I guess I technically became a dad as soon as my daughter was born. I even remember the first time someone called me “dad”. It was a nurse.
Olivia had literally just been born and the hospital workers placed her on a table. As they did, I rushed over and began taking pictures of her little face fresh into the world. She was posed like she knew what a camera was complete with a tiny bent fist below her chin a thinking position. In hindsight, it may not have been the best time for pictures because the nurse said:
Dad, this isn’t the best time for pictures.
There it was. I was Dad and already I was kinda messing up. This baby, all nothing pounds of her, was my kid. I’m the father. I fathered her.
For the father of an infant, being a dad is mostly about responsibility and being called “dad” in weird voices by other adults. Neighbors, relatives, and friends all give you that silly expression and say things like, “Hi, Daddy. Is this little bundle keeping you up at night? Huh, Daddy? You sleepies?” It’s weird. I did not enjoy that phase.
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The other one calling you a dad is, well, you. You hold that tiny human in your hands and say things like, “Daddy loves you” or buy bibs that say “Daddy’s In Charge.” All the fatherly branding is self-serving and your baby, still struggling with hand movements, doesn’t know you as anything other than the giant face that makes silly noises in order to make it laugh…or cry. Usually, it makes them cry.
As your kid gets older, though, you start to earn you dad wings. You might get a da-da followed by a “daddy” from little person who sounds like someone doing an impression of a toddler. It’s adorable. You’re dahhhh-ddy. This is what fatherhood is. This is it.
Except, that’s not it. Soon, your kid is growing up and you’re still dad. Only now, that’s evolving to include the classic ideas behind dadness. It’s the ability to do anything, know anything, and solve everything.
I can’t begin to explain how many times I have frozen over math homework that is nothing like any math I ever learned. New math, old math, confusing math – all the same. Olivia will come to me with her textbook and ask me about grouping and other concepts that they must have just discovered yesterday because I don’t remember it at all. I repeat things about “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” and ask if she knows about square roots. None of it has anything to do with anything. It is me who has become the one with a bent fist below my chin thinking. Only she’s not snapping pictures, she’s asking me for help with number four.
So I make stuff up. I Google it. I guess at it. Then I close with my big finish.
Your teacher is going to go over this with the class? This isn’t for a grade, right? No? Yeah. I think it’s 140. That’s the answer. Or maybe -3. See what she says? What? Well, see what he says. Whatever the math teacher says is probably right.
The truth is, I don’t have all the answers. Even now as I move through life, I make decisions that I know in my heart are best for her and her brother, but I can’t guarantee that. Who knows? We all screw up, right? There will be times when I surely do too.
Olivia doesn’t know how much that scares me. It’s one of the only things that does. The fear is because I know it is inevitable. I’m not perfect and I readily accept that. So, it only makes sense that there is, has, or will be something I do that eventually causes waves.
You hear people say that kids don’t come with a handbook and it sounds like an old-fashioned piece of humor. In reality, it’s a plea to the Heavens. How much easier would all of this be if we had handbooks? Concrete proof of what’s right and what’s wrong would come in handy every now and then. The older I get, the more now, rather than then.
I hope my kids know I try every day. I don’t want them to think I’m flawless because heroes, from atop their high horses of unachievable nobility, will always let you down. I don’t want them to think I’m a failure because, well, why would I want that? I just want them to know the truth.
I want my kids to know that, at times, I suffered so they didn’t have to. I missed moments of my own so they could have moments of theirs. I held on to things longer than I should have and let go of things quicker than I wanted to all for their benefit. When they fell, I fell with them. When they soared, I was cheering from below. That’s what I want them to know. That’s all they need to know. My only goal in life is to know that they do.
Being Dad is the greatest, scariest, happiest, lifetime of dread I could have ever signed up for. I love my kids and, like the song says, if you love someone and you’re not afraid to lose ‘em, you probably never loved someone like I do.
I’m sure there are many out there who feel the same way about their own children. I feel your worry because I worry too, but honestly, if you try to be the best you can be – I mean really try – then that’s truly the best you can do.