Photo by Matteo Bagnoli
I was driving one of the college students to the Boys and Girls Club when she said she was pregnant. Her name was Jill, and she was a senior at the university I worked at. She was engaged, had been for some time, and as I looked over at her, she looked both and excited and terrified.
Whenever someone tells me that they are pregnant, I have a difficult time knowing just how to answer. I have three kids, and with each one, people always tell me congratulations. I’d rather they say, “I’m sorry.” I love my kids, but with each one, I seem to feel a little older. I feel a little further from my youth, and I thought about that a lot as I struggled to figure out just what to say to this 20-something college student about to have what I knew to be a significant change in her life.
“I assume this was planned?” I said.
She hesitated for a moment. Then she said, “Yes,” followed by an awkward giggle, and I couldn’t tell if she was being truthful or trying to hide something.
The thing about Jill is, she’s a cool kid. She dresses the part, follows the trends, knows the music… that sort of thing. And as I looked at her, I thought about myself in my 20s. I thought about how cool I was, and how I made it a point to try and stay cool even as a parent. For the first couple of years it was like I had one foot in my youth, and one in parenthood. I tried really hard to still be cool while being a parent, and honestly, it felt like a tug of war.
We were about a mile away from the Boys and Girls club, now. “Do you have any advice for me?” she said.
I thought about it for a moment. Then I said, “The best thing I can tell you is to accept your role as a parent. Love it. Don’t fight it.” I went on, telling her about how, for a long time, I tried to be a kid. How I tried to make sure that I was a parent, but still cool, when I should’ve been just being a parent. “It was hard on my wife. I was spending all this money going to concerts on weekends, and hanging with friends, when I should’ve been home with her and the baby. I should’ve been spending money on my son, not on new skate shoes and long boards.”
I told her about how, sometimes, I tried to hide the fact that I had a child. I didn’t tell new people about it because I didn’t want them to think I was old. “I should’ve been celebrating having children,” I said. “I should’ve been showing them photos and easing my way into slacks and polo shirts.”
Jill laughed at a lot of what I had to say. She nodded like she agreed. Then she said, “I’m worried about my partner. He’s in a hip-hop group. Like tonight, he wants me to go out with him to a show, but I’m tired and pregnant. I don’t want to go. How long is that going to last? Is he going to be that old man on stage?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Works for Coolio.”
She gave me a sideways glance, and I realized that she didn’t know who Coolio was.
“I can tell you when it changed for me,” I said. I told her about when I was 25. I’d been married for just over three years, and I had a one-year-old. I went to a punk concert with some old friends and ended up getting pinned between two fat teenagers in the mosh pit and permanently damaging my knee. But I refused to leave the concert. People kept bumping into me, and I ended up punching two people in the face. The next morning I was hobbling around our small, two bedroom home. Mel was in the living room, holding our young son, exhausted from being up with him in the night. She asked me why I was walking funny, and I told her. She looked up at me and said, “You hit two people last night? You are a father. Don’t you think you’re getting a little big for stuff like this?”
Jill and I were parked outside the Boys and Girls Club. I finished my story.
“What she said really hit me,” I said. “It was her way of saying, ‘wake up and be a father.’ It was then that I started to accept my role, and thinking back, I wish I’d done it much earlier.”
She nodded, her mouth in a straight line. She stepped from my car, and walked into the Boys and Girls club.
I couldn’t tell if what I had to say really meant anything to her. Thinking back, I wonder if I had the right to even say it. I often feel that way when giving advice. I get asked for it far more than I would like, and I am not nearly as qualified as people think. I’m just some dude, trying to make a go at fatherhood, like most. But what I can say is that the moment I started accepting my role as a father was the moment I started enjoying it. I stopped trying to be what I once was, and started looking forward to who I was becoming. It felt great, and it still does. This is not to say that I don’t look at the past sometimes and smile, but I seem to look forward a lot more than back now. And when I do, it’s with anticipation.
You would also enjoy,
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.