09/23/2014 04:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What 50 Fathers Told Me About Parenthood

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Have you ever felt plagued by indecision surrounding whether or not you want to have children? I sure have.

From the ages of 10-19, I was absolutely certain that I wanted kids. Of course I wanted them! What else was life for if not falling deeply in love with someone, and raising beautiful, intelligent little humans together?

But that all changed when I hit my 20s. Whether it was the massive breakup I had just gone through, hormonal shifts in my brain, or my newfound cynicism about Western society at large, the idea of having my own children suddenly seemed like a death sentence. How could I be so selfish as to want to have my own children when the world was already so populated... or when there were already so many children waiting to be adopted into a loving home? I was steadfastly against ever being a father from the ages of 20-27, and I was even so certain about my choice that I found myself researching vasectomies.

But instead of hiding behind my fear when it came to being a dad, I recently decided to interview 50 fathers to hear what their experiences had been like.

Some answers made me laugh, many made me tear up, but all of them spoke to the underlying universal truths of being a parent.

Here is a collection of my favorite excerpts from the things they told me.

What does it feel like to be a dad?

"Everything in life pales in comparison to the feeling of having a child." -Todd

"I feel fulfilled and complete as a man. At the peak of my business career I felt accomplished and I felt like I could do anything... but nowhere near how I feel today when my 2.5-year-old girl shares with a friend at the park or kisses her brother on the head." -Rod

"During the time that my wife was pregnant I lost 40 pounds of fat, took up new hobbies, and my business has grown twice in size in people and profits. I say all this because I think that little girl of ours has inspired me to be a better man, to be healthier, to make more, to provide more, to enjoy life now and plan for the future. We went from planning the next year to planning the next 18 years and realized that there were some big goals and milestones that we wanted to achieve personally and as a family." -Gabriel

"I'm not saying it's not hard work -- because it's one of the toughest experiences I've ever had -- but I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I want to be the absolute best father I can be. So I try really hard to do what I think is right for helping him grow into a great person, rather than what may be easiest for me at the time. In my way of thinking, one of the best gifts I can give to society is to help raise a child who's mature, understanding, compassionate, and generally just someone who can give more to the world than they take." -Richard

"Every day, I'm just stoked. I have a big smile on my face right now just thinking about the smile I'll get tomorrow morning when I go in and pick my daughter up out of her crib when she wakes up. Sure, it's hard sometimes. Sometimes she cries and I don't know why. Sometimes she's so tired she wants her mom more than me. That's tough. But I'm stoked nonetheless." -Franklin

Are you scared you're messing up your kids on a regular basis?

"Absolutely. There is no manual, and there is no perfect parent. And besides, what works with one of my children doesn't necessarily work with another. Everyone messes up sometimes, parents included, but we just do the best we can. I had to trust that my love and patience (at least most of the time) would prevent me from screwing my kids up too much." -Bill

"I was never scared that I was messing up my children but that's part of my personality. I chose a wonderful wife that I knew would look after our children the correct way, so that it would largely mask whatever bad behaviors I had." -Paul

"No. Once you're in it you feel it out. Yes, there are moments where I've Googled studies and realized my course of action on sleep training needed to change, but you figure it out as you go along." -Ryan

"I think most parents screw up with their kids at some level. Nobody's perfect, so I've already accepted the fact that I will likely not meet my children's needs or expectations on some level. I don't think you can really avoid it, so I'm just very open to the fact that I'll need to apologize frequently, not be defensive, and do everything I can to make them feel my love for them." -Josh

What was it like the first time you held your child?

"When my daughter grasped my finger for the first time, my heart was owned for eternity." -Todd

"When I held each of my children for the first time, my response was the same... tears of joy running down my cheeks! I felt nothing but happy thoughts as I looked forward to seeing what the coming years of parenting were going to bring." -Paul

"It's indescribable. Words could never do it justice. It feels like all of the beauty of a night sky is being crammed into your heart all at once. It feels like a love-grenade goes off inside of your heart and blows you wide open. It feels terrifying, and beautiful, and exciting all at once. It feels like every pore on your body is beaming sunshine throughout the entire universe." -Jason

"With the first child it was terrifying. It didn't seem possible (even with nine months to "prepare") that we could suddenly be fully responsible for this little life. I thought that maybe within a week or so I would suddenly develop the confidence I would need to raise a happy, healthy and loving child, getting him safely to adulthood. Or better yet, that someone (my mom, maybe?) would impart all the knowledge and wisdom I would ever need, now that I'd joined the exclusive club of 'Parenthood.' No such luck... she said "You'll do fine; you'll figure it out as you go." -Jeff

How does it feel watching your children learn and grow?

"I absolutely loved seeing my child's face when they splashed in water for the first time, tasted ice cream, printed their name, rode a bike, or took their first bus or airplane trip! Children are always watching and learning, so it makes you more aware that you model positive (and negative) attributes, and can influence them in many ways. It's important to encourage them to try new things (don't do everything for them or they might learn that they're incapable). It's hard to let them make mistakes, but sometimes that's the best way to learn, and they'll soon become more competent and confident." -Bill

"Seeing your kid learn their left and rights... watching them find shapes and textures fascinating is almost a drug to me. I crave teaching them new things so I can see the 'A-ha!' look. You know how satisfying it is when you solve a problem that's extremely difficult? Now multiply that when you see your own DNA get something they have failed at before but kept trying." -Rod

What surprised you about being a father?

"I can honestly say that my kids are my greatest source of pride and joy. It's not always fun or easy but if you want kids in your life, it's certainly worth it. There is a bond of love that one can't possibly fathom or experience until becoming a parent and it's an amazing thing." -Noah

"When my wife delivered our daughter, I experienced the deepest sense of gratitude, love and appreciation for her imaginable. I was so proud of her and fell into a bottomless pit of love for her. It took everything to a grander scale. And we've become a better team." -Brent

"In the first 2 years of my first born, I had a very difficult time bonding. He's 9 now and things are much different. There are moments still that I 'dream' of being a single man with no kids, but those thoughts are quick and pass... and always occur when my boys are fighting and won't stop no matter how stern I am with them. In the end, it's incredible. I wouldn't trade it for the world. -Keith

"I've become a different man because of it. I'm less shallow, more kind and polite and try to practice my teachings more the more I read about parenting." -Brian

"I get to play Legos, read books with big pictures and silly words, and build puzzles every day -- so reliving my childhood has been a way to reintroduce more fun and relaxation into my life." -Ben

"I get to learn new skills and experiences through attending camps, clinics and locations with my kids -- getting exposed to adventures I never otherwise would have, like giant trampoline places, snorkeling in the river by our house, trying really weird recipes, and a bunch of other things I probably wouldn't otherwise do." -Sean

"I love my kids! My biggest regret is putting it off so long. It's so cliché, too. People always said, 'You can't really understand it until you have children.' The downsides of having kids were so easy to articulate while the upside was always some nebulous feeling that couldn't be put into words. Well, dammit, despite hating to hear that, it's freakin' true. The first time your kid randomly tells you that she loves you... wow. Watching my 1-year-old son try ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that he sees his sister, his mom, or his dad do, and knowing that he believes in his heart that he CAN do it, it's exhilarating." -Ben

My 3 Biggest Takeaways From Interviewing 50 Fathers

As much as I learned about being a parent from my interviewees' words, I learned just as much from the vocal tonality and excitement behind what they were saying.

These are the three biggest takeaways that I gathered from the fullness and breadth of the answers I received.

1. Being a father is amazing -- if you are excited for it and want that in your life.

Several of the men I interviewed teared up during our conversations while describing being a father. They couldn't fully describe the love they had for their children because it was beyond words.

But several of them also cautioned me that I had to be fairly certain that I wanted children before I even considered entering into it. In the words of one man, "It's like getting a tattoo across your face... it changes everything. You better be damned sure you want it before you commit to it."

That being said, many of them also felt jitters up until their child was actually born, with their nerves subsiding once they felt like more of a dad.

2. It is a role that is constantly shifting.

Many times during my questioning process I had fathers interrupt me to tell me that there isn't one kind of parenting or one specific moment where they thought to themselves, "This is exactly what being a dad is like." They told me that it's a role that is constantly being renegotiated and is always shifting.

Being a father to your newborn is different than being a father to your toddler. Your relationship to your 7-year-old son as you chase him around the park is different than the relationship you have to him when you hug him goodbye as he goes off to university.

None of the roles described are necessarily better than the others, they're just different. Just like everything in life, the role of being a parent is one that is constantly in a state of transition or change.

3. Words don't do it justice.

Over 80 percent of the men that I interviewed all said something along the lines of, "I can try to describe what it feels like to the best of my ability, but it really can't be put into words. It's a feeling beyond description."

So as much as I can try and reason my way into understanding the feeling of being a parent, it seems like it will remain a state of being that will be reserved for holding my own kid.

What did I learn throughout this process?

One thing is for sure... after interviewing the large number of fathers that I did, I am drastically less nervous than I previously was when it comes to the idea of raising children of my own.

The world needs intentional people... leaders, teachers, lovers, and parents. And I'm starting to think that my nervousness around "Will I be a good enough father?" is all the more reason for me to be a father in the first place.

What about you? Do you have any experience in parenthood? I would love to hear your answers to the above five questions in the comments below.

Do you have anxiety about the idea of having your own children? I would love to hear your thoughts, too.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

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