JG Note: The debut episode of my new podcast “Hi Pod! I’m Dad” is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and tons of other streaming services. Go to HiPodImDad.com to hear it now and please subscribe for more. Thanks!
There’s a misconception about dads like us. People assume we are born this way. Our Dadness starts on day one.
We pop out, the doctor slaps us on the butt, and declares “It’s a Dad!” There’s a pencil tucked behind our baby ears and a five o’clock shadow growing in immediately. Before we leave the hospital, they give us a coffee tin filled with different sized Allen Keys, an oversized wallet, and a half-empty coffee mug. As we depart, the nurse says, “See you soon.”
And we say, “Not if I see you first.”
And everyone laughs.
Suburban Dads aren’t born that way, though. We’re not made in factories or created by Stan Lee. In fact, until the moment we become dads, we’re the same boys that we find ourselves chasing after to “straighten out” or “stay away from our daughters.” We’re the wild children of a generation that perpetually seems like the young generation…until another dad, Father Time, starts to dictate otherwise.
I was. I lived my youth almost the complete opposite of the way that I preach to my daughter I talked to strangers, barely slept, and skipped more school than anyone was even aware of. I once tormented my typing teacher so much that he said, “For a regular size guy, you have a pretty big mouth.” I asked him if he wanted to fight me. Seriously. In the end, he passed me because, in his own words, “I don’t want to leave you back because they’ll make me teach you again next year.”
You know what he did to cause this act of disrespectful aggravation? Nothing. Zero. He was just there and I wasn’t a big fan of his face. When I was 17, that’s all it took sometimes.
Today, I don’t challenge people to fight me anymore or at least not usually. Even the big things have to slide nowadays. A rival basketball team coach ranting and raving during a game can annoy me from afar, but I have to just watch and make sure he doesn’t bother my kid. A voice inside me says, “Just wait. One word to Olivia and you can run over and shoulder block him like Road Warrior Animal.” That never happens though. I can’t tell if it makes me feel relieved or disappointed.
When did this change happen? I don’t know. It just did. You can hear the shrill voice repeating that tired mantra in your head – “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans!” I always hated that phrase. As I’ve grown, I’ve seen how true it really is. And now I hate it even more.
I can still pinpoint the moment that I came to terms with my domestication. I was seated at a patio table during a fourth of July barbecue. Clad in a polo shirt with the collar popped up (a short lived fashion quirk that I have long since abandoned) and khaki cargo shorts, I stared straight ahead through slightly tinted sunglasses. My sandal’d right foot was crossed over my leg as I held baby Olivia and balanced a bottle in her mouth. “Who Let The Dogs Out” had just started playing through the speakers as I looked up. That’s when it happened.
I saw a reflection of myself in the sliding patio doors.
I stared at that guy for a minute. He looked like a caricature and was just as frozen as I was. Numb. Exhausted. Dad. Me.
It was like a scene in an independent movie where they suddenly shoot to a character, decked out in a ridiculous attire with an even more ridiculously disinterested look on his face as ironic music blares around him. I was Bill Murray in that moment. Only this wasn’t art. This was my life. Imitation aside, it was all real.
Maybe the thought that I had transformed into the same guy I would have mocked years earlier was a bit depressing at first, but I’ve had many years to get used to it. Before long, I went from the kid who wanted to brawl with my typing teacher to the dad who tells people about his gardening conquests complete with pictures.
What gardening conquests? Well, when I moved into the new house, there were a line of bushes in our backyard along with ivy entwined around the tree. I started to yank out the ivy only to realize that the bushes weren’t bushes. They were big balls of ivy all wrapped around fallen branches and things. In fact, one “bush” was even a giant balled up piece of chain linked fence with ivy wrapped around it. So, I pulled all that out and planted different flowers, bought solar LED lights like a Disney parade, a bench, and a wishing well. I did my own makeshift edging too with different sized rocks. Dug the trenches and all that. Here, I’ll show you.
That fence still needs replacing and I still plan on buying some more…oh wait.
I’m doing it again.
I don’t know. It’s just me now, I guess. This slow burn to dadhood started years ago and it lead me here. It’s not even depressing anymore. In fact, if we’re being honest, I kind of like it.
Don’t mistake self-deprecating humor or shocked realizations to who I’ve become for unhappiness. I love being a dad and I love being the stereotypical dad. It’s actually pretty fun. That doesn’t lessen the shock that surges sometimes over the fact that it happened, though. It did. It still blows me away every now and then to look down and see my daughter staring back, asking me to make her breakfast. So, I point my finger at her face.
Poof. You’re breakfast.
Her eyes roll and, once again, all is right in the world.