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[As told to Fatherly] It’s hard to say whether there was a single moment of, “Oh no, my life is different.” Your memory goes to shit when you become a father — I think it’s a built-in amnesia that allows you to immediately forget all the things that are hard. But since I’m being forced to remember …
Fatherhood is a transition for all guys. If yours doesn’t look like Jad’s, it might look something like this …
I do recall the first night we brought my son, Amil, home. We were so happy but also so nervous about a million different things, and I remember a feeling of disbelief. “We’re allowed to take this thing home? Do we have the right car seat? Have we really thought this through? Doesn’t seem like this should be allowed.” But we brought him home of course and I remember how hard that first night was.
And I want to slap that guy, because it got so much harder. It was a rude awakening. “This thing won’t sleep. At all. I haven’t trained myself nearly enough to be used to this.” We’d done the stupid birth classes. For 10 weeks we sat in that stupid room in Park Slope and talked about the birth — why didn’t anybody mention the part that comes right after? I was just so tired, to a degree I’d never been before. I wish I could get those 10 weeks back. Birth classes are idiotic.
For a few weeks after, my wife, Karla, and I didn’t see any other humans. We were hunkered down learning how to put on a diaper and feed the thing and sleep train and all that stuff. Finally, we went back out into the world for the first time for our first non-baby-related event. Just sitting at a restaurant having a glass of wine. As I looked around I was profoundly struck. All these people … speaking to each other. They’re sitting up straight. They have clothes on. This is crazy!
We’d spent weeks with this being that could not hold itself up, barely knows its face from its ass, just has no basic faculties, and suddenly we were out in the world; the mere fact that people could be sitting around conversing seemed kind of miraculous. All the things that have had to happen in order for people to have conversations. We needed lungs to take in and expel air. We had to develop our pectoral muscles to learn to sit up straight. We had to then be able to learn language and pick up on social cues — all so we can sit here and talk about nothing! The fact that any of it worked was amazing to me. This happened over and over again during those first few weeks. Having a baby was this instant shortcut to wonder and a sense of awe.
Then we had our second kid. That’s when I became a father — and when the shit hit the fan. It was like going from a zone defense to a man-to-man. There were no more breaks, no wiggle room, no space for those little silent negotiations we didn’t actually have to discuss like “I’ll work this night and you get the kid.” It was a level of difficulty I hadn’t anticipated. Still amazing, but if the first kid was a time filled with wonder, the second kid was a wakeup call.
I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about this until just now, but the evolution of Radiolab mirrored that journey as a father. Amil was this passport to the feeling that I want every episode of Radiolab to deliver, that science-inspired, dewy-eyed wonder. All the same questions we were asking on the show, I was asking at home at the exact same time. How do kids learn language? What’s happening in Amil’s brain? I felt like I was expanding as a person. Everything about my being seemed to get bigger.
Then with Tej, I found the limits of how big I could be and how much a person could do. It became a real lesson in making things work, turning ideas into reality, finding the time to be present with your kids when you know all you’ve got is an hour. The second kid forced me to learn a different set of skills; every decision you make now has an equal and opposite reaction. At the same time, the show was evolving from dewy-eyed wonder to hard-knuckled, messy, political, sociological, psychological things. It’s more engaged in the world, stories that are very much unresolved. It’s easy to exist in the wonder space. It’s much harder when you have to negotiate.
That’s what having a second kid is. It’s just an entirely separate category. I’m sure I bitched about having my one kid at the time, but I’d tell that dude to shut up. You have so much time that you don’t even know you have. Not enough to work 20 straight hours to finish a podcast like you used to, but still, more than you realize.
Jad Abumrad is a composer, producer, MacArthur Fellow, and founder and co-host of the syndicated public radio program ‘Radiolab.’ Jad is also the creator of WNYC Studios’ new podcast, ‘Radiolab Presents: More Perfect,’ which takes listeners inside the rarefied world of the Supreme Court.