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When historians look back at this era, I think one of the seismic cultural shifts that will be associated with millennials is that kids these days don’t think about owning stuff. Instead of buying music on CDs, they stream it on Spotify. Rather than lease or buy a vehicle, they use a Zipcar.
The advantage of taking an Uber to your Airbnb rental while you stream a movie on Netflix is that you don’t own the car or the apartment or the DVD, so if something goes wrong it’s not your responsibility. You don’t own the thing, you rent the experience. There’s some wisdom in this sharing economy: perhaps there’s less grasping at an egocentric sense of “me” having my “stuff” to cling to.
But the flip side of less commitment is that we also have less responsibility. When you work hard to save up money and purchase something, you have pride of ownership. You wash your car and take care of it. You change the oil. Who cares about lovingly maintaining the air filter on a Zipcar?
In my teenage years, we used to separate the seeds from the weed on album covers. How can you do that with Spotify? In a world where everything is digital, there’s nothing to get your digits on. It’s handy, because you’ve got nothing in your hands, but with all the closet space we’re saving, we’re losing something. The relationship between a guy and his stuff.
There are other drawbacks. I recently got rid of my CD collection — about 6,000 CDs — and had it all digitized. Now it fits on a hard drive the size of a book (remember books?). I did this partially so that when Lev was born, we would have room for his non-digital paraphernalia. Nobody has invented a digital diaper. (Yet.) The upshot is, now I have a bunch of baby stuff where my CDs used to be. Spoiler alert for you yet-to-be parents out there: baby toys take up even more space than CDs and sound much, much worse.
That’s the deal with fatherhood: You definitely own something, for real. Your baby is not a rental.
And yet, I wouldn’t trade one box of Lev’s butt cream for all the Elvis Costello box sets in the world. Because butt cream makes Lev happy. And his happiness is my happiness.
There are 2 things that can happen when you become a dad: either you mourn your old life and nurture a slow-burning resentment because everything has changed, or you dive in headfirst and let fatherhood change you. Either way, you will have to give up your heavy bag, your bong, your CD collection — your toys — and you will spend more money than you ever imagined buying diapers for a tiny, screaming, crazy person. But the real trade is, you will give up caring about your own happiness and you begin to care more about someone else’s well-being and joy.
And this is one of life’s greatest paradoxes: you have never felt true happiness until you stop worrying about yourself and replace that obsession with wanting someone else to be happy. These days, when I see Lev smile, I couldn’t care less that I had to give up not only a heavy bag but a speed bag and a double-end bag (for non-boxers among you, just trust me, that was a sacrifice) — and my recording studio. I just feel a bunch of rainbows inside. He laughs and suddenly I am standing under a waterfall in Hawaii. Life smells like gummy bears.
And poo, sometimes. But mainly gummy bears. And that’s not the point. The point is, you surrender the futile mission of protecting your tiny scrap of personal joy, which was never very satisfying anyway, and you gain the whole world.
That’s the deal with fatherhood: You definitely own something, for real. Your baby is not a rental. Unlike Netflix and Spotify, this dad thing comes with real commitment and responsibility. There is a contract. It lasts a lifetime. Everyone knows you can’t buy happiness. And it turns out you can’t rent it or stream it either.
But you can have it.
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.