I would become a dad, all I could imagine was leading a troop of eager tiny humans along a trail. God, it woulda been glorious.
It’s my fault we haven’t been that camping and hiking family I envisioned long ago. I could lead this family to the mountains. There’s still time.
But it’s hard. Really hard.
And yet, I’m okay. You will be too. What eclipses all of these hobbies and activities is the understanding (and acceptance) of what now is your top priority — the well-being of your children.
Yeah. It’s a wonderful responsibility. I’d sacrifice everything I used to be if I could figure out how to slow down time and spend more of it with my boys before they grow up and become teenagers who’d rather get away from Dad than spend time with him.
So don’t worry too much if you sense life is changing dramatically. It will. And that’s okay because what you get in return is the chance to be Dad to a tiny human being who needs you.
What about you? What have you stopped doing since becoming a parent? Share in the comments below.
Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer. He and his wife live in Lancaster with their two boys. You can contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.