Before my son was born, I was never really sure that I wanted to have kids.
I tended to think of fatherhood as a never-ending descent into the depths of a sleepless screaming hell filled with excrement and vomit. I imagined tiptoeing around pureed carrots and peas that managed to find their way onto the carpet along with several hundred Lego pieces that stab you in the foot in the middle of the night while you blearily tried to find your way to the nursery to feed your miracle of life for the hundredth time.
And I was right, too.
But along with that there was something else.
When you become a parent, it’s like you take out a little piece of your heart and you set it down in front of you to go off on its own. And for the rest of your life you think to yourself: Where is that piece of my heart? I wonder how it’s doing. Is it safe? Is it warm? Is it eating enough? Am I looking after it well?
Because at the beginning it is so demanding. It wants what it wants when it wants it, and it doesn’t care if you’re tired or had a bad day or just want to curl up on the couch with a good book. Like when my son insists on examining every single piece of food that he has before him, then scrutinizes it, then sniffs it, and then throws it on the floor.
Before my son was born, I was never really sure that I’d ever get a moment of free time to myself again. Fatherhood was a kind of penance where you’d always have a screaming, demanding kid constantly vying for your attention.
And I was right, too.
But there was also something else.
I found that I wanted to make him laugh. That I wanted to see the excitement in his eyes when he tasted ice cream for the first time. I wanted to see the wonder when he saw rain for the first time. To see the look of absolute and utter concentration when he took his very first steps.
I wanted to see and experience the world as he saw it, a huge enormous place of discovery and curiosity – everything needs to be touched and smelled and licked. Everything could be food, or it could be a toy, or something amazing and he wouldn’t know, like when I was reading to him and he insisted on licking every page of the book.
When you become a parent, that piece of your heart that you’ve so diligently cared for and have spent hours and hours ensuring its success, it goes away from you. And it makes mistakes, and it fails, and it gets discouraged. And upset. And frustrated. And angry. And disappointed. And just plain sad.
Because everything is new and different and now you have a miniature person that’s endlessly fascinating to you, endlessly entertaining, and endlessly difficult because they’re not you. Like when I have to force him to put his shoes and socks on before he goes running around outside in winter otherwise he’ll freeze and not even realize it.
Before my son was born, I thought fatherhood would make me feel incompetent and scared and frustrated and frightened and totally inadequate.
And I was right.
But, I didn’t expect the joy I’d feel, looking into his eyes. I didn’t expect the pride at seeing him work something out. And I didn’t expect the feeling I had when he was born that I would do anything at all to protect him.
Before my son was born, I didn’t really want a child in my life.
I was wrong.