Fatherhood is braving the murky depths.
I’ve been on this lake dozens of times. I’ve swam in it, jet skied over it, kneeboarded across it, and accidently swallowed what must be gallons of it. Never once did it occur to me that I was playing in the belly of a beast, 10,000 acres of drowning potential. Sure, I'm exaggerating–a little bit. But when you slip a couple of six-month-olds into a body of water where you can neither feel nor see the bottom, you’re instantly on high alert.
1.) Aspirate lake water.
2.) Suffocated by floatie.
3.) Inhale outboard motor fumes.
4.) Sustain head trauma from choppy water.
5.) Airway constricted by tight life vest.
Keeping my head above water is a secondary concern. And despite wearing a life vest myself, I’m surprised by how much more effort it takes to stay afloat while making sure my babies don’t suck lake. To make matters worse, I’m pretty sure that’s all they want to do. It’s as if this massive puddle of mud, dead animals, and pee is nectar on their virgin tongues. (And yet they hate green beans, but that’s another story.)
6.) Sun poisoning.
8.) Choke on lake debris.
9.) Ingest microbes.
10.) Strangled by fishing line.
I begin thinking of all the ways this day could go sour.
11.) Bitten by snapping turtle.
12.) Bitten by water snake.
13.) Capsize with pontoon.
14.) Sucked into propeller blades.
15.) Mauled by an errant jetski.
All this morbid prognostication is exhausting, but it keeps me sharp. To know thine enemy is the first step in making sure your baby doesn’t get:
16.) Eaten by rabid fish.
17.) Thrashed against bluffs.
18.) Struck by lightning.
19.) Snatched by bird of prey.
20.) Smote by Poseidon.
It’s not long before I find myself back on the pontoon deck. Greyson has surrendered to the gentle rock of the lake, towels strategically hung around him to block the afternoon sun. Charlotte intermittently chews on and talks to her diaper bag; it’s a relationship she’s kindled with everything from toys to people.
“It’s a lot different being on the lake with children,” Ashley says wistfully. It’s true. Suddenly, the lake is laced with dozens of hazards previously unseen. My children, the victims. But we’ll be back soon, and as frequently as possible, because there’s really only one danger that concerns me:
21.) Smothered by overprotective parents.
Fatherhood is…wait, holy shit. I have the top story on Huffington Post Parents.
Hot damn. I’ve done it. I’ve officially aspired to the highest heights of the blogging world…I’m a Huffington Post Blogger.
Me, Alec Baldwin, and Wyclef Jean: Brothers in Bloggerhood 4eva!
I’m gonna have a drink over lunch, and toast to all of you–the fine folks who read me before the Huffington Post started linking the shit out of my content. Cheers!
(Here’s a link to the actual post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-brown/stay-at-home-dads_b_1453744.html?ref=parents.)
On Mother’s Day, my good friend Greg became a father. In honor of this auspicious occasion–and because I’m really good at unsolicited advice–I’ve decided to dispense five morsels of parenting wisdom to him (and all the other freshman dads out there). I hope you’re ready, Greg, ‘cause I’m about to make you the best dad in the universe…except for Danny Tanner. He’s got us all beat pretty hard.
1.) Babies love music and they’re not very discerning when it comes to quality. Take this opportunity to lull your newborn to sleep with a heartfelt rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”…on trombone. Don’t be surprised if, much like a Michael Jackson fan, your baby begins to weep hysterically as you execute some righteous glissandos. You really are that good.
2.) Babies are thrill seekers. Your wee one just spent nine months cooped up in a hot, squishy sack; it’s time for her to experience the world. And there’s no better way to do that than to strap her to the top of your car and cruise the block. The wind in her face will inspire her to take flight in all her endeavors (or something like that). A note of caution here. Your baby’s eyesight is a little murky for the first few weeks. Be sure to yell “duck!” as you pass under low hanging branches.
3.) Women were born to be mothers, don’t deprive your baby’s mama of any opportunity to embrace her domestic goddess. Let her return to cooking all the meals and cleaning all the rooms as soon as possible. You may feel the urge to help, but resist this temptation. It will diminish her role as the household nurturer. And if there’s one thing you NEVER want to do, it’s insinuate a new mom is incapable of performing her basic motherly duties.
4.) Late nights are inevitable. With all the baby stuff you have to do now, playing video games during the day will be nigh impossible. Luckily, gamers are creatures of the night, so that’s awesome. And more good news: research indicates that babies learn an absolute shit ton during their first few months on planet Earth. So if you hear baby crying from her nursery, she’s probably asking you to turn up the volume so she can better understand the nuances of modern warfare. Oblige away, Professor.
5.) Believe you’re the best. I’m going to get real with you for a second, the first six weeks are the hardest. You’re going to experience a range of emotions and tap into wells of exhaustion so deep you’ll beg for naps. Don’t give in. New parents establish their superiority over one another by rhapsodizing over restless nights. When it’s your turn at the one-up roundtable, you’ll be ready to trounce all the sleep deprivation stories with a true insomniac’s tale of woe.
best only piece of advice I should give you–hold tight to your sense of humor. Being a dad is an awesome experience–and Greg, I know you’re going to be one of the best–but it will be trying at times. When the shit hits the fan, turn it off and move it away from the changing table. Clean up, give cuddles, save the story for a toast on her wedding day.
All the best to you, your wife, and your newest addition.
Fatherhood is being blown away by the little things.
This is an Excitement Feedback Loop (EFL). Here’s how it works. I cover my eyes, reveal them, and blow a puff of air in Charlotte’s face. She responds with a gleeful note of excitement, which, in turn, encourages me to do it again. The process is repeated until one or both of us pass out.
EFL’s are not exclusive to this type of interaction, though. For Charlotte and me, an EFL may be the result of any number of games like Upside-down Baby, Thigh Raspberries, or–my personal favorite–X-treme PeekaBOOM! (more on that later).
It should go without saying that any EFL should be entered into with considerable caution. Side effects include pronounced and debilitating lethargy post-loop; excessive salivation (mostly the baby’s); and the invitation for strangers to stare at you. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychaiatry recommend that you not engage in any intensive EFL at Wal-Mart. (Or, what the hell, do! You’re definitely not going to be the weirdest person there.)
Unfortunately, EFL’s–like the one demonstrated in the video above–are only effective within a limited window. And the stakes will increase accordingly as the child develops a tolerance for this type of shtick. Don’t be surprised if instead of a puff of air in the face, it will take a trip to Disney World to elicit a similar response when she’s 7.
It’s why I play this little game with Charlotte (and Greyson) several times a day. The EFL of a six-month-old doesn’t cost a thing. It’s completely priceless.
(See you at Disney World in 2019.)
On Easter Sunday, my five-month-old twins were baptized in the Catholic Church. This is a big deal for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact I basically consecrated them to a god I’m not even sure exists. And yet, despite my skepticism, I have no regrets.
I haven’t always been incredulous of Christianity, mind you. Quite the opposite. As an adolescent, I was a Bible thumper. I never would have called myself that at the time; naturally, I considered it a pejorative. And while in retrospect I still do, I understand how painfully accurate a description it was. I was a hand waving, prostrate praying, praise and worship junkie. I had been called into the ministry, served as the leader for our Youth Drama Team, and was well known among a church membership numbering over 2,000.
My memories of those days dwell in a menagerie of affection and chagrin. I imagine that’s true for a lot of folks who grew up in similar ecclesial communities. Charismatic churches with rock bands and weekly altar calls can be emotional playgrounds for the faithful. But when one falls off the monkey bars, it’s a long way down.
Doubt is a curious thing, isn’t it? It can be beaten back, but it can never be fully stamped out. Some Christians will tell you a modicum of doubt is a healthy part of faith. And I’d agree. A faith untested is a weak faith indeed, but doubt is also like a cancer. I hate to use that analogy because it unfairly maligns doubt as something destructive. Perhaps it is; it certainly felt that way for me as a senior in high school when I began doubting certain doctrines of my church–mostly the
miraculous magical bits. I endeavored to reason these doubts away. But fighting doubt with reason, I found, is like putting out a fire with matches.
It wasn’t long before I left for college. And the more I learned there, the less I felt like I knew God. Within a couple of years, he had gone from being an omniscient father with whom I had daily conversations, to a vestige of man’s early understanding of the universe.
I remember sitting in an anthropology class one morning as a junior. The professor, an eclectic woman by any measure and a perennial favorite among the student body, was discussing the role of folklore and mythology in shaping world religions. In the middle of her lecture, she paused, disconnected from the material, and quietly observed: “I don’t know how anyone could be a student of anthropology and still have uncompromising faith in their own religion.” It wasn’t meant to disparage the churchgoing students in the room; I don’t even think it was meant for anyone other than her. But it meant a lot to me, and it still does.
I wish I had the faith I did at 16, but my head won’t get out of my heart’s way. I suspect that’s probably for the best. So why then submit my children to a belief system that I find mostly unbelievable? The answer is simple, a modicum of faith is a healthy part of doubt.
Just as I could never be a fundamentalist Christian, I could never occupy the opposite end of that spectrum either; I find atheism and Christian fundamentalism equally arrogant. While one ideology professes to know the true nature of God, the other professes to know that God has no nature at all. Both require an astounding leap of faith to traverse the gap between what is actually known and what isn’t. As I see it, the best thinkers are the ones who never stop questioning–who can’t stop, because of a niggling notion that there’s always something more to be known.
I hope my children recognize faith and doubt each as positive expressions of the human condition, and that neither are mutually exclusive. In order to do that, I have to allow them the opportunity to explore teachings with which I may not wholly agree. One day, Greyson and Charlotte will be old enough to form their own beliefs, but until then, it’s my job to read them the menu. It’s why Ashley and I deliberately chose four godparents who represent differing religious perspectives; only one is a practicing Catholic.
Eventually, our spiritual horizons may broaden. Maybe we’ll visit mosques, synagogues, and temples. But that’s some years down the road. There’s a fine line between raising critical thinkers and confusing young children. I want them to experience the faith of a child, to understand how powerful it can be. But I want them to learn discernment as they grow into young adults.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in his letter to the church at Corinth. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." The Corinthian Christians didn’t accept the resurrection story nor did they believe in the symbolic sacrifice of the crucifixion. In context, Paul’s counsel was meant to encourage them to grow stronger in their faith…to be less childlike in their pursuit of Christ. However, out of context, the irony is exquisite (and equally valid).
If my children grow up to be keepers of a faith, I hope it’s a faith mitigated by doubt. If my children grow up to be disciples of doubt, I hope it’s a doubt tempered by faith. But my greatest hope is that whatever their beliefs, they aren’t handed down by someone else–including me.
It’s 1:01 a.m. when my iPhone lights up the bedroom to let me know some asshole wants to text in the middle of the night. It turns out the asshole is our nanny’s husband. He’s texting to let me know Joan has succumbed to an inimical stomach bug and won’t be able to watch the babies that day.
Like many stomach bugs, this one’s getting around pretty quickly, kind of like the viral equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain. Two hours after I get the text, I’m doubled over the toilet alternating between bouts of diarrhea and vomit. I can’t shake it. It’s the least awesome I’ve felt in years, like there’s a wet towel lodged in my gut and I’m wringing it out with every heave.
I check in with Ashley. She’s not feeling particularly well either, but as the only one of us who hasn’t knelt before the porcelain thrown, she’s our last and only hope to care for the babies. She’s also our most expensive. Due to America’s egregious maternity leave standards, Ashley had to use all of her vacation days, all of her sick days, and then borrow from the sick bank to stay with our babies during their first three months. So now, for a substitute teacher to cover her classes for a day, Ashley will have $200 docked from her paycheck.
For that amount, I figure I can suck it up and play Super Dad for a few hours. But when I go to fix the 6:00 a.m. bottles, I end up nursing a Diet Sprite on the kitchen floor instead. As much as I hate to have her do it, Ashley makes the call and requests a sub. I waddle (defeated) back to bed.
When you have twin babies, $200 means a lot. It’s over 1,000 diapers; 2,000 ounces of formula; or 11,000 wipes. It’s also one day home with two babies and a sick husband. I’d say the potential for buyer’s remorse is pretty high, but we won’t know for sure until the end of the month.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 5: Satisfaction.
It’s the giggle you thought you’d never get.
The grunts and gurgles and rattles and bells they ring on the floor.
The dance you lead as she glances excitedly around the room; the smile he flashes when he flies like an airplane.
The sucking sound, the burping sound…and the smelly sound too.
The whine that follows the panicked cry, and the bottom lip you get to kiss.
The work you miss but still get done, the presentation you give over Skype to 80 attendants while entertaining the audience of 2 in your living room.
The nap you accidentally take when they don’t wake up from theirs.
The persistence of that itsy bitsy spider.
The brief moment you spend outside, protecting bald spots from the sun with your shadow.
It’s every thank you for every “Twins? How precious!”
It’s every sure enough for every “Looks like you got your hands full.”
It’s the heavy eyes shutting on the bedtime bottle and the endearing weight on your shoulder as they give up the fight.
It’s the hardest job you’ve ever had, the only one you wish you did. It’s the most accomplished you’ve felt in months.
I’d call up Mick and let him know, but I think I lost his number.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 4: Endurance.
When you’re a stay-at-home parent, some days are good, and some days are bad. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you find yourself when the sun goes down, every day is exhausting. More often than not you’ll find yourself living for bedtime. But the sun, as they say, is gonna come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that when you see that toothless smile in the morning, you’ll forget how hard the rest of your day is going to be.
Don’t worry. You’ll remember.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 3: Hubris
There’s this intriguing rumor that when women lay eyes on a man with children, they go weak in the knees. Apparently visions of doting dads stimulate the ovaries. The brutal irony, of course, is that the man is already off the market and
unwilling unable to seal the deal with this resplendent bounty of T&A. So he stands idly by, ogling the women drawn to his stroller, and wonders why it wasn’t this easy in college.
Turns out, when you’re 26 years old and sluggishly heaving two babies through the mall, the only women who seem to notice are the ones old enough to be your mother. They don’t want you; they want grandbabies. Anybody’s grandbabies. You’re merely a means to an end.
You’d try and avoid them of course, but you just ate a foot-long Seafood Sensation from Subway and washed it down with a large Diet Coke. You’re bloated, hot, tired, and–unsurprisingly–a wee bit nauseous. It’s only now that you begin to second guess your plan to go shopping for new pants…with two four-month-olds…by yourself.
* * * *
I had my eye on a pair of Docker’s Alpha Khakis for about three weeks. They’re a pretty slim fit, which means they can’t be found in my rural hometown where any pair of pants that doesn’t billow in the wind is considered highfalutin or (let’s be honest) “totally gay." So, since I passed my first day of stay-at-home parenting with enough flying colors to turn a rainbow green with envy, I decided to take the show on the road–45 minutes into the big city.
I knew the pants would be there. All I had to do was pack the babies, drive them into town, put them in strollers, wheel them through stores, pick out some sizes, try them on, buy them, get back in the car, and go home with new pants and two babies who would now appreciate the aesthetic of well fitting khakis. Oh, hindsight, your crystal clarity is such a bitch.
I decided to try Kohl’s first, which was just this side of the city. It would be less crowded and could save me a longer trip. Or–as it turned out–it would be an opportunity to push two strollers around the store’s perimeter a dozen times or better. The babies were having none of my shopping day and the only way to maintain the peace was to keep moving. Onlookers’ expressions ranged from sympathetic to annoyed; which is to say at first they were sympathetic, but after dodging the doublewide strollers for the fifth time, they were annoyed. We must have completed a mile long circuit before I finally grabbed some pants and ducked to a fitting room. I hadn’t found the Alpha Khakis, but I did stumble across some jeans. Why not try on something–anything–since I had been there half an hour already? I slipped into some Levi’s 511’s just in time for Charlotte to completely lose her shit.
I scooped her up just as Greyson lent his voice to the disgruntled chorus now resonating through the fitting rooms and into the men’s department. We must have been in that tiny modular room, watching ourselves in the mirror, for ten minutes–just bouncing. I tried to explain to them the importance of trying on clothes before purchasing, that they were getting a very early and privileged lesson in fashion acquisition. But we all knew I was peddling crap. The babies, by this point, were hungry and ready to leave. I peeled the skinny jeans off my legs and put my own pants back on, which now felt baggy and loose by comparison. I may have lost the battle, but I hadn’t lost the war. It was off to the mall.
A man with common sense would have known to retreat. The challenges were too great, but I was too persistent a shopper and too stubborn a father to turn back now. I’m not one to let babies dictate my decisions, even if they are driven by selfish, consumerist desires. A line had been drawn in the sand. Those who could shop for pants with two babies would cross it. Those who could not, would not. And I was mid-stride.
* * * *
I decided to forgo the strollers when we got to the mall. They worked well when we were moving, but you can’t shop and keep two strollers rolling in perpetuity. Try putting on a pair of pants while wheeling two strollers back and forth in a fitting room. Or better yet, don’t. I’ll save you the trouble: it’s impossible. So instead, I put Charlotte in a Moby and left Greyson in his carrier.
That came to 14 pounds of baby strapped to my chest and another 20 or so dangling from my arm. If strollers weren’t a sustainable shopping strategy, I should have realized what a catastrophe this was going to be. I’m a thin guy (hence looking for slim fit khakis); my muscles fatigue quickly because, well, I don’t really have any. How I thought I’d be able to carry all this through the mall–with a diaper bag in tow–is beyond me. But nevertheless, I went in strapped, loaded, and encumbered by more crap than I should have considered hauling in the first place–babies included.
We ate first. Between the two babies, Greyson was making a bigger fuss. And since I typically award the first feeding to the most grating noisemaker, Charlotte had to wait her turn. We then headed to the food court. I stood by a table making faces at Greyson between bites of a foot-long Seafood Sensation, while Charlotte remained strapped to my chest. Together we bounced and swayed in a gentle dance of pacification as I tried not to drop any crumbs on her head. Lots of neck straining and 12 inches of fake crab and mayonnaise later, we recommenced our expedition.
I intended to hit just four stores–the big ones. Macy’s, J.C. Penny, Sears, and Dillard’s. As with most mall layouts, the big department stores are separated by vast oceans of smaller shops. Everything from the whirring gizmos of Brookstone to the fetid scent of Abercrombie and Fitch stand between shoppers and the key players. I’d have have to walk the whole mall if I wanted to see them all. But even the greatest journeys begin with a single step, so I made my first in Macy’s direction.
It was a no-go. They had Dockers, but the Alpha Khakis weren’t coming until later in the spring. So we headed to J.C. Penny. Perhaps "headed” isn’t the right word. We slogged to J.C. Penny. About every 15 seconds I would switch Greyson to my other arm while trying to maintain an easy rock. He was tired, but couldn’t quite nod off. His carrier clipped my thigh with every other step I took.
But we did make it to J.C. Penny. We made it just long enough for me to step in and feel the oppressing heat of a busted air conditioner. I was already beginning to glisten and knew this was no place for a man with a tummy full of mayonnaise, two armfuls of babies, and the intention of trying on pants. We left as quickly as we arrived and went on toward Sears.
By now the futility of my endeavor was coming into focus. Greyson was whining, my arms were aching, and Charlotte had fallen asleep with a steady stream of drool cascading from her parted lips. As soon as I crossed the threshold into Sears, my son was finished. He let out a fatigued cry that let me know he had reached his limit. And the truth was, I had reached mine as well.
I sat his carrier on the floor, looked him in his teary eyes and came clean. “This was too much,” I said. “It’s time to go. I’m sorry.”
I rose up, grabbed the carrier by the handle and started the long march back to the car. I caught a few glimpses of the people walking passed and realized what a sight we must have been. I wasn’t the hero dad I had fancied myself, I was just a worn out guy who bit off a little more than he could chew. Maybe this was why the older women were drawn to us. Maybe their maternal instincts kicked in before I knew I needed them.
* * * *
That evening, I relayed to my wife what a terrible shopping trip I’d had. That after five hours of “shopping,” I had tried on one pair of jeans and never even caught a glimpse the pants I intended to find. But I hadn’t wasted the day. Really, this wasn’t so much about pants as it was finding my limits. I wanted to know if I could take two babies out on my own. The endeavor was equal parts determination and nerve, or–if you put the two together–stubbornness. I had succeeded in so much as daring to try in the first place, and not being afraid to fail.
I would have liked to buy some pants that day; I never intended to walk away without them. But as my grandmother would tell me, I was a bit “too big for my britches" if I thought I could do it with two babies in hand. I guess finally get that expression.
(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 2: Enthusiasm.
Here’s a fun fact: the ancient definition for ‘enthusiasm’ describes inspiration or possession by a god. An enthusiast, then, is in communion with a higher power–a force greater than himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, the force was strong with me that first Monday of stay-at-home fatherhood.
By the time Ashley came home from work, I had done three loads of laundry, written a blog post, gone to Wal-Mart, had dinner on the stove and a glass of wine on the table. I was parenting with the force of a thousand Danny Tanners.
When push comes to shove, dads get excited. I think it’s the challenge. We have this innate do or die mentality that drives us to succeed on the court, behind a desk, or in the nursery. Does it get harried at times? Yeah, when you’re watching two babies for ten hours you have to anticipate the inevitable. There were tears, poop, and spit-up…and then the babies had problems of their own. But we dealt with them. And we is the operative word here.
For the first time “we” meant just Greyson, Charlotte, and Daddy. Instead of pitting myself against two temperamental infants, we banded together. Team Dad. Babies aren’t challenging; it’s all the shit you have to do for them that makes fatherhood onerous. And once I realized that, being a stay-at-home dad became a cooperative endeavor. Wet diapers: we changed 'em. Hungry tummies: we fed 'em. ABC’s: we sung 'em (slightly out of key).
No doubt about it, I was a really good dad that day. And the proof was in the kiss my wife gave me when she walked through the door. “I wish you were the nanny all the time,” she said.