WHAT WAS THAT?

 

And then it happens, I am in the delivery room with a profound feeling of love and admiration for my wife, the likes of which I could never have imagined. I cannot even fathom the pain she has just endured and the magical glow that surrounds her now as she holds our child.

 

Our child! I gaze at this tiny being who shivers under the rough feel of the blankets, crying and scared. This gift from God gives me pause to reflect on the miracle of life. No baby has ever looked so beautiful I surmise, and then it happens, “Sir, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?”

 

I am not out for long, only a few minutes. Luckily, since we are in a hospital, they had smelling salts handy.

 

THE X-FILES

 

“What was that hiding under the blankets?” I exclaim. “Shouldn’t we get a team of doctors in here to look at it? Do Mulder and Scully know about this?”

 

One of the nurses takes me aside and explains the purpose of the umbilical cord and the cutting process after birth. Between that and the placenta I have learned enough medical jargon to last a good three years. Someone else does the Umbilical Honors and I go back to marveling at this incredible creation.

 

The first night is a bit of a blur. They wheel in our son in a glass bassinet while my wife and I try to get settled. I turnout the lights and our newborn son instantly starts wailing. Lights on, silence. Lights off, screaming intended to wake the entire floor.

 

We sleep with the lights on, setting a bad precedent, but the hospital administration insisted. I try to find a comfortable sleep-position on the foldout chair only to realize it was used in WWII to help break POWs. I have a fitful night of sleep realizing this is the first day of the rest of my life as a Dad.

 

THE SON ALSO RISES

 

The next morning, they take our son back to the maternity ward. After an hour or so, I leave my wife in the hospital room to go peek at our newborn. As I approach the nursery fear grips me when I see a team of doctors surrounding my son’s bassinet.

 

Expecting the worst (I’m Italian-Irish-Catholic in case you haven’t figured it out yet) I rush into the nursery only to hear the doctor say, “So as you can see students, this is the perfect specimen of a newborn baby…ah, nurse, more smelling salts please.”

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!

 

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.

 

EXTRA SENSORY PATERNAL (ESP)

 

I swear to you; from the minute your child is born, all of your senses become more acute. I won’t claim that I can see through walls and hear a cry for help from 100 miles away, but I am definitely more attuned to my surroundings. I now present for your reading pleasure, the 5 senses and parenting.

 

  • Smell

    I can smell a poopy diaper from fifty yards out in a crowded mall. Which, coincidentally, is primarily where the poopy diaper occurs. They never happen when you are playing at home in the middle of the day. Usually they will rear their ugly smells during a long airline flight, right after you get everyone buckled in the car and start the engine, or, my personal favorite, in the middle of a grocery trip with the cart half full (Is the cart half full or half empty?).

  • Taste

    I challenge you to try that baby food and make a pleasant face, encouraging your young child to eat the gruel you are endeavoring to feed him. They are smarter than you think. They recognize the disgust underneath that phony smile and besides, they can smell the pancakes on the griddle.

  • Hearing

     No sense becomes more acute to your child than your auditory sense. Remember when you could sleep through a thunderstorm? With children, you can hear their sheets rustling in the middle of a stormy night and have an irrepressible urge to go check and make sure they are still covered.

  • Sight

     A friend of yours is showing you some photographs at a party, you are half watching the ball game on television, your wife is trying to signal you something from across the room, and somewhere behind you, your two year old pushes a little girl. And you saw the whole thing: Your child went on a time-out; Jimmy G got the first down on third and seventeen; your friend bought a new boat; and it looks like your wife is acting out a movie title, two words, first word Dark! Don’t ask me how, but your children are never out of your sight (or at least they shouldn’t be! Where are they right now???).

  • Touch

    Forget silk, forget fresh cotton sheets, forget the cool feel of a marble statue, nothing rivals a baby’s skin. Nothing is as soft or as gentle as skin that has never had a mosquito bite, been sunburned, or scratched. And there is no comforter in the world that radiates the warmth of a child’s hug. It is totally without inhibition, a selfless act of love that is not judgmental or contingent upon receiving something in return. They love without expecting any compensation except your love. And isn’t that the purest form?

 

THIS BLOG IS RATED G FOR GROSS

 

It was a disposable, wrapped in a cloth, inside a diaper pail…and it still smelled like a dumpster fire! Like the ocean engulfs a submarine, your child’s digestive system submerges your life when you are a parent, and nothing can ever prepare you for it.

 

Being a parent, you learn more about the digestive process then you ever wanted to know. All the sudden those high school biology classes from old man McDougal become crystal clear. 

 

“Oh yeah, from the esophagus into the stomach, then into the small intestine, and lastly deposited into the large intestine and then out the rectum.” Some of the time the whole process can be alarmingly quick. And if they eat small things like raisins and grapes, well, you’ll see. Chewing was obviously not a priority!

 

The frightening reality is that when the children are young, your whole life revolves around the digestive process. Such as, “Did you change the baby?…When should we change the baby?…I don’t want to get on the road and then have to pull over to change the baby…I’ll change the baby then we’ll leave…Here we go…nothing to it…Hon, can you open the window I think the baby…oh my God it’s horrible, call Air Quality Control, get the gas masks from the air raid shelter, alert the neighbors…”

 

GROCERY HORROR

 

The funny thing is, no matter how prepared you think you are, you’re not. A simple trip to the grocery store becomes a critical test of our organizational skills and packing ability.

 

“Okay, I’ve got sixteen diapers, three change of clothes, graham crackers, water, juice, toys, sticker books, three videos loaded on the tablet, coloring books, my grocery list, and a miniaturized version of the Star Wars Deathstar that actually explodes into 4,286 pieces. That should about do it.”

 

Usually you are halfway out of the driveway before you realize your two children are still in the family room. Once you get to the store, the one thing you did not bring, their stuffed horse that sings “Old MacDonald” when you pull on its tail, in forty-seven different languages, including Hindu, given to them by their aunt Gertie in Des Moines whom they have never met, is all they can think about, and cry about, and whine about, and sulk about, and throw things about. “No, not the eggs!”  

 

As you are checking out the grocery clerk informs you that, while they appreciate your business, they would like to request that you not to return to the store again. Ever! Now, where was I?  Oh yes, the digestive process.

 

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!

 

 

IT’S TIME

 

You’ve read the books, painted the room, assembled the crib, graduated (with honors) from the Lamaze class, sought the advice of parents you respect and admire (both of them), felt the Braxton Hicks contractions (alright, but it sure felt like contractions), experienced the morning sickness (could have been the burritos), gained a little sympathy weight of your own, went up with the highs, down with the lows, watched your wife radiate with the joy of new life and marveled at the embryo that was developing in her womb.

 

And then it is time to bring the baby home! Now what the hell are you supposed to do? It doesn’t come with instructions, no warranty, no receipt, no “if not fully satisfied, please return” tag on their toes (define fully), nothing. Just you, your wife and A BABY! Remain calm, this is no time to panic. Actually, it is an ideal time to panic.

 

DIAPERS! DIAPERS! DIAPERS!

 

Perhaps if the hospital was nice, they threw in a pillow and some diapers as they briskly escorted you out of the maternity ward. “Can’t we stay until preschool begins?” Here is my advice about one of the first things to do. Kiss your wife on the forehead, put the baby in the bassinet (not the other way around) and go buy diapers now. A lot of diapers. Unless you have already made arrangements with a diaper service, those three disposables will only last until you have unpacked the car, then if you don’t have a large supply you are in big trouble. Define “large.” How does 70-80 per week strike you?

 

As for all the family and friends that will be parading by to see the new baby, it is time to accept you new role as Jeeves. If you don’t know, Jeeves is a fictional valet based on a series of novels by P. G. Wodehouse. There was also an Ask Jeeves site that eventually morphed into Ask.com.  Basically, your sole purpose is to answer the door, offer a beverage and point your guests towards the bathroom when they need it.

 

GET OUT OF THE WAY!

 

These well-meaning people are invading your home to see the new baby and the mommy. Try to be polite because some of them might come bearing a casserole. Others will bring a plant. Yeah, I don’t know why either. Besides the duties mentioned above your lines consist of “Isn’t he great, and so alert… Yes, she’s up and around already, isn’t she amazing.” You might want to practice in front of the mirror.

 

They are not, I repeat not, coming over to see you. You did not just begin your collision course with life or lose six pounds, seven ounces over the course of seventeen excruciating hours. That is what they came to see and want to hear about. For the next few days, possibly years, you are background noise. Most of them will be driving home thinking, “I didn’t even see Alex. I guess he was out.” Accept it and move on!

 

It is when no one is over visiting that panic sets in, especially with the first child. Not since kindergarten have you been this scared to see your own mother walk out the door. “Mom, why don’t you stay for a twelfth cup of coffee?” “It’s two in the morning.” “Exactly my point. You shouldn’t be driving at this hour!”

 

THERE’S NO CRYING IN DADLANDS

 

Babies can be very scary things when you’re first exposed to them and then after a while, they become downright frightening. They do not tend to follow any logical pattern or consistent behavior, like the guy in front of you driving home last night. They cry when they are tired… or wet… or poopy… or scared… or sad… or alone… or awake, and then they laugh when they are three and a half. The trick comes in deciphering one cry from another. Luckily the babies do have different crying intensities and you will know when you should walk into their room and when you should run.

 

The good news is you, your wife and the baby will come to an understanding pretty early in the relationship. The one thing to keep in mind is, don’t be afraid to assert your opinion on occasion. Maternal instinct is wonderful and all, but I am convinced paternal instinct exists and sometimes dad knows best. For additional information, please see my follow-up blog entitled Sleeping on the Couch for a Week.