Wednesday, February 18, 2015

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What I thought fatherhood would be like and the reality




My first son was born 7 years ago. I was reluctant to have a child. I didn’t know my father too good, he left when I was nine and died from drug addiction when I was 19. I was the youngest in the family, so I never cared for any siblings. I was also raised by my grandmother as a teen. It was just the two of us. I once babysat my two-year-old nephew for a few days, and I recall hauling him around the house in a sad attempt to entertain. Most days he cried, and I didn’t understand why. I just recall being really frustrated and wondering why anyone would have a child.

When my wife, Mel, mentioned having a child, I recall feeling scared for a lot of reasons, and one of the most significant was the fact that I didn’t really know what to expect from being a father, so I expected the worst. I assumed that everyday I’d be frustrated trying to keep the baby from crying. I knew that babies got up in the night, so I assumed that would be a problem, too. At the time I was really struggling with nighttime anxiety, and the thought of having a little baby waking me every few hours seemed like a sure way to have a panic attack. I knew that babies would cost a lot of money, but I didn’t know exactly how much, so I assumed it would be in the millions.

I voiced a lot of this to Mel, my wife, and she always said, “I think all of that is true, but we will figure it out. Other parents do, and we will too.” This explanation seemed murky to me. What I wanted was a plan. Some kind of a manual, or a document, that would lead me on the path to being a good father and husband. Something that would show me exactly, step-by-step, how to mange a child successfully. When I think back on this desire I feel like a complete dumb ass. Parenting is too full of moving parts to ever have a document like that. As soon as I figured out how to get my son to sleep through the night, I was dealing with fits, and as soon as I figured out how to get him to stop throwing fits, I had to learn how to answer endless questions. The kid is always one step ahead.

I reluctantly had a son, and after 8 years as a father, and three kids, I’ve learned this. All of my fears were true.

Every one of them.

But here is what I didn’t know. Every day I am frustrated in the most rewarding way. My kids make me want to pull my hair out and yet, when I solve their problems, when I get them to figure out something on their own, when I see that spark of independence and realize that I had a hand in it, I realize that they are turning into adults, slowly, and seeing that progression warms my heart more than anything I’ve ever experienced.

And I do get up in the night, a lot. But over the years, between work and school, getting up in the night is sometimes the only chance I get to solve my kids’ problems, hold them for a moment, or hear the sweet words, “I love you, Daddy.” Although I complain about being tired, I often think back on the way my 7-year-old son tightly grips my arm as I lie in bed with him after a nightmare, and smile. And I think about my 5-year-old daughter curled up in a ball at 2 a.m., crying and shivering, and how satisfied I feel after seeing her stretch out beneath the warm quilt I laid over her. In those moments, I feel needed. I feel valued. Those warm feelings have done more to help me overcome my anxiety disorder than any medication or therapy.

And for money, I’ve spent more money on my kids than I’ve spent on anything else in my life. If they don’t need a trip to the doctor, they need a new pair of shoes, or they grew out of their bike, or some other thing. They are constantly needing and wanting, and you know what, I don’t think about how much they cost anymore. I also don’t think about getting that new mountain bike like I used to, or getting the latest cellphone, or any of that other petty crap that seemed so important before kids. I think a lot about my kids, what they need, and I take immense satisfaction in being able to support them.

Before I had kids, I had all these fears that came to reality in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. I feel strong and more selfless with them. They have shown me humility and strength and an understanding that I can accomplish great things, because honestly, what could be a greater calling than parenthood? Before having kids I could’ve listed a million, but now, nothing is as important as my kids. 
 

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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.  


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