A TAIL

 

Having children certainly gives you pause to reflect, although with all the chaos and diapers, usually your reflections consist of, “When was the last time I ate… I can’t believe they are watching Pokémon again…Was that the doorbell or a ringing in my ears… When was the last time I showered…”

 

But then there are those quiet moments when you find yourself alone, typically in the bathroom, and you think back to your own journey. The years of struggle trying to reach the New World, setting sail on that ship, no wait, that’s An American Tail. I’m referring to my formative years at home.

 

DAD

 

My father was my hero. A gentleman in the truest sense of the word. He was well-respected in his field, a WWII navy veteran, and a man of principle. He loved his wife and kids and was a wonderful role model. He was an only child whose father died before he could walk. I often think that’s what made him such an exceptional dad; he had no preconceived notions of what a father should be.

 

My dad passed when I was sixteen and while that is a painfully young age to lose a parent, I was immensely grateful for the time we had together. My philosophy is, I would rather have had sixteen years with my father than a lifetime with anyone else. No other man could have been as exceptional a father as mine was.

 

So even though I was only able to enjoy my father’s company for sixteen short years, I feel (and hope) I learned a great deal from him. He taught me the enormous responsibility that goes with fatherhood, and the joy that comes from it. The importance of patience and humor in whatever you do and the sense of intimacy a father can share with his child.

 

MOM

 

Besides my father, I was blessed to have a wonderful mother as well. My mom taught me more through her actions and deeds than through her words. Mom was always doing for others and it had been that way her entire life. Whether it was my dad, my sister and I, her parents, our kids, her friends, her siblings or a stranger in the grocery store, my mom went out of her way for others. She did not seem at peace unless she had a cause to champion and a person to care for.

 

OTHERS

 

As you can see, I have had some wonderful parental role models. Beyond my immediate family I have an incredible wife, amazing sister, caring uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends who have helped assemble for me a loving bridge that led to the development of Dadlands. Actually, after all that foundation being laid, at worst I should do a decent job at fatherhood, I strive for better than that.

LONG DAYS JOURNEY

 

“You’re still here?” your coworkers chide as you arrive at work yet one more day after you said the baby would be born. You realize seven months too late; I should have added two weeks onto the due date when I told them we were expecting.

 

The phone rings and you grab it while putting on your jacket; you run to get some water and leave your coworker three pages of instructions on how to handle the call if it is your wife; you see you have a new voicemail from your wife and you drive home before even listening to it!

 

You race to get home sure she is waiting in the car for you to drive her to the hospital only to walk in the house and find her stenciling the baby’s door with some Winnie the Pooh patterns (see The Nesting Season). Turns out the voicemail said pick up more paint on your way home!

 

GET IN THE CAR!

 

When you and your wife are expecting a child, and it is after the due date (which you will learn is an educated guess at best) the days are about thirty-eight hours long, loaded with false alarms. Every time my wife goes to the bathroom for longer than five minutes, I warm up the car.

 

“What are you doing?” she shouts over the roar of the motor.

 

“Get in we’ll take route number four on our options list and with traffic be there in 12.7 minutes.”

 

“I was only blow drying my hair!” your wife shouts.

 

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

 

As the days drag on everyone becomes more edgy; you, your wife; relatives; grandparents-to-be; coworkers; neighbors; the mailman. It seems like the baby will never be born and then a new fear hits you, what if my wife has just been putting on weight all these months?

 

False alarm, you tell your colleagues, we weren’t pregnant after all, it was just water weight gain!

 

In the end, the baby arrives when they are good and ready. As you will soon learn, babies do everything on their time schedule, not yours!

 

A FAVOR!

 

Tonight, my wife broke one of the cardinal rules of marriage. This is something I would not even tell my best friend and yet I find myself putting digits to keyboard to try and expel the disillusionment I feel. It began when she borrowed a bassinet from a friend for our new baby-to-be and it ended with my fragile ego shattered and lying on the asphalt.

 

The hand-me-down-bassinet arrived disassembled with no instruction manual enclosed. Honestly, no man committed this act of treachery. A guy would not loan something without instructions for fear of what might occur. It obviously came from a woman who found it tucked away in the basement and thought she was doing us a favor. Some favor! 

 

DANGER AHEAD

 

I spent one evening grudgingly trying to assemble the product, knowing full well it was futile without the step-by step directions. I grumbled and cussed my way through the project finally realizing that purchasing a new one was the only viable option. And why shouldn’t our baby sleep in a bassinet hot off the show room floor?

 

The next night my wife was poking around the disassembled pieces for maybe seven minutes tops. “Honey, I think I figured it out.” “Huh?” I shouted from the safety of our sofa, remote clutched in my hands, fragile ego fully intact.

 

WHO ORDERED THE EGGS?

 

“Come here, I think I figured out the bassinet,” she uttered again, not realizing the landmines ahead. As I approach what was once a tangle of metal, screws and piping, I can now visualize a complete unit begging to be assembled.

 

My wife had solved the Rubik’s cube and, in the process, disassembled a little of my pride. I tried to temper my elation at being totally humiliated and out-guyed by my own wife, by pouting for the next hour and a half while I constructed the damn bassinet. Never liked it anyway!

 

As I have tried to explain to my wife before, a man’s fragile ego is like an egg. Not a Faberge egg you can purchase at Neiman Marcus, but a simple egg right out of the carton. It cracks and breaks very easily and must be handled with care. In this instance it would have been better to return the godforsaken bassinet and purchase a new one. But alas, now we have one fully assembled loaner bassinet and one cracked egg.

 

NESTING, IT’S NOT JUST FOR BIRDS

 

My wife is less than two months away from giving birth and just today she has mentioned a variety of projects that “we” should finish before the baby arrives. They are (deep breath) sweep the garage, add molding to the family room, clean up the backyard, buy and assemble a play structure, paint the kitchen, re-grout the bathroom, cure prickly heat and something to do with organizing an international backgammon competition in Haiti.

 

In short, let the nesting season begin! Just this week I have moved the sofa from one side of the room to the other, sampled three different brands of baby food, re-seeded the lawn, moved the sofa back to its original location, hung some pictures, relocated hung pictures, spackled over the holes where the pictures had hung, painted over the spackle marks that contained the holes where the pictures had hung, and then moved the pictures back to those original locations. “Honey, WE need to take care of these holes in the wall.”

 

I AM NOT PANICKING

 

Basically, the nesting season is the sense of panic your wife feels right before the baby arrives. The house could use a fresh coat of paint, the fixtures need replacing, the cabinets aren’t baby proofed, there aren’t enough flowers in the front yard, I could have done better than you, and on and on it goes.

 

It is difficult to convince your wife that the baby will not be mobile when it initially arrives at the house and flowers in the front yard will not be his primary concern, but you can try. The truth about nesting is that it does not end with the state of the house and surrounding gardens, no-no-no-no.

 

YOU’RE WEARING THAT?

 

Nesting can include the pile of magazines on your dresser, your clothes in the closet, your e-mail, computer files, soda cans, yogurts, streaming taste, music choices, tee-shirts, sporting goods, you name it. Nothing is off limits during the runup to birth.

 

The nesting season makes the first trimester seem like the Commodores fifth studio album, easy like Sunday morning! Every day, every hour, of every minute your wife has an idea for something “we” should do. There is just something you need to keep in mind when your wife is eight months pregnant, there is no we. Because, even if you acquiesce and let your wife do something, anything, everyone will think you have about as much class as Yasiel Puig.

 

IT NEEDED MOWING!

 

For example, my wife, now eight months pregnant, is very active and likes to take care of the garden at our house. The other day she was mowing the lawn and our neighbors started a petition to have me evicted. It took me two hours to convince them she likes working in the garden. My wife was unable to plead her own case at the time because she was putting in  plastic water pipes underneath the house. Did I mention she likes plumbing?

 

One other concept that will elude your wife during the nesting season is “later”. There is a definite immediacy to the nesting season. Nothing can be put off, shelved or delayed, it is like being married to a twenty-four second shot clock.

 

“Hon, why don’t we clean the top of the refrigerator?” your wife asks.

 

“Let’s do it tomorrow,” you reply.

 

At about 2:30 in the morning you get up for a glass of water and find your wife standing by the refrigerator waiting for you. It’s a little unsettling!

 

SHOWER THE PEOPLE

 

There are not too many things you need to really fear before the baby is born. Most of that will occur one millisecond after birth. But there is one occurrence that will send your mind reeling for the best excuse you have manufactured since that dent in the family Buick during your junior year of high school: Showers. Not the kind that cleanse, the kind that bequeath.

 

Bestowing blankets, outfits and bassinets; conferring rattles, diapers and receiving blankets (are there kicking blankets too?). Then there are the other items you are given that bare a slight resemblance to some of the crude instruments they used in Quest For Fire.

 

MYSTERY GIFT

 

With these you are expected to proudly hold them up and profusely thank the gift giver. This becomes very tricky when you do not have a clue what is in your hand and you are not even sure you are holding it up correctly.

 

The worst part is, everyone else in the room appears to be very aware of its function in the new baby realm. Well, that is except for all the other men at the shower who have gravitated to the family room and are watching the Warriors versus Lakers game. Warriors up by 7 with three minutes left in the third, Draymond has 4 fouls.

 

GAME TIME

 

And lest we forget the games, ahh the games. Unbelievably tedious contests that are designed to reduce all the participants brains to marshmallow parfait. Word games, name games, something strange that involves sleepwear and another one that incorporates newspaper, a baby rattle, some twine and a colander.

 

It is at times like this when you learn who your real friends of the alternate gender are. Your true female allies are the ones who do not throw a co-ed baby shower. Forget rattlesnakes, scorpions and the HR department, this is truly one of man’s biggest fears.

 

CO-ED SHOWER

 

When you see these two words you need to come up with some of your more creative, full proof excuses. “I don’t want to go” will not work when the spouses of some of your wife’s best friends are going. It needs to be solid and irrefutable. “I will be on a plane that day to negotiate a peace settlement between Ernst and Young…Bumgarner is having trouble with his hanging slider and Bochy needs me at the ballpark that day…My boss says we have to work all weekend on our presentation… what was the date of that shower again?”

 

In the end you will probably go to the co-ed baby shower, and toil through all the various festivities. How bad can it be? You posit that other friends have survived, and you will too. That’s the spirit. Be brave!

 

ARE YOU READY?

 

Maybe, just maybe, you are not ready for a commitment to Dadlands. If it is not too late, you need to seriously evaluate your priorities before you enroll in parenthood because, trust me, it is a lifelong endeavor. So, here are six reasons why you might not be ready for fatherhood…

 

  1. If golf is your link to the good life and you can’t imagine Saturday’s without your 7:30am tee time, then have a good round.
  2. If tennis makes your heart strings, and nothing interferes with your Sunday afternoon best out of three sets, maybe you should wait a little bit.
  3. If pets are your walk-in life, then live happily ever after with Fido.
  4. If your three-on-three basketball league is net to nothing, then by all means don’t let the team down.
  5. If work courses through your veins and climbing the proverbial corporate ladder is all you think about, then you’d better watch that last step.
  6. If your hobbies, be it stamp collecting or Fortnite, consume your every waking minute and spare dollar, best of luck to you.

 

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING FOR?

 

Why work forty plus hours a week and then spend half the weekend doing a personal activity you enjoy? If marriage is about compromise, then Dadlands is about sacrifice. Sacrifice the golf, tennis, basketball league, poker night and mud wrestling. All those events will still be very prevalent after your kids are a little older and involved in activities of their own.

 

It is time to put your hobbies and sports on hold for your sake. That’s right, your sake! If you are not around much on the weekends or at night that will be your child’s reality. They will not expect it or even know your participation is lacking. But the things you will miss out on cannot be replaced by a hole in one, a forty-point game, an ace, or an inside straight.

 

So, don’t make this big almighty sacrifice and tell everyone you are doing it for the baby. Trust me, the intangible rewards you receive in Dadlands will far outweigh any other activity you could be participating in at the time. Besides, do you really want to attend your child’s high school graduation and have them introduce you as “Mom’s friend”?

 

DR. OF NOTHING!

 

You might ask, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did, “Where do you get off writing a blog about fatherhood?”

 

It is a valid question, although your tone was a little hostile and I don’t appreciate it. In any event, I do not have a Ph.D. in Child Psychology, I am not a renowned physician, I am not even a famous comedian. I am just a Dad.

 

I am the guy in the car next to you. I am in the elevator, can you push twelve, please? I sit next to you on the bus. I am the guy in front of you in line at the delicatessen. I am your best friend, your brother, your cousin. It is easy to pick me out. I always look a little tired, tired but happy. (Probably punch-happy from the lack of sleep.) I have a bunch of photos of the boys on my phone, although they are typically six months old. (Two major developmental stages ago for a young child.) When I walk the fingers of my right-hand curl slightly upward like a small child is holding my hand. They’re not, and I know they’re not, it is just habit.

 

BATTLE SCARS

 

I have seen the inside of a diaper pail, and it is not pretty. I have given countless baths, and usually end up soaked to the bone. I have mastered the four-point fold of a baby T-shirt and a baby blanket. I have juggled a baby in one arm and dinner in another. I have cared for a sick mommy and sick child, on occasion, at the same time. I have laid down the law and witnessed lawlessness.

 

I have been drooled on, spit on, spit-up on, thrown up on, peed on (gotta change that diaper quickly with boys), laughed at, cried at, yelled at, stepped on, hugged, kissed, comforted, and tickled. Sometimes all within a ten-minute period! Still I come out smiling and, like George Foreman entering the ninth round, go back for more. They say for mothers it is the hardest job you’ll ever love. For fathers it is the same thing, except for most of us, it is the hardest and most rewarding moonlighting available.

 

When I get home from work, after a particularly tough day (aren’t they all!) and see the smiling faces of my children, I experience a love so profound and awesome it frightens me. The primal instinct of protection, luckily not foraging or combat, kick in big time. Other animal instincts also come to the forefront: comfort, shelter, love, guidance, understanding, banana puree, creamed corn.

 

MULTIPLE DADS?

 

The responsibilities that accompany Dadlands can appear overwhelming at times. It just doesn’t seem that one man alone can handle it, but the complications and legal entanglements of polygamy make it our only option.

 

So that is who I am. How I came to write this blog is a slightly different story. It was seven months before our first child was born and I found myself in a bookstore scanning the parental section (come to think of it, I haven’t been in the adult section of a bookstore since).

 

I wanted a book that would prepare me for fatherhood. Not a “how to” on changing diapers and holding a baby, my wife had purchased plenty of those books, but a shared experience type of reference. A treatise written by a father in the stenches of parenthood, describing what it was like, how you survive it and what is required. You know how many I found…none! All the books geared towards the dad were written by women describing how we can be supportive. I even saw a book describing one thousand ways to be a great dad and it was penned by a member of the opposite sex.

 

JUDGING BY ITS COVER

 

It was after my son was born that I began to start logging entries into an unofficial journal: on the bus, on the back of napkins, scraps of paper, notes in the margin of a magazine, quick thoughts and reflections on the computer. Ideas came to me at the strangest times, while changing a diaper, watching a Teletubbies video (a very strange time indeed), in meetings at work, in elevators, rocking my son at 2am…3am…4am. Eventually I started compiling all these various fragments into one cohesive unit, Dadlands.

 

I was not sure it would have any appeal beyond my computer screen. Maybe there were no other dads, or pre-dads looking for this type of primer. But, if nothing else, I knew that on the day my sons and their wives informed me they were expecting their first child, I would bestow upon them a bound version of these tales. Besides making them grateful they no longer live under my protectorate; it will offer them insight into their childhood. And, it will show them what they can look forward to.

 

So that, in a nutshell, is who I am. If the above background has not discouraged you, then read on to learn about one man’s experience in Dadlands. I consider it a privilege to call it my home.

 

NEWS FLASH!

 

So, your wife is having a baby, well congratulations. What a miraculous thing to happen, you must be very proud. It couldn’t happen to a nicer couple. Just one quick thing before we get started: News Flash – YOU’RE HAVING A BABY TOO!

 

That’s how it works. She physically gives birth to the baby, but after that you become an unequal partner in the most important and uniquely challenging job in the world, parenting. You are entering Dadlands! Please keep your hands and feet in the ride at all times.

 

RELAX

 

This probably raises some issues for you, well sit back and relax because this may be the last opportunity you have to relax until your kid is cloaked in a cap and gown, receiving his sheepskin. First issue, unequal? You must accept the fact that you are an unequal partner with your wife in the parenting realm. Unequal will become clear when you think of it in terms of labor and birth. Suddenly, unequal doesn’t sound so bad does it? I mean who wants to crave pickles with chocolate syrup and gain two shoe sizes not to mention outgrow every article of clothing you own?

 

You are entering Dadlands! Please keep your hands and feet in the ride at all times.

The physical act of childbirth creates an inextricable bond between mother and child that cannot be broken. Maybe he’s your first team all American or she’s your little princess, but for your wife, mother and child are linked by the invisible umbilical cord that will never be broken.

 

Second, you need to become a full-time partner in this endeavor. Dadlands is not a part-time job. Sure, if you are like most dads you will go to work for forty plus hours a week. But you are still fifty percent of the parent factor and you need to pull your weight, not put it on. You need to participate at night and on the weekends. No one wants to grow up with a semi-dad. Your boss pays you to be a full-time employee, and your child deserves a full-time dad.

 

Lastly, I wanted to deal with the gender issue in my blog right up front. For simplicity sake I will always use a male pronoun when pertaining to a child for one simple reason, I have four sons. I do have nieces and some of my friends have girls, but my point of reference is the Y-chromosome child, take it or leave it. But if you determine that is of no interest to you because you have two little girls, all I ask is that you come back to the blog once a week. You wouldn’t believe how much food boys can consume, and I need all the clicks I can get!

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

 

With sincere apologies to Bruce Springsteen, Martin Sheen, Terrence Malick, Sissy Spacek, the residents of South Dakota and Nebraska, I would like to explain this blogs chosen label.  According to Funk & Wagnalls badlands is “a barren area characterized by numerous ridges, peaks, and mesas cut by erosion.”

 

If the esteemed scholars at F&W were to include the noun Dadlands in their reference work, the definition would probably go something like this: “Barren of all privacy and sleep, this lifestyle is characterized by constant emotional swings ranging from joy to sorrow to concern to worry, cut by human beings no taller than three feet.”

 

WHO WANTS TO READ “LIFE WITH HOLDEN”?

 

So why Dadlands? This is the term I have created for the world I live in.  I felt it was necessary to explain my title because I personally hold great value in the written word and the classification given to things.  Think about it, would you have been as inclined to go see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” if it had been called “The Stolen Grail”?  What transcendental quality would there be in “Catcher in the Rye” if it carried the designation “Life With Holden”?

 

I went through a myriad of titles before I settled on Dadlands.  I was actually very fond of “Paternal Instinct” but I thought it sounded like a Michael Douglas-Sharon Stone movie.  “Life in the Stenches of Parenthood” was in the running for a while but it frightened even me.  “Popstots” had a shot but every time I thought about it, it made me hungry.  “A Father’s Home Is Their Castle”, “Moonlighting” “And Baby Makes…Insanity” all had real possibilities, but once I came up with Dadlands, I knew no other title would suffice.

 

To me Dadlands captures the essence of male parenthood.  It sounds fun, maybe a little daring, it probably conjures up an image of a wide expanse.  In my world, if you fill those open spaces with noisy toys, screaming kids, soiled diapers, stacks of laundry, and a sink full of dirty dishes, the Dadlands image is complete.