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Before you have a baby, everyone warns you to kiss sleep goodbye. “Good luck,” they say, with a smile full of schadenfreude. (I wonder why German is the only language with a word that means being happy when other people suffer.) They wish you luck the way someone who has just assembled a piece of IKEA furniture says good luck. Like, “I suffered beyond imagination to make something so wobbly I have to lean it against the wall, but at least now I can sit back and laugh while you discover this Riktig Ogla is never going to fit into that Grundtal Norrviken. But go ahead. Good luck.”
After all the warnings, I was duly scared about the sleep thing. And it’s true. I have not slept more than a few hours in a row for months. But what nobody tells you is how much joy you feel.
I just got up to pick up the baby and I realized that all my fears of being exhausted never materialized. Because when you lean into his crib and he sees you, he erupts into a smile like you just told him he won the $80 million Powerball lottery. That happens multiple times a day. His joy is so overwhelming and infectious that it’s impossible to feel tired or beleaguered. It’s like a tractor beam of sunlight hitting you in the face. It’s like drinking fresh squeezed orange juice. It’s like the opening chords of Stevie Wonder “Sir Duke.” It’s like the first day of spring after a long cold winter. And it never gets tired.
Lev is a habit of happiness. He’s like a little 12-pound human Prozac.
There is a Buddhist prayer we recite every day, which says, “regardless of whether conditions seem favorable or unfavorable, inspire me to make a habit of happiness.”
Lev is a habit of happiness. He’s like a little 12-pound human Prozac. He can’t help smiling when he sees me first thing in the morning, or after a nap, or when I come home, or any time really. Of course, this being samsara, there is a catch. The other key teaching of Buddha is to love without being attached. And if you thought avoiding attachment was hard with romantic love, it’s well nigh impossible with a baby.
Non-attachment doesn’t mean being a robot and having no human emotions. It means discerning between the warm, open-hearted side of pure love, and the sticky ego-influenced desire to control another person, a situation, or life in general. That sticky aspect is the glue that binds us to suffering. It causes us to cling and destroys our happiness. So the real challenge of parenthood is to experience these incredible surges of joy without allowing a habit of clinging to immediately follow in equal measure.
A habit of joy arrives. It’s impossible for anyone to warn you how great it is so they warn instead that you will be sleepy. But what nobody warns you about — and what we really need — is a way to manage the lurking attachment that shadows this great love.
For that, the Buddha prescribed medicine — meditations of various kinds. But meditation works slowly and this tsunami of love and attachment doesn’t knock gently at the front door. It tears the house down.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.