I learned in my first year of fatherhood that everyone is winging it, & that’s okay
It starts out weird and surreal. Also Star Wars is better than Star Trek.
Before I begin, know that this story is not an attempt to encourage you to be a father. Think of it more as reference material before deciding on your own journey.
As far as becoming a father goes for me, it was both pre-planned and a surprise at the same time.
The night sh*t got real — four weeks early
My wife and I knew we wanted children. We had it all planned out. We took our holidays, thoroughly enjoyed our two-person family unit for three years, and charted a timeline for having kids.
Out the window our plans flew when my wife’s water bag broke four weeks earlier than it was supposed to.
But fret not, this isn’t about how I overcame the tribulations of having a premature baby.
Jolting awake from my wife’s alarmed voice at 2am, I groggily asked what the matter was. My confusion was met with her irritation as she repeated that her water bag was broken.
I sprung out of bed without actually using my arms to prop myself up. My head somehow magically yanked my entire body up. I promptly pulled a right shoulder with that Exorcist-inspired manoeuvre out of bed.
Not a great start.
10 hours later, I find myself having trouble lifting my right arm any higher than my shoulder as I attempt to assist my wife to lean forward as she pushes the baby out (and at this juncture, I should add that some describe childbirth as taking the biggest dump of your life. I can’t confirm).
She holds her breath with each push. I do the same. She stares daggers at me for being distracting. I don’t know how else to aspirate.
And then he arrives.
You see, when the baby’s in the womb, you have this hazy picture of what your son might look like. For eight months, you picture yourself with a baby in your arms like in those stock images. Being a father was up to this point was just an idea, my son just a concept in my mind.
Not any more.
I stare at this pink wrinkly squealing thing. It is weird and surreal. I’m now a father.
Liquid poop, meet hand
During my paternity leave, we decided to take care of him sans help from anyone — no helper, no confinement nanny, no grandparents.
Someone reading this is probably thinking “Ha! You fool.” Me today responds, “Yep.”
It was the most tiring two weeks of my life. NS was way easier.
Highlights of the longest 14 days of my life in no particular order:
1) I learnt to do many things with one hand.
2) The sound of a baby burping after a 3am feed is the best kind of sound (You’ll understand once you become a father).
3) Your baby peeing and pooping right when you’re changing their diaper is just a fact of life. I’ve had warm liquid poop jettisoned on my hand. It was an intense moment, and wet digested breast milk was, I have to say, not the kind of family warmth I signed up to experience.
4) I also learned that there’s a reason for the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”. Family support is crucial. If I could do things over, I would definitely have gotten a place closer to my in-laws.
5) Oh, and you know the cliched anecdotes of parents crying when their baby wails after being vaccinated for the first time? Yes, I cried too. His cry at that moment was different from his other cries. And while you’re at it, get ready to become the victim of many cliched anecdotes.
6) Yes, you will learn to differentiate different kinds of baby cries. It will join your newfound range of mutant powers; embrace it.
Luckily, following the lessons I learnt from my exhausting paternity leave, my father-in-law graciously stepped in to provide care for my son.
Existential questions of a brand-new dad
I had no idea what kind of father I would be. Every day was a series of decisions and judgement calls that determined how I will parent this cute little monster.
Do I let him cry it out or is he communicating a discomfort I have not resolved?
Do I let him fall down to learn from his mistakes or am I a constant mobile safety net for him?
Do I insist on my own parenting philosophies or take advice from his grandparents?
Should I indulge him?
Are pants necessary when he already wears diapers?
Is Star Trek better than Star Wars?
There is no perfect way to raise a kid
It has been a meandering experience of 50-50 calls, and I think for many would-be fathers, the only advice I can offer is to not think of being a father as an easy or hard thing, or that method A is always superior to method B.
There’s no instruction manual. There’s no perfect way to raise a kid. If there was one, humanity would not have reached the seven billion population mark. People have been winging it for thousands of years.
It’s a journey of discovery — discovering how you are as a father and also discovering the developing personality of your child.
Your answers to “what makes a good father?” will differ from mine, and we can still be awesome dads to our kids.
The journey will be filled with multiple moments of wonder. Like when your child correctly identifies what a clock is and points at it for the first time or when your wife asks “where’s Daddy?” and he points at you confidently with a heart-melting smile.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Top photo courtesy of Jonathan Lim