When my daughter, Ella, was born in October my world shifted in one direction. What I didn't expect was the profound impact that moment would have on how I lived my life and how I made certain decisions. I was never trained to be a father, so I knew it was going to be a 'learn as you go' job. My particular job would have extra intricacies as Ella was born without her left hand (what is referred to as congenital limb difference.) But there she was in the baby warmer staring at me (or the unfocused blob that her brain told her was there) and all I could think was how fast she would grow and the things I'd need to do to make her life spectacular. And she was already returning the favor by taking my finger in her hand and proceeding to eat it.
Flash forward eight months later and I'm still learning about being a father and regularly have hiccup moments that are unavoidable and likely won't happen to every father. But what I have learned so far has made me a better father, husband and person.
Patience is a Requirement of the Job
It is cliché but it is true. Ella will cry - often for no reason. She won't automatically go to sleep the second I place her in the crib. She will use her nails like Wolverine on my face. She will feel the need to pretend to climb a rock wall with my hair. She will use her little hand to brace herself but position it so my larynx is being crushed. It would test any man's resolve. When she wakes in the middle of the night sounding like she has Freddie Krueger in her bedroom, she simply needs to be picked up and held, no matter how tired I am. As her head burrows into my shoulder, my anxiety of the alarm clock going off in two hours melts away. Her tears and groans subside as I rock her back and forth. Her breathing slows, as does mine. These are the moments where patience has helped. She needs her Daddy in that moment and will continue to need her Dad during scary or upsetting moments....even those moments that are more upsetting to Daddy than baby.
Diaper Changes Should Not Utilize the Kneeling Approach
When she was only two weeks old, we usually changed her in the baby level of the pack and play. However after many days of bending at the waist, I thought I would give my back a break and kneel in front of the crib. It was a complete failure. She decided that would be the day she would get back at me for wrapping her in that swaddle too tight a few days ago. What she produced would go down in family lore as the 'The Great Poop Incident'. It wasn't small and quick - it went through the air with a force that the world has not seen. It covered my hair, face, beard, and chest. In that moment, I learned to maintain a slight distance and remain standing. Also, I learned there is no sympathy when this happens to fathers. It's a prime opportunity for Mom to fall to the floor laughing, temporarily ignoring your pleas for a towel and some soap.
Babies Are Where Amazing Happens
With all apologies to the NBA, Ella produces more jaw-dropping events than Lebron will ever do in a fourth quarter (author admission that I am a Boston Celtics fan). I have learned that when you are called into a room, you move quickly. If not, you risk missing the small moments of amazement that jump off her face. The glint in her eyes as she sees something new for the first time. The proud look on her face when she figures out how to achieve something with just one hand. These moments will continue through her life. Mostly good things and some bad things. I'll be there for all of them.
You Should Never Lose Your Own Identity
I've been described as a 12-year-old. A little too obsessed with Star Wars. A technology fanboy. And that's just from my wife. That has never gone away since she was born. Yes, things have changed since last year. My consumerism has drastically decreased from my old habits of immediately going out to purchase the latest tech or making that spur of the moment purchase from an email. I temper my tongue to some degree (it's an ongoing process for me). But I'm still that 12-year-old, having fun with my daughter. Making her smile. Teaching her that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. It will come up when she gets on Jeopardy! I know it.
Take Care of the Mama Bear
My wife. My partner. My child's mother. She has and will do a lot of the dirty work in raising this child. She carried her for 40 weeks...or in my case, 42 weeks. She gives up everything for the health of our child. She was my designated driver for over a year. So, I take those late night wake ups instead of her. Change that overflowing diaper. Feed her so Mommy can get her own sippy cup. Bring her flowers just because. Rub her back and neck. I do these for love. And the fact that she will have the innate ability to calm my child when I just spend an hour trying all my special "tricks". She is also my savior.
Fatherhood is a moving target. Just when I have my sights in line, the target shifts. I've learned to be flexible and constantly adapt with my baby. She will grow and learn everything by seeing what I do, what I say, and how I treat others. It really is the best and most important job in the world.
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