There are good days and hard days. Some days fly by a million miles per hour and others crawl past in slow motion. And while dads may have learned a thing or two from their parents or grandparents, nothing quite prepares you for fatherhood like just stepping up and doing the dang thing.
In my experience, each of the following has its season and the more you invest in giving your kids your best, the better things shake out for everyone. Funny how that works. All the same, this is my two cents to young dads, soon-to-be dads, future fathers and seasoned dads alike to say you're not alone along the ride and that this (incredible) rollercoaster is all a part of the journey.
Few things compare to the news of a kid on the way. It may take you by surprise, blindside you, fulfill a dream years in the making or a million other settings in between. But there's usually a subsequent period of reflection where you sort of freak out.
Am I going to be a good dad?
How are we going to afford this?
Where do I start?
I'm not qualified for this.
This is going to be amazing.
If you find yourself hot and cold day to day in the early stages, I'd say congratulations, this is all part of the program. Such news tends to short circuit your system because you're about to embark on an entirely new way of life. Freak out a little but hold your line.
Getting a Grip
After a few days of sleeping on it, you'll begin to really own your new identity. You may find yourself sharing the news with people you admire. You might start reaching out to parents or peers you respect. Maybe you'll reflect a bit on the special things your parents did for you or instilled in your childhood and start spitballing how you can ingrain similar experiences in your child.
The more you realize the magnitude of raising a child, the more you may begin to realize there are things in your life that you have to let go. Are there habits or beliefs that may compete with your new priorities? Are there gaps in your budget or irresponsible spending that needs a little course correction? Are there expectations that are way out of tune with reality?
Some things will present themselves to you crystal clear. Others may require an honest look in the mirror.
Break out the paintbrushes, electric screwdrivers and the blasted IKEA allen wrench. Ideas become reality as you arrange your home in anticipation of your new roommate. Life may not slow down and help you enjoy this chapter, but do your best to put your all into making a room for your kid. It's not about spending the most money on the newest gadgets and furniture. It's all about coming to terms with the fact that this child, in this room, will truly make your house a home. There's about to be new life with big dreams and a loud personality that feels safest in the very environment you create.
Put up the glowing stars. Build that chair rail your wife dreams of. This is the start of a new world.
It hits everyone a little different, but I hope you have a moment when you absolutely realize the bond you've just made with your wife. Nothing forms a stronger tie than a child. It's the total embodiment of you both and the years of care you'll invest in their future. You get what you give and your wife will amaze you again and again with her strength, instinct, courage and tenderness. Play your part and your team will thrive. Decide again and again that this team is in it to win it.
Despite all the excitement, panic will take hold now and again. You'll have concerns over your wife's health. You'll hope your baby is safe. You'll entertain little self-doubts that you tucked away for years. You'll wonder if your salary will even make a dent in the avalanche of bills to come. You'll play the world's tiniest violin to the sound of your own freedom coming to an end.
But I promise, 90% of the stuff that goes through your head can and will stop there. It's okay to feel afraid. It's not okay to stay there.
This is the single most constant emotion I've experienced as a father. I wondered who my kids would be before they were born. I wondered how they'd tick and what they'd aspire to become. I wonder what I do or do not do that will most stick with my son and daughter as they age.
But don't mistake wonder with worry. I'd argue that it's okay to stay amazed and ponder the possibilities. Worry, on the other hand, can stop you in your tracks and prevent you from pitching in in a manner that could benefit you kids' upbringing. And excessive worry can translate into a very anxious child.
You haven't the faintest idea of your true potential to create for, provide for and lift up others until you have a family. It won't always be on a full tank, but perfect circumstance rarely develops strong character.
Some dads don't immediately connect with their kids. It can take days, weeks or hours and the feeling equates to doing something wrong, but you're not. When that connection happens, you'll know. And it will not be broken.
Kids upset you, they can be frustrating and downright challenging for reasons unknown. Find reasons instead to be proud of your kids. In the early months and years, there are milestones every day if you're present to see them. First words, first steps, sharing with a sibling, thanking a grandparent - the list goes on and on. I imagine the stakes only get higher as you experience graduations, marriages and other monumental occasions.
Kids are absolutely inspiring. And the more you grow your relationship with your child, the more you'll feel emblazoned to be your best self. Those dreams you cast as lost or projects you thought you'd never conquer...yeah, the timing might be different than what you had in mind originally, but you'll reclaim a boldness to dive back into what fuels you and if you play your cards right, perhaps you'll even have an extra set of hands.
The shedding of layers, expansion of relationships and your capacity to love and care for others outside of yourself is perhaps one of the most incredible transformations around. Embrace every single awkward and tremendous season.
You won't come out the other side the same. You'll come out better.
More Wisdom for Dads
If you're still looking for thoughts on the subject, these books were a big help for my wife and I. Check them out or read some of my other blogs on the adventures of fatherhood.