I want to introduce you all to my good friend and coworker Scott Patten. He's one of the smartest guys I know and I find myself seeking his professional counsel nearly every day. This morning however, I got an email from him asking me for a little guidance.
He's about to have his first kid. And much like every new dad, he's trying to wrap his head around what's about to go down.
"Ok man, it's almost go time. When you are expecting a kid, you receive an endless amount of unsolicited and mostly useless advice. I know you are a good dad. What haven't I heard about being a parent?"
First off, let me just start by saying nobody is ever truly prepared. It's a trial by fire kind of thing but that's half the fun. It doesn't matter how much research you've done or whether or not you've mastered all of the classes. They'll help, sure, but nothing compares to just doing it. I'm happy to weigh in on the nuggets of truth I've gained along the way.
I'm not going to pull any punches here. Because friends call it how they see it, but know it's all done in love and know that everything I'm about to tell you I've said in the mirror to myself on one occasion or another. Dive in.
Dads Need Daughters
I remember the day we found out Aria was going to be a girl. If I'm honest, I was a mess. In a bad way. All my life I'd imagined a son as my firstborn. It wasn't even a conscious thing. There was no question my first kid would be a boy. There'd be bikes and building ramps, camping and shooting airsoft guns. What the heck was I going to do with a little girl?
It tore me apart for a few days. I battled feelings of bitterness and fear, then sort of fell into a a general state of disregard. Mind you, I'm not proud of any of this, and I'm proud to say looking back it was all completely ridiculous.
As we painted her room and I began to pray about who my daughter might become, I realized she was an extension of myself who'd undoubtedly have so much in common with me in so many new ways. About the time my heart started to turn a new leaf, my sister in law made some remark about how, "daughters make everything in life that much sweeter." And she's right.
Not a day goes by where I'm not thrilled to hug my daughter. I think about her as I go to bed. I follow her eyes to see what holds her attention, and I crumble when she holds my hand. This overflow transcends all areas of my life. She helps me see the beauty within everything around me.
But as much as she's a princess, she's a pitbull. The girl has a pain tolerance that puts mine to shame. She's acquired a newfound interest in jumping off of the highest parts of our living room into my arms without a sliver of distrust. She even talked me into letting her jump off the fridge into my arms. The adrenaline and bravery is fierce inside my little girl and I pity any toddler boy who plays with her heart.
Embrace the absolute trust of your daughter, Scott. Fuel her creativity and imagination. Teach her that the right men can be tender and truthful. And watch her become a little woman right before your eyes. It happens faster than people tell you it happens.
All the while, you'll become a better man.
You've Got To Clock Out
Everything in the early months and years is a season. The good habits and the bad. They're blips on the radar.
Give your all at work, then put it away. Turn off your phone. Close the computer. Enter the moment alongside Natalie and your daughter. Soak it all in. Harness all the lessons you'll learn. Photos are great, but nothing can replace the little movie you're filming in your mind. And mark my words, as she ages, she'll replay little glimmers of those seasons that bring you right back to your most precious times with her. A face, a mannerism, a sound or the way she walks - it'll all come around if you pay attention.
But as to clocking out, that's physical as much as it's mental. If you've had a hard day or a frustrating day, do not bring it into the house. This has been my biggest regret as a father. If your gut says take a walk before you step through the front door, do it. Anything that clouds your mind steals from the magic, so stop it in its tracks.
Pitch In When You Can't Pitch In
I'd imagine some books shine light on this, but it takes a while as a dad to bond with your kid. It's an odd sensation - alienating really. You'll have the immediate starstruck adoration when your girl's born and you hold her for the first time, then there will be some awkward in between. She'll connect with your wife. She'll sleep in the arms of total strangers. But she may shun you.
It hurts. Shouldn't she know you? Recognize your voice? Crave your consultation?
Give it time and trust the process. I don't know the science behind it, but it takes a little time.
Don't lose heart. Pitch in when you can't pitch in. If she wakes up frantic in the morning and only Natalie can calm her, make breakfast for Natalie. If you can't feed the baby, feed your wife. If you aren't changing the diaper, throw the laundry in the wash. If Natalie is Yin, shoot for Yang. Complete the circle and your house will remain that much more sane.
Your Wife Works Harder Than You Do
I'm saying this and I know how hard you work. I've seen you in action. And I can say with absolute certainty that, try as you might, Natalie will work harder than you when the kid is here. You'll crush the 9-5 and pitch in where you can't pitch in from 5-9, but Natalie has just entered a perpetual work cycle. We're talking no days off. And she'll do it on virtually no sleep.
I'm convinced Dani is part robot or Saint or angel. Or maybe she's all three. All I know is that my wife possesses the energy, loyalty and resilience of an entire army when it comes to raising each of our kids. She keeps the ship afloat. I merely throw out the occasional observation from the shore.
And as much as I recognize that, I also realize that I've insulted her when I buy into the notion that, "I'm the one with a job. I deserve a break. I need rest. You don't understand how hard my day was!"
Humble yourself and thank her every chance you get. You've never seen your wife shine as bright. You'll fall more in love with her each day.
Your Passions Don't Die
You will still go trail running. You can ride your new bike. There will be late nights for beers. You are not stripped of the hobbies, passions and identity that you know thus far. If you'll remember back to our trip to Alaska when I found out Levi was going to be a boy before our flight took off, you'll know that I still have time for adventures.
The nuance is that you've now got to work for your relaxation. Shooting hoops may not happen right when you get home from work. Groceries might put a hard stop to golfing. But there are 24 hours in a day and other dads who are learning the same art. If it's something important to you, you'll find time to do it and when you reunite with that flame, it's more epic than ever before. You may also find that where you used to need 4 days of camping to clear your head, you now need 2 because you're missing your family. It's an odd transition but it works.
You Have To Date Your Wife
It's super natural to borderline worship your children but that doesn't make it right. And trust me, it doesn't feel or sound that absurd as it begins to take shape. Guard yourself and encourage others to understand that the health of your marriage is priority number one. That your fortitude and camaraderie as husband and wife is what empowers you to be the best father and mother around. You and Natalie having the strongest relationship you can is the single greatest gift you can give your daughter. If you want her to feel loved, show her love in action. If you want her to grow confident, support your wife. If you want her to be independent, give Natalie freedom. And be more intentional than you've ever been before at scheduling date nights with your spouse. You need nights to be adults. You need an escape from baby monitors and liquid vegetables and vomit.
I've been pretty bad at this lately, but getting better. On weeks where we can't get out of the house, I try to bring the date to Dani. I'll grab ice cream and cookie dough for pazookies or a bottle of wine and a board game. I'll draw a bath and insist that she clocks out because I know she won't allow herself the opportunity on her own.
Get In the Game
My favorite memories with Aria involve games of hide and seek, faux wrestling and throwing her in the air. You're not going to break her. Get off the sidelines and live hands-on.
Talk To Her As If She's Already The Woman You Dream She'll Become
Mind your tongue and watch your words. You play a very integral part in her understanding of herself, the world and her part in it. Moreover, I've heard it said that children exposed to a rich vocabulary from a young age develop faster than others. Or something like that. Whatever the science, I know that children exposed to ideas of equality, empathy, creativity, discipline, consideration, perseverance and so on at a younger age have a greater likelihood of living them out. No baby talk. Big talk. Big ideas. Big impact.
Laugh It Off
Dude, I don't know what it is, but every time you try to be a knight in shining armor to let Natalie go out with friends or take a nap, your kid is going to completely abort the normal schedule, crap her pants or scream like the world is coming to an end. It will feel like the walls are coming in. I want you to literally imagine every deadline from work is compounding at once, your car broke down on the way to the pitch and you forgot to wear shoes. That's a sliver of the chaos you'll feel when times like this happen. It's not your fault. It's some cruel joke the universe plays on dads to give them a glimpse into the challenge moms face all day every day. When this happens, you've gotta just laugh it off and stay the course. Throw in some earphones and walk the wailing baby around the block.
Never Be Bigger Than An Apology
This won't apply right away, but you'll know when it does. I know every parenting style differs, but I'm of the opinion that apologizing will never detract from your authority as a parent. On the contrary, I think holding back an apology can and will. Strive not to mess up as a dad. Try to control your temper, your patience and posture, but when you slip, tell your daughter you're sorry she saw that side of you. You may not be perfect, but you'll be perfect in her eyes.
You're Stronger Than You Think You Are
Let me wrap with something I need you to know. You are stronger than you think you are. Those fleeting fears of impending dadhood, the whispers of doubt and lingering self loathing that wiggles into random areas of your soul - it doesn't stand a chance. You have what it takes. Trust your gut. Use your head. Take it all on the chin.
You're going to be a great dad. Oh, and have fun.
This post is dedicated to my daughter, Aria, the Lion that lived.