The girlfriend of my past is my wife of today. We moved in together half a decade ago, and I remember the night before co-habitating was a big deal. I hadn’t proposed or anything yet, but I felt like there was a good chance this was the last time I might ever live alone again in life, and I wanted to reflect on that. I spent that evening in my apartment, clad in battered jeans and angst, second guessing every choice I’d ever made up until this point and contemplating all the possible futures I was laying to waste. Would I be able to be the host of my sacred NFL Sundays anymore? Would I have to embrace a disciplined approach to dish washing? Would my Adult Swim time have to be enjoyed at the lowest audible human frequency? Draped on my IKEA chaise, cold Belgian ale in hand, something flickered mutely on the TV, and I silently mourned the loss of my Self in the Taoist sense of the eternal, the immutable transcendent variety. When dawn came, I would be no more. I remember the following morning being disappointed that I didn’t commemorate the occasion with more fanfare. However, today, I think the level of fanfare was entirely appropriate.
Two years ago, we got married. I went through a very similar process of lamenting my bachelor Self. I was placing him on the altar of monogamy and sacrificing him to the gods of conformity and domesticity. I’d already put Him through so much, yet more life altering questions beckoned. Will there be physical pain involved in not having sex with another woman again, ever never forever? Will I relinquish my principles to the ubiquitous Happy Wife, Happy Life mantra? Will I now have to really embrace a disciplined approach to dish washing? Wielding the marital knife, I rent Him asunder, cast him to the winds, and spent the afternoon dancing like a man possessed. Like a husband, enchanted.
Today my wife, luckily, beautifully, unfathomably, my wife, is 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I’m about to be a father. There is nothing in my life that has prepared me for how to prepare for this life that we’ve created. Every day, the imminence of his arrival becomes more of a reality while simultaneously equally surreal. There is still that urge in me to say good bye, in awful reverence, to the Me I am leaving behind. We are leaving behind. I can’t readily conceive of how profound and irrevocable a change this will be for us – I’ve given up trying. I’ve accepted that whatever my expectations, as the experiences above have shown me, the reality is that it will fall short. The questions, however, persist. Will I be a good enough father? Can I answer enough of his astute and all-encompassing questions to appear to be a man worthy of his admiration? Can I keep him safe in a world that may fear or misunderstand him? Can I provide him with the things he needs, on every level that matters? Who the hell is going to teach him about cars?
I approach the day of his birth with more trepidation than either of the times I’ve taken my Self into my hands and buried Him. As always, I seek to understand what I can do to be the best possible version of me when called upon to demonstrate a capability to do something that seems so far beyond the limits of my imagination. How do I go from this, to being a father?
In that vein, there are some practices I’ve adopted, questions I’ve asked, journeys I’ve embarked on, to attain some much needed wisdom.
Exercise. I’ve been really fit in my life, and I’ve been really not fit. I’ve found that the former, or at least working towards it, has provided me with a serenity in effort that I’ve appreciated and has provided great benefit. It gives me an opportunity to reflect while engaging in something strenuous, which is essentially a snapshot of what this process has been like on a day-to-day basis. I perceive my role as the rock on which my wife can lean while she’s doing all the heavy lifting. It’s important for me to maintain a level of vitality that we can both depend on, while also accepting that at times, I may fail. Anything that requires you to push yourself beyond your comfort zone is what I would recommend. For me, this has been yoga, running and some weight lifting, emphasis on the yoga.
Reading. There are so many parenting books and blogs available that simply selecting something to help you feel less overwhelmed can be equally overwhelming. I’d stick with the basics. Feeding schedules and the trinity of checklists (delivery bag, baby registry and birth plan). These may not fall into the wheelhouse of masculinity you’ve always crafted for yourself, but taking as much off of her plate as possible has been a game changer. It also allows yourself to become more engaged in the process as a whole. Pick up something light that gives you a glimpse of the adventure you’re embarking on. For me, this wasn’t something guidebook oriented, but more conversational. This book I really enjoyed, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood.
Resources. Friends and family who are new parents, or who are living this experience alongside you in their own lives, are indispensable. A lot of advice you’ll find is unnecessary and unsolicited, but listening can maybe allow your “counselor” to vent or give you something in your tool bag you didn’t have before. They may not be able to provide advice, but simply having someone to talk to about what you’re going through can be the difference between thriving and barely holding on. If you are lucky enough to have family and friends, like family in your immediate vicinity, start hashing out some blocks of time that they can pick up some baby slack. It’s never too early. Make it real clear that the offhand comment about being willing to babysit anytime will be taken very seriously and appear in the form of a notarized document. Getting some of those ducks in a row will alleviate a lot of stress later.
Participate. If there is an appointment with the OBGYN, a sonogram, birthing class or other major baby medical moment, be there if you can. This can be a very lonely time for the mother as her clothes stop fitting, her diet is restricted, and her moods become mercurial while unexpected nausea lurks. The impulse to feel irrelevant can also start to shade your own perspective about this process. The more you involve yourself, the better she’ll feel about you, and you’ll feel better about defining your role in a positive and meaningful way.
Soothe. This beautiful woman carrying your child is going through a lot right now. Take the edge off with some candles, some home cooked meals, a bath, a massage, some foot rubs or anything else that you can think of to mitigate all of the tension she’s feeling. It need not be a dramatic gesture. Anything to remind her that she is not just a vessel for the baby and remains the captivating creature you are fortunate enough to have at your side.
Be selfish. You are also going through your own ish right now. It’s okay to take some time out for you in the midst of all of this to just relax. Fire up some Tomb Raider, get a drink with some friends, do something that you feel might disappear when the baby comes, and enjoy it. You may not have a lot of opportunity to indulge yourself, but take it when you can, free of guilt, and with a glad heart.
My son is still a few months away from detonating our lives and blooming into the miracle that will be our day-to-day new existence. This is written without the benefit of hindsight but with the advantage of in the moment considerations. When the rubber hits the road, I may find that some of this was less useful and maybe some other parts were more-so. I can guarantee that this serves as being woefully inadequate to the task of preparing anyone thoughtfully self-conscious for the task of fatherhood. I may question my sanity on those sleep deprived nights that I know are waiting for me in the all too near future, but I am so happy for each and every decision that brought me to this moment.