With my daughter just turning one yesterday, I had some time to reflect back on what a crazy first night it was when she came into this world. Behind this confident looking dad constantly posting Instagram photosof how wonderful being a dad is – lies a memory of a traumatic, life changing first night at the hospital. A night that has forever shaped this dad, and is now in the back of his mind whenever the inkling of having a second child comes into conversation.
You know when you buy Ikea furniture and before you build, you go through the instructions and feel a little overwhelmed? That’s kind of like becoming a parent. You know what the end product looks like, but the process of getting there is what’s confusing and intimidating.
You realize that the end goal is you becoming a competent and loving parent, but in order to become that, you need to go through so many confusing and trying steps.
That is what I realized that first night when she arrived.
I remember that the first night after she came out, when her mom was recovering and I was lying with her skin to skin on a makeshift couch bed, she was so tiny and so delicate.
I thought to myself:
“Oh sh*t, I have a daughter. Oh sh*t, I’m a dad now.”
That moment, I felt like everything that I had prepared myself for was useless.
I envisioned how I would be as a dad, and I envisioned how it would be like to have a baby. But when it finally happened, I never actually thought about process of become a dad.
Basically, for those first early moments, I just did stuff I saw on TV and movies.
Seriously, at one point in my hysterical mindset I thought, “Oh I must sing this song to her so that she’ll have an emotional attachment to it and be calm in the future whenever I sing”
I talked to her and told her how everything was going to be fine and life is going fantastic.
That was all a lie of course.
I mean can you imagine sleeping peacefully in a warm toasty bed only to be forced out to the cold winter streets – wet and naked?
I’d be pissed and freaked out.
For the rest of the night I remember her waking up and crying every one and a half hours. And I remember getting up each interval changing her diaper and bringing her to mom for feeding.
After the feeding I would put her in a loose swaddle and rock her so that she would fall asleep.
All that crying.
It sounded like they cross-bred one of those rubber chickens with a pterodactyl.
What a truly terrible sound.
I felt bad that she was crying and disturbing her mom, so I just started walking around the maternity ward shoeless with a tiny baby in circles.
At one point I even thought, maybe if I walk her over to the nurses desk, they’ll see how distraught I look and help me hold her for a bit.
They just politely smiled and gave me a “your-wife-just-went-through-labour-and-you-better-hold-on-to-that-newborn-look.”
Basically I was so tired and overwhelmed, and I thought:
“Shhhhhhh*t I have a daughter now, and thiiiis is how it’s going to be?
I really didn’t think it would be that hard.
But it was.
And it’s something that I’ll never forget.
Of course things got better little by little as each day passed. And when we finally were discharged from the hospital, we felt relatively confident that we were able to do this.
And we were right.
As the weeks turned into months, and the months now became a year life is pretty sweet.
As I write this, my daughter is quietly taking a morning nap, and last night I even slept for 7 hours!
Life is good right now.
Yes, there still are tough days and tough nights. But nothing can measure up to that first night.
I think the experience I gained on that first night was exactly what I needed to prepare me as a dad.
And that’s the thing about becoming a parent, you can read all the books, go to the pre-natal classes, or talk to seasoned parents about their experiences. But when the moment comes and a life is gifted to you, you forget everything just learn on the fly.
I would categorize my wife and I as hermits. Sure we used to go on spontaneous trips (hello Iceland), go see the occasional show, and we were pretty big on food. But when it came to maximizing our weekends, we normally preferred the lazy route by donning our PJs and staying in.
But since our daughter coming into our lives, we’ve been shockingly meticulous in planning out our weekends. It reminds me of when we had our dog and frequently forced ourselves to plan excursions to pet festivals and dog parks.
The inner-hermit in me initially didn’t like it at first, but ever since going to the Toronto Islands last week, a switch just came on inside.
To us it’s just another visit to a place, but to her it’s a completely new experience. She’s basically a life-experience sponge right now, and if we don’t fill it up with a variety of things, I feel like it’s a wasted opportunity.
The moment I realized this was when we finally arrived and sat under a tree to feed her. And by looking at her, I was able to see the reflection of trees and clouds in her eyes as she was trying to process what she was seeing.
That made me realize that this was the first time I fed her in a park on a sunny day, and this was the first time she was able to look up at the clouds and the sky and process what she was seeing.
By how distracted she was, I could also tell that she was trying to take it all in.
That was kind of incredible for me, and her look is something that I will never forget or take for granted.
A while back, while cleaning, I found some faded photos of my parents in the 70s taking my brother to a park when he was a few months old. To me it was a shock to see my parents so young, and it immediately made me wonder what was going on in their mind back then.
So if Charlie ever wonders the same one day, this is what I was going on in my head:
Prior to having a kid, I knew that it would be up to us parents to teach and show her what life has to offer. But this kid, at just over six months just proved to me that I have just as much to learn as a parent too.
After eight hours, three bottles, two ferry rides, two miniature horses sightings, and one carousel ride later, she and both her mom and dad had a crazy day of firsts.
And this hermit of a father, is looking forward to the next adventure.
If you are reading this your life will change in a week. I know by now both you and your wife have been trying to conceive without success. I want to tell you both to not lose hope. By now both of you have learned that getting knocked up is not as easy as it seems like on TV and in movies, and both of you probably feel pretty down on yourselves.
In one week when your wife goes to the doctor to check up on pelvic pain, you’ll both realize that she did not pull or strain anything, and that it’s really her lady parts doing some Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for a new inhabitant.
Sorry to spoil the surprise a little but hear me out: Your life is about to change as things will never be the same, but the funny thing is, things will also feel so right.
Let me get some things out of the way. Your hometown Raptors will get swept in the playoffs, so don’t waste time there. I mean still cheer, but just know that it’s not the end of the world when the Wizards dismantle your team. The only significant thing about the playoffs is that you’ll find out she’s pregnant in at the doctor’s office while you stream the game with headphones on. The wife will come out, and give you a look that you’ll never forget.
Remember and savour that moment as I still do.
From the moment you find out, you’ll go through a lot of changes. Not nearly the same as your wife, but enough for you to realize that pregnancy is truly a shared experience.
For starters you will become the food police. Seriously, everything your wife puts in her mouth you’ll do a quick google search to see if it’s poisonous for her and the baby. My advice is to be reasonable but firm.
You’ll also learn that your wife will have crazy food swings, and get this: she’ll hate eating chicken. WTF right? How can she hatechicken? That’s your favourite animal!!! It’s just the hormones man. So stop reading and get an order of Popeyes in your system while you still can, cause the next nine months you can put a hold on eating poultry.
You’ll also buy a lot of crap. I mean a lot. Some stuff you didn’t even know existed. But don’t fret, most of the junk you buy is actually useful, so just smile and nod when she asks you if it’s okay to buy whatever. When you are shopping just don’t forget to have fun along the way. I know you will…I mean check this out:
Yep, you’ll still pull crap like this…And even though I’m warning you not to be an idiot, I know you’ll make it a goal to definitely do it.
Oh one final thing about buying stuff: your baby will be a little bit bigger, so just ease off on the newborn stuff.
So far, things sound okay, right? Well, here’s where you need to pay a little closer attention as I’m warning you now, not everything is as light-hearted and peachy.
You yourself will grow up more. I know you may think that you already know everything there is to know and that you are already mature. But something inside you will change, and you will somehow become more appreciative of life. You will appreciate your wife more, and definitely appreciate mom and dad more than ever. This is because you will begin to think like a parent and understand what they went through.
What does “thinking like a parent” mean? Basically you’ll begin to worry about things. A lot of things. You’ll have some insecurities about your role as a husband and father. You’ll have many nights of waking up and googling answers. You will dig though forums and message boards to see whether what your wife is experience is common. Let me tell you this, the more you read into it, the worse it becomes. But you have a big role in all of this. The thing is you need to keep your wife sane and calm during those moments, so be the strong, calm, optimistic husband that you are.
Weeks 6, 8, 20, and 25 will be scary and both you and your wife will go through some heavy stuff. But just know that after each of these episodes, your bond with your wife will become even stronger, and both of you will be able to talk and laugh about these moments eventually. I’ll spare you the details, but you’ll quickly learn that pregnancy is f*cking scary.
You’ll also figure out that most people who share great news about pregnancy on social media are not trying to brag about their happiness, but rather they are simply celebrating all of the little triumphs after facing the scary moments.
Your perspective will change and you’ll never fear and doubt so much in your life, but that’s just the process of it all. Just protect your wife and yourself, and the rest will take care of itself.
You know how you think you’re so cool in taking street photos? Well that part of your life will draw to an end. Bummer right? Well not quite, you’ll quickly find a new photography outlet, and trust me: it’s wonderful. And if you’re not convinced, let me tell you this: you’ll have a last hurrah so to speak with taking pictures. In fact, you’ll ditch your pregnant wife to go to New York for something photography related, and it will be one of your best moments but also one of your tougher moments. You know what I said about appreciating your wife? You will reallyappreciate her after this, so never forget it even if she eventually does.
One thing I want to warn you about is to go to the movies while you still can. I can tell you that the last movie you’ll watch before becoming a dad will totally be worth it, and your wife will make it through the entire movie. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Han Solo. (Oops spoiler). Just relax and try to watch the movie without worrying that her water will break. It’ll still be a few days until it really happens.
Here’s a warning though, it might be a good idea to stock up on spicy Korean noodles around the time she’s due. Just saying.
At this point you are probably wondering about the finish line. Well, let me just tell you that your wife will have a smooth labour and delivery. However, both of you will be faced with some complications after the delivery. It’ll be scary, and both of you will be tested. Just know that you’ll both tough it through. Simply trust in your love for your wife, and trust in your strength as a husband. I know you hate asking for help, but you will need to swallow your pride and ask for help. So just face it now: your family and friends will pull through, huge.
I know what I told you sounds frightening, but I am not trying to scare you or warn you to change course.
As a matter of fact the journey you are about to embark on is totally worth it. As I type this now both your wife and baby are sound asleep and everything just feels right. There’s no better feeling than what I am feeling right now, and I’m damn excited for what you are about to face in the coming year.
Enjoy every moment you are about to experience, because in one year’s time you would want to remind yourself all the awesome you just went through.
You From One Year Later Today
P.S. For whatever reason you’ll deciding that “growing” a “beard” is a great idea. Well this photo might convince you otherwise:
Last month I wrote a guest post on Canadian Dad. I received a bunch of positive response from this post and I’m really glad I was able to highlight what’s it like to be on leave. Below is the original version of my post.
“So you’re going to be off for five month eh? You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on Netflix!”
“Five months? You’re going to be playing so much COD (Call of Duty)!”
“That’s a long time, won’t you get bored?”
Before going on my parental leave, that was the typical response I received when I told family, friends, co-workers, or even strangers that I was taking close to half a year off for the birth of our daughter.
I began to think that being a dad for the first time was going to be a sweet vacation. I mean, I won’t have to be with the baby all the time, right?
I can binge watch a little, work on that photography project that I wanted to do for years, or play videogames like I did when I was a teenager.
This is going to be an awesome, awesome vacation!
Then on Christmas night- as cliché as it can be – our 7lbs 14oz bundle of joy arrived.
And in an instant, all of those silly thoughts disappeared.
I’m sure many of you parents can agree: the first month is a write-off. Your mind, body, and soul belongs to your new little blob. You can also agree that, though the first month is difficult for dad, it is 100 times more difficult for the new mom.
For my wife and I, we made use of the fact that I was going to be off for five months by ensuring that I would be as involved as possible.
We made sure that I was earning every single moment of this vacation.
The truth is, though my job and Employment Insurance (Go Canada!) allowed me to take more time than most others, we are still taking a hit financially to make it work. Not all families have this option, and I can understand the raised eyebrows when people learn how much time I’m taking off.
Of course, there are those who go a little further and undermine the decision that I’ve made, as they are perhaps even little jealous of my situation. Through their eyes, they see me as some lucky dude who has the luxury of taking five months off as a vacation.
They don’t understand that when you’re off on parental leave, it’s not a vacation and that you also become more involved and accountable for your growing family unit. They don’t see the side where you are immediately available to take your wife and baby to the Emergency Room; or where you are able to call an ambulance in the middle of the night without having to tell your boss you won’t be in; or where you don’t have to ask a co-worker to cover for you after speaking to a tele-health nurse about your daughter’s fever.
They don’t see those things, and I suppose it may be my fault for only showing the good side. To them they only see the fruits of the work I put in – you know, those silly photos, status updates that I post on social media. The thing is this was not me bragging about my situation, this was just me relishing the hard earned vacation I was having.
I love (and am loving) every minute of it. If we have another kid and if it were financially feasible, I will no doubt choose to take the same or more time off.
You see, there’s also an added benefit to being there from the get-go: I am damn confident in my dad abilities.
She needs a changing after front and back poop… in the dark? Boom. Done. She’s wearing button-on shirt today, with jeans and socks? Boom. Done. She won’t burp? Burp. Done. Mom needs to go out all day to help a friend? Done, and I’ll have dinner ready by six.
There’s no better feeling than to feel confident and competent as a father and husband. I sincerely feel that had I taken only a few weeks off, I don’t think I would feel the way that I feel right now.
Every day I am rewarded with something new from my daughter. Whether it was her first smile, first laugh, or most recently her first babbling conversation: I’m here to witness it.
And there’s no better thing in the world, and it was simply the best decision I ever made.
Now with two months left to go on my parental leave, it truly does feel like a vacation. Instead of binge-watching Netflix, I binge-watch my daughter figuring out the world. Instead of playing videogames at night, I play how do we get her to sleep through the night.
I truly do not want it to end, as it really has become an awesome, awesome vacation.