Why I’m a little scared to be a father again

March 1, 2019

Welcome to my confession.

Maybe I’m turning to you, readers, for guidance and some reassurance. I’m not afraid to admit it, even if I’m 40 and should know better.

What I’m about to tell you sometimes keeps me up at night. Sometimes thinking about it draws my attention away from my job, and I have to move from my desk and take a walk to clear the mind.

This source of some anxiety I’ve largely kept hidden from everyone around me. That’s my crisis communications experience being deployed in my home life  — project calm, be a leader, even if underneath the exterior someone really should fire an elephant tranquilizer at me.

Never in a million years did I think at this point in my life I’d be worried about such things. Or have to mask them.

And yet, here I am, writing a confessional blog post, hoping my readers can give me a good dose of reassurance or, perhaps more acutely required, a kick in the ass to snap me out of it.

Okay, I’m ready for my moment of public vulnerability. Here it is:

I’m a little scared to become a father again.

Baby time is coming

Let me backtrack a little here and provide the broader picture.

I’m ecstatic my wife and I are expecting to welcome a baby boy this summer. He’ll be our third son, and when he arrives, his brothers will be 7 and 5 years old.

This is a house full of love. And laundry.

The boys are excited. They’ve even given their brother a nickname, “Shiny,” after one of the kid pterodactyls in the PBS show Dinosaur Train. Shiny Pidgeon (just humor them by running with it for a while).

We planned this pregnancy. And we’re prepping our house for the arrival of this tiny human with a renewed sense of parenting purpose. What color should the nursery be? Quick, make a Pinterest board. And get this baby some Reds onesies.

Heck, I even gave up my freelance life to get a steady job so we could have little things like income and health insurance.

Baby time is coming, and we’re ecstatic.

Howevah …

Having a baby is an enormous tectonic shift in anyone’s life. And that’s where the roots of my concern grow.

A father kissing a newborn on the cheek.
Having a baby means tectonic shifts in your life, many of them heartwarming, many of them meaning hard work (photo by Molly S Photography).

Just before we decided to try for Baby No. 3, I shared with my wife an abiding sense of contentment with our lives.

We’d reached a certain level of success in our careers. And our children were no longer toddlers. They were young boys, and this meant to me an opportunity to do more with them.

Play soccer, take long road trips, hike to see some waterfalls, take them to the movies, entertain one serious round of UNO, ride big kid rides at amusement parks.

Oh, and nap time. No more nap time, hallelujah! If you’re a new parents or about to be one, you’re going to discover just how much of your life will be held hostage by your children’s nap times.

I loved my boys as infants and toddlers. But we had moved on. Life felt as if it was opening up in grand fashion.

Which seems like a good reason to have another baby, right? We’ve enjoyed all this love and family, so let’s expand it by one. Let’s go for it one more time before we get, in a strictly technical sense, too old.

But this is going to be hard. Really hard. No more restful nights of sleep. Divided attention. Exhaustion. Daily schedules anchored to naptimes. Stress eating the kids’ Lucky Charms when they’re not looking. Vacation ambitions curtailed because, well, the baby can’t kayak a Class IV river. You forgot to buy Lucky Charms?!

Do you remember?

Also, it’s been so long since we had a baby in our lives, I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten more about how to parent one than I remember.

Age’ll do that to yah.

How did we do things like soothe fussy babies? How did we manage to like hawks keep eyes on the infant AT ALL TIMES to prevent the bad things — falling down, eating random objects on the floor, becoming fans of Philadelphia sports?

All of a sudden, every toy our sons have stored on the shelves has become a potentially lethal death tool. Who knew Daniel Tiger figurines could be so horrifying to behold?

A toddler smiles as his newborn baby brother.
Few moments in life are as magical as when siblings meet for the first time.

Honestly, so much time has passed since our youngest was a baby, this pregnancy feels a lot like the first one.

We don’t have a lot of the things we used to have — baby swings, clothes, white noise machine, a highly-developed tolerance for strange odors coming out of a tiny human’s diaper.

When we had our second boy, only about two years had passed between the births of the brothers. So taking care of a baby was like building an IKEA shelf for the second time. Sure it’s still hard work, sure there are still so many steps, sure your hands still get sore from cranking that Allen wrench, but you have something you didn’t have the first time — experience.

Yeah, I still have that experience. But things are different now. I’m different now. That’s only natural since five years have gone by, and 40 doesn’t feel a whole lot like 35. I’m not THAT old. But, sure, I’m juuuuuust a bit … older. Workouts hurt a little more. The metabolism isn’t what it used to be. More salt appears among the pepper in the beard.

So in moments of reflection and self doubt, I start to wonder — can I handle raising a baby now?

Anything worth having …

“Can you feel it?” my wife asks, her eyes lit like a pair of bright stars, her smile radiating anticipation.

“Oh!” she cries out as our sons have their hands on her round abdomen. “There it was!”

“I felt it,” one of them says grinning.

They’re feeling for the first time their soon-to-be baby brother punch with a tiny fist. And he kicks with tiny feet. In a few months, the new chapter begins.

I’m man enough to admit a little tear formed in the eye. These are the little moments every day which reassure me. These are the times which swing the emotional pendulum from anxiety to exhilaration.

To be honest, as I wrote this post, the perspective of how this pregnancy feels like we’re having a baby for the first time sunk in, and that’s a great feeling. You know?

And in life, especially when it comes to parenting, we have to take the joy of listening to a baby laugh, the overwhelming sense of pride first time he crawls, and the contentment of a baby falling asleep on your chest with the less-than-glamorous stuff (blowout diapers, middle-of-the-night crying fits, teething).

“Is he going to do it again, Mommy?” the boys ask, their hands still on her belly. “I want Shiny to do it again.”

She looks up to me. “You wanna feel him kick?”

Yes I do.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa., who honestly loved the baby phase more than the Terrible Twos or the Threenager stage. You can reach him at dave@writingintheafternoon.com.

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