On December 8, 2005, I felt I had been granted a seat on the most thrilling and intricately designed amusement ride in the history of humanity. It was the day my oldest daughter was born. The day I officially became a dad.
As my wife and I shuffled through beige hospital corridors, our destination the delivery room, I had this sort of out of body sensation. The gloominess of the hospital scenery gave way to the sites and sounds of a carnival: the swoosh-popping of a Tilt-A-Whirl, the warm sugary smell of cotton candy and funnel cakes drifting through rambunctious vaudeville music, and the vibrant haze of electric lights slowly turning on a noble Ferris wheel. Was this a dream or real life?
We entered the delivery room and my wife was prepped for a c-section delivery. As I stood by her side, trying to be a supportive husband, I felt as though someone pushed me into the seat of a shiny pink car resting on the elevated tracks of a wooden roller coaster. The safety bar lowered and clicked into place. A voice cracked through a rusty speaker, blurting out a few distorted safety instructions. The car then jerked forward, seeming to come alive with a click-clacking heartbeat, slowly climbing up the lift hill. The thought of the coming plunge rattled my teeth with a mixture of fearful anxiety and exuberant expectation. As I crested the hill, the car gasped with momentary silence, as if the whole earth held its breath, then plunged with a rush of adrenaline. My daughter was born. I was holding her in my arms.
I’ve been thinking about that moment when I first met my daughter. I wasn’t completely clueless. I had thumbed through a few books and attended some birthing classes. I had a basic checklist of what to expect from a new baby. What I didn’t have was advice on how to navigate my own emotional journey of becoming a dad – a journey I am still learning to navigate today.
If I could go back to the moment I first looked into my daughter’s eyes and offer myself, a nervous and excited new dad, some advice, I wouldn’t say a word. I would simply hand over a letter with these 9 tips.
#1 Don’t Lose Yourself
Your life has changed. You are a dad now which means you will have to adjust your lifestyle accordingly. You will have to take up new and undesirable activities while laying others down that you enjoy. Despite the awkwardness and frustration that comes with change, being a dad does not mean you stop cultivating yourself. Being dad is part of your identity and not your only identity.
#2 There Are Resources
You will often find yourself in confusing situations with many questions. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t have the answers. Parenting isn’t a series of simple solutions. Potty training, ear infections, disciplining, picking out a kindergarten, installing a carseat, etc… These topics are quite intimidating before you even get into the pre-teen years. Luckily a plethora of easily accessible information is available to guide you. Visit your library. Talk to your friends. Call your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
#3 Develop Your Own Style
While it is extremely helpful to have access to loads of parenting information, there will come a moment when you will feel like you are drowning in it. When this happens remember that you have one key advantage over all the parenting experts, authors, speakers, and bloggers: you know your child better than they do. You have the unique ability as dad to listen to your child and develop the right parenting strategy. Trust you that will make the best decision possible based on the information you have.
#4 Haters Gonna Hate… Respectfully Ignore Them
There will be a moment when you are in a public place, perhaps a trendy restaurant or store, and your child will decide to let out a hearty, throat-clearing scream. When this happens, you might receive looks of disgust from complete strangers who don’t understand the challenges you face as a parent. Don’t let those disgusted looks of disapproval shake your parenting game. Smile back and keep on parenting with love and patience.
P.S. You might feel a bit embarrassed. That’s OK. What’s embarrassing today will probably make a funny story tomorrow.
#5 Create Opportunities for Listening
Be proactively looking for activities that will cultivate communication. You shouldn’t expect your child will always want to talk to you. Find ways to discover who your child is independent of speech. Visit art museums and read books together. Play your child an eclectic selection of music or go hiking. Whatever it takes to connect. Being a dad means you creatively engage with your child to discover who this person is and what’s important to them. The goal is to always be listening. Listening can happen even in silence.
#6 Look at Your Fears
Don’t be afraid of your fears. Look at them, listen to them, dissect them, and find healthy ways to address them. They will tell you quite a bit about the type of dad you want to be and how to invest your time to become that dad. If you ignore your fears, they will express themselves in feelings of alienation, depression, and anger.
#7 Embrace Diversity
Invite your child to explore different cultures with you from the beginning. Make sure you select books, both historical and fictional, with main characters that don’t look like you. Respectfully engage in age appropriate conversations of race, gender, sexuality, and religion. You are raising a global citizen. It’s important your child sees dad actively embracing diversity.
#8 Poop Washes Off Your Skin…
…and you can throw away your clothes. Done.
#9 Enjoy the Ride
The intensity of every emotion you experience will be magnified as a dad. Your joy will swell with new delight watching your child chase bubbles. Your face will drip with tears when those small hands wrap around your fingers. Your heart will break each time your child falls off their bike.
When you experience these moments, you’ll probably feel a sorrowful sting reminding you that you are on the same ride you started when you first held your child. You’ll know that one day the ride will come to an end, and that will be sooner than you think.
Don’t blink and ENJOY THE RIDE.