An Open Letter to New Fathers

Dear New Father,

I am home from work today with my eight-year-old son who is currently in his thirteenth hour of vomit.  A little while ago, as I was helping him wipe his ass, yellow rubber gloves up to my elbows, I got to thinking, and wanted to share a few things I have picked up over the course of his young life. If you are expecting a child of your own, good luck buddy. Wave goodbye, my friend. Life as you have known it is over. Welcome to the world's strangest club.

Just over two months after closing on a new house, my first son was born.  Buying a house was nothing.  Fatherhood.  Now that is panic.  That really exposed me, like a doomsday prepper caught without his surgical mask and duct tape.  Just look at my face in that picture.  That was about ten minutes into his new life; the nurses were still taking care of everything.  But look, and you can see the fear, the bewilderment, the disbelief...that and the grin on my father's face.  "This is going to be hilarious," that is what he is thinking.

In a day, I would be taking that little pink-faced thing home with me.  I had fish as pets when I was a kid, I found myself thinking.  They all died.  Houseplants in my post-college apartment?  Dead.  I had no qualifications for this of any kind, no training, and no idea what I was getting myself into.  
So, here is the part they never tell new dads.  Ready?  You have no maternal instincts.  You are a caveman.  When your baby arrives your deep-seated instincts tell you to flee, get hammered on some mead or grog or whatever, and then "go hunting" for at least eighteen months.  We were not made for this, you and I. We are men!  Pass the beernuts!  Today, however, we are being challenged, or given the opportunity, to be nearly equal partners in parenting, despite being poorly equipped for the task.  You see, for weeks, as all manner of people told me how wonderful it all was, I was consumed by the fact that I had made some life-altering mistake.  I told everyone how excited I was, how much love I felt already, but in truth, I felt basically nothing for that kid.  I wanted so desperately to escape the crying and sleeplessness that was my life, but there I was.  Know this: deep bonds are formed through traumatic experiences.  Early parenthood is traumatic.  Don't shy away from it, sleep when he sleeps, muddle through.  You will learn as you go.    

I once caught my son's poop in my hand.  I had taken his diaper off, but did not have another one out of the drawer yet.  I was getting cocky, showing too much hubris.  So there I was, right hand holding both ankles, his tiny butt hovering three inches above the pristine yellow changing pad cover.  My left hand struggled to remove a new diaper from the plastic shrink-wrapped package, when the turtle poked its head out.  I remember looking at the poop peeking out, and thinking "well, look at that."  My left hand, sensing impending tragedy, swooped up, like some misguided hero of do-goodery, and cupped that poop with all the tenderness of fatherhood.  Like Satan's softserve, it spiralled slowly round and round in the palm of my open hand.  My son stared up at me and giggled, the little bastard. He locked eyes with me and giggled.  The sound was so beautifu I almost forgot I was holding his poop in my hand.

Another time, he ate my cat's vomit.  I was approximately nine feet away in our living room, talking on the phone.  It may have been a telemarketer, I was so happy for an adult voice.  I saw him eating something, and casually strolled over to find him pulling pieces off of a half-digested log of regurgitated cat food.   Turns out, according to the pediatrician's office, kids eating cat vomit is actually not all that uncommon.  I will spare you the story of when my son threw up into my mouth: just don't throw your kid in the air after he has had a bottle, no matter how much he loves it.

My point is this You will do revolting thiings, and years later look back at them with a fond smile.  Fatherhood, in its earliest stages is a shit show.  Literally and figuratively.  For the first few months, your new offspring, the person everyone else is gooing and gaaing over is a houseplant.  He is furniture, but worse, because on top of the fact that he does not make eye contact, or sit up, or speak, or laugh, he does poop, and scream, and wail, and wake up at all hours, and steal from you, at least for a while, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Look at the pictures.  That was my brandnew cycling magazine, a connection to my past I would hide in the bathroom and read - he knew and so he destroyed.  Look at the bottom left -- as I try to calm him, he is peeing on my shirt.  Babies are terrorists -- you never know when they will attack, but you live in fear of their unconventional and ruthless tactics.

Despite all of that, you will someday find yourself cleaning up vomit, wiping diarrhea, and thinking how lucky you are.  You will find your lost youth, playing games you have almost forgotten existed.  You will laugh, and run, and play, and see the world through the eyes of a child, finding all the magic that mortgages and work have tried to wipe away.  You will amaze yourself with your ability to help and comfort your kids, just as they will amaze you with their resilience.  So, welcome.  This is going to be hilarious.

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