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Starting Over Again: The Beauty and Terror of Becoming a Dad a Second Time

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June 2013

The last thing you need after a long day is a cranky, screaming toddler. But that's exactly what I got.

My son Mason, then 2 ½, was upset because we wouldn't allow him to eat candy for dinner. He wailed as I walked to the fridge to retrieve a slice of pizza for his dinner (clearly, the sign of a deprived childhood). Throwing his body prostrate across the floor of the kitchen, he screamed as if we had just sentenced him to 30 years of hard labor without any cookies.

As I opened the fridge, I noticed a slight square box, roughly the size of a small loaf of bread. My heart fluttered. Could it be? I thought. Naw.

Three years earlier, Nicole had surprised me with a cake that had the words "Congratulations, Daddy" written across the top. It was her way of breaking the news that we were pregnant with our first child. The surprise sight of a pink box in our fridge was seared into my memory.

Now, I wondered if she had done the same for baby #2. But this box was white, and perhaps too small for a cake.

After months of trying in vain to have another baby, I quickly dismissed the thought that Nicole might be planning to surprise me again.

Eager as I was for that piece of wonderful news, I felt almost as if I would ruin the chance of my hunch being true if I wanted it too much.

Finally, I got Mason fed, bathed and to bed and I returned to the kitchen. Nicole was in a chipper mood, slightly more happy than she usually was when our son's own mood was so foul.

We discussed how our days had went, and then I got up the nerve to ask about the mystery box. "What's with the box in the fridge?" I asked. "Do you have a party at work?"

"Maybe," she said, a half smile on her face. I knew that look. I took out the box and opened it. "Big Brother," it said in blue lettering.

"It's for Mason this time," she said.

January 2014

There's a gnawing, uncomfortable feeling that washes over you at some point in the weeks shortly before your second child arrives. It may come when you are cleaning out the house, sorting newborn clothing or setting up the crib.

You are especially likely to feel this pang of discomfort if your first child is potty-trained and your house has been thoroughly fumigated of all the awful smells that come with poopy diapers.

The feeling arrives when you break open a package of newborn Pampers and lay them out. That's when you realize you are back where you started, ready to embark on the same journey all over again.

It happened for me as we were cleaning out our home office to convert it into a nursery. I laid out the newborn diapers and felt an odd sensation in my gut.

It's like you just walked coast to coast barefoot and blindfolded and now, in the blink of an eye, you were just transported back to your starting point. This time, you've got a pair of sneakers and a map and no more blindfold but you still need to put one foot ahead of the other and do the walking yourself.

I remembered all the long, sleepless nights. I remembered all the confusion about whether we were doing this parenting thing right, the anxiety about whether we were screwing things up in indelible ways.

I remembered the more recent struggles, such as the evenings when my son won't go to bed or misbehaves at preschool.

But then, I slowly started to recall the sweet memories. I remembered the comfort of cradling my son's delicate frame in my arms in those early weeks. I remembered the sheer joy as you reach little milestones, whether it's a first smile or the first time rolling over. And I remembered the deeper sense of love I felt for my wife which only came from creating a new little life that was half her, half me.

I began to sense again the pure, unadulterated feeling of love for your baby that washes over you, filling you up in a way no drug and no high ever has before.

A few weeks ago, I experienced my first "father's night" at my son's preschool. Being new to the school, I didn't know what to expect. I thought perhaps it would be a night of entertainment, with a children's musician or a balloon man.

Instead, we were told that the point of the father's night was to provide some one-on-one time, and to give the kids a chance to show their fathers their favorite activities in the classroom.

This was the first time I'd been to an event where the whole point was to give you space to just be and play with your child, one-on-one.

Even though my son is normally like a bull in a china shop, he even slowed down for this evening. I watched as he walked to a bookshelf holding a dragon-shaped toy, then carried it to a table and placed it down. Gesturing slightly, he indicated that this toy was his "favorite."

He showed me how it worked, and then he pushed the tray across towards me. "Now, you try it," he said. And so I did.

That's when I remembered: that's why we do this. That's why all the hard stuff is worthwhile. That's why we put up with the sleepless nights and the anxiety and the struggles.

Surveying the rough outlines of my second child's nursery spread out before me, I said to myself: OK, I'm ready. Let's do this.

John Corcoran was a Writer in the Clinton White House, and is the creator of SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he shows entrepreneurs and small business owners how to use relationships to grow their businesses. You can download his free, 52+ page guide, How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with VIPs, Even if you Hate Networking.