When my 1-year-old son, Johnny, was born I remember lifting him out of the basinet at the hospital for the first time. Completely swaddled in a hospital blanket, he was a fussy 8-pound burrito. I was in love with and in awe of him. We all had high hopes for him and our newly started family.
A year later, we still have hopes -- we just haven't slept much. Needless to say, it's taken on a different meaning. This former 8-pound burrito is now a 24-pound giant jumping bean that never stops jumping.
At the start of each day, he cries from the other room to wake us up, and my biggest hope is really that nobody gets hurt that day. Come bedtime, I smile when my head hits the pillow, knowing that we barely made it. My last thought before falling asleep is always, I don't know how we did it.
A few weeks ago I was sharing the plans for Johnny's birthday party with David, a good friend.
"You know I've always thought that we should be throwing these parties for the parents," he quipped. "I mean, you have kept another human being alive for an entire year. Congrats!"
David was right. Our life really had become about keeping this tiny, defenseless creature alive. I chuckled lightly, acknowledging the truth of his statement, while cynically recognizing that nobody was going to be throwing me any parties anytime soon. My party days are long gone, but I do have Father's Day to at least feel appreciated.
Over the last year, I've noted the ten biggest changes that come with first-time fatherhood, so for new dads or expectant dads out there, consider this some helpful advice.
1. Everything related to your kids is now a hot-button issue.
Cloth diapers or disposable? You made a choice, and you are now an expert at defending it. You won't let anyone tell you that choice was wrong. Breast milk or formula? You don't even lactate, but that snarky comment on Facebook just got somebody unfriended. Government officials are thinking about cutting funding for schools, and you show up to testify. And don't let anyone get you started on parental leave!
2. Showering every other day becomes a reasonable goal (and is optional on the weekends)
There is a moment when you are getting ready to leave the house. It's probably to go to the grocery store, the park, a play date, etc. Somehow during the morning nap, you were sucked into returning an email, checking Facebook, or squeezing in an episode of House of Cards. Well, the baby's awake, happy, and you have a very limited window before all that goes away, so you gargle some mouthwash, wipe yourself down with a baby wipe, put on a clean pair of underwear and get yourself out the door.
3. Spot-checking your clothing for traces of snot, spit-up and anything that your child has eaten that morning is a regular practice.
Maybe you haven't showered yet that day, but it still means a lot to you that you keep up appearances, especially at work. You know that you have completely lost your mind, but your boss doesn't. Pro-Tip: if you can see it on your kid's shirt, then it is probably on yours too. You ask someone you trust if anything crusty has found its way to the back of your shoulder when you went in for that big hug at the daycare drop off. You keep a change of clothes nearby at all times -- for you, not the child.
4. Never in your life have you been so invested in someone else's biological functions.
Did he poop? Is he wet? Did he eat that? Can he eat that? He really shouldn't eat that, right? Did he nap? Is he sleeping? Is he breathing?
If someone came up to you to sniff your crotch or check your pants, you might kick them, but somehow this is completely fine to do to your kids. This is how you communicate with these tiny little poop machines who can barely stand up on their own, let alone tell you that it's time for a change.
5. When the kid kind of hurts, you quickly learn to help him shrug it off.
If your child falls in the forest and nobody is there to gasp, "oh no!" do they cry? The answer is absolutely not. Very quickly, you learn to shrug off minor bumps, trips, and bangs. It's amazing how these children can bend and bounce in ways that would put any gold medal gymnast to shame. Treating every fall like a crisis means you would never get out of the house.
6. When the kid really hurts, that's when it really hurts you too.
Then there are moments at the doctor when he has to get three shots and you kind of want to punch the doctor for sticking him. Or he's sick, yet you calmly say the words, "okay now, just let it out … you're okay," while the little one projectile vomits all over you. When the fever spikes well above 100, and the kid just isn't himself, you have the will to stay with him all night just to make it better.
7. You compare your kid to every other baby you ever meet.
You swore that you would never be "that dad." You promised that you would let your child grow naturally and become the person that he wants to be. That all went out the window as soon as you found out that "Ethan" started crawling last month, and your kid can't even roll over. Naturally, it goes the other way too, usually at doctor check-ups. Ninetieth percentile for height -- that's my son, the future basketball player! By the way, his head circumference is off the charts, so he's likely to be captain of the team and a genius!
8. You get excited about the prospect of work travel because you sleep so well away from home.
Work is going to send you out of town for a few days to meet with some important clients. In the past, you would have scheduled in some extra time to meet up with friends, catch a show and take advantage of the night life. As a new parent, however, all you want to do is watch a movie at the hotel at a high volume because you don't have to worry about waking anyone up, then sleep through the entire night.
9. Then you get weepy when your spouse and kid drop you off at the airport.
You were excited about the high thread count on those hotel sheets, but now all you can think about is how quiet, lonely and empty the room is going to be without your family. Your head down, you try to make it through airport security as fast as possible, hoping to have time to call and say goodbye again before boarding. In the hotel, you end up watching a movie at a volume so low you can barely follow the dialogue, just because it makes you feel at home to keep the noise down at night.
10. Even though it's the most disruptive thing that has ever happened to your life, you couldn't be happier about it.
Being a father is not a constant stream of smiles and giggles, but that doesn't stop you from pulling out your phone to show them the latest pics. When an old woman smiles at your baby in the stroller or a young couple tells you how they love your baby's (insert hair, smile, sausage legs, outfit, laugh) you find yourself smiling the rest of the day. This bundle of joy has changed everything and most of it for the better.
It's been a long year of keeping this creature alive, and you couldn't be prouder. Maybe it's nothing like you hoped it would be at the beginning. Yet somehow, it's still everything that you always wanted.
To read more posts in the "World's Greatest Jewish Dads" blog series, click here.