baby fatherhood life love parenthood

What It’s Like to Be a Dad

I’ve started writing two blog posts since Willow has been born, all having something to do with what it’s like to become a father, and both times after a few paragraphs I’ve crumbled under the gravity of the subject.  How can words express something so intangible?  But I am determined. For my first Father’s Day the third time will be the charm.

SO: What is it like to be a Dad, you ask? (As many have.)

In my previous attempts at answering the question with something profound, I relegated myself to uninspired superlatives:  It’s awesome! I love it!  It’s the best!

While those answers are genuine – it really is all those things – I can see that people they are mildly let down when I tell them.  They are seeking something more revelatory, more illuminating, some astute wisdom from the other side of parenthood.

But I just don’t have any.  The truth is, parenthood (just under 4 months in at least) is so immersive and relentless that it’s impossible to draw on any sort of insightful reflection, not to mention eloquence.

For me anyway.

In all her beautiful posts Ellen has supplied no shortage of eloquence, grace and insight into her experiences.  Speaking of experiences, ours have been so different.  If you’ve read this blog you’re somewhat familiar with how the last few months have gone.  She’s had, shall we say, a bit of a heavier burden on her than I have.  Which has been its own burden in and of itself.   It’s beyond frustrating trying help someone with something you have no control over and can’t relate to at all.  It’s easy to say just be supportive, which I’ve always tried to be, but when you’re also being pushed beyond your own normal limits – even when she is being pushed much more – your judgement about how hard you’re working gets pretty clouded.  “I got up three times last night. Why does no one feel bad for me?” Before I turn all the Moms who read this blog against me, let me reiterate – I know I was wrong in thinking this way.  It just took me a little while to figure that out.

But things have gotten much much smoother.  Willow is so integrated into our lives now that it’s hard to think about a time without her.

Since trying to put my feelings directly into words has proved futile, I’ll instead attempt to put them into my favorite of all literary devices: the analogy.

I think of my life up until now (as I think most people do) as a story:  a through-line, like a screenplay, with me in the lead role. When I look back at my past I see the trail I forged with the important events standing out and the less significant ones faded away.  When most of our benchmark life-altering moments occur we don’t know it at the time, but having a baby is decidedly the exception and the anticipation is agonizing.  It’s like waiting in the wings just dying to go onstage and start the show, but being forced to wait until the lights to go up.  However, with a baby the lights can go up at any time, leaving you perpetually at 5 minutes to curtain.

When I think of the part of my story when Ellen and I got together I imagine our through-lines merging – like drops of water – to form a bolder line that then meandered forward together.  And we once joined, it’s hard for me to remember ever being apart.  I was, to quote Mr. Cruise, complete in a way I wasn’t before.  In fact, for a while I referred to my past as BE (before Ellen) and AE (after Ellen) because after her everything was so different I felt like my lives on either side barely resembled themselves.

But there was a time before our stories intersected, and it lives on in our experiences and anecdotes, triumphant highs and heartbreaking lows.

In that way having a baby is a lot like falling in love.  Life before it is just a memory.  Except with Willow, her story began right before my eyes.  Her tiny through-line sprouted from Ellen’s and mine and now runs closely parallel, like one of those impossibly cute newborn whales sticking close to their mother.  As our timelines move forward hers will grow bolder, thicker, it will begin to swerve away from our path, going off on its own tangents, hitting its own benchmarks, creating its own individual story.

I think the reason I have so much trouble explaining how I feel now, not just about Willow but my new family, is that it doesn’t make sense.  Emotionally and logically.  I was complete when I found Ellen, so complete I couldn’t remember what not having her in my life was like.  So how can you add to something already whole?  After living 30 years with an understanding of your capability for emotional depth, a baby unlocks this whole new untapped facility in you for love.  And its capacity is staggering.

I’m not surprised.  I expected that would happen.  I knew from all the personal accounts of Dads who couldn’t explain to me what being a Father was like and could only say it was unlike anything they’ve ever felt.  They were right.  Now that I am one, the feeling is, well, indescribable.

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