I’m a Dad in Progress. And I’m Very Okay With That.
It takes time.
They were liars. All of them. Everyone who told me something would snap. They said in an instant I would become something new, something better. But there was no snap, crack, bang, or any other onomatopoeia. Just me sitting there, holding a baby. My baby.
My son, Cash Jameson Nail. Six pounds, 11 ounces and 20-something inches. Time of birth: 1:03 PM on May, 29th 2019. That day I expected transformation or possibly a rush of new endorphins or emotions. I held him and knew I loved him, but it was just me. Not some heroic, redemptive man who came out on the other side of his wife’s pregnancy as a well-tempered and focused father. It didn’t hit me then, it was nights later I realized I might not be father material.
Facebook, the well-known producer of guilt, showed me an acquaintance who had also recently created a child. His post declaring his new fatherhood was about the extravagant love he would lay down for his new son. How no matter what time it was, no matter how many diapers he filled or how much he cried, this new father was only going to respond in love to his son. Now this man seemed to have accomplished the transition I was hoping for. I wondered what was wrong with me as I paced like a zombie at three in the morning rocking my son back and forth, using all my willpower to hold back all the responses which weren’t love. Once he closed his eyes, I rested mine as well and thought maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this.
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Before my son arrived, I enjoyed routine, almost to a fault you could say. I have been known to overthink almost everything. Sometimes the thoughts of what I’m going to eat for breakfast plague me: Toast or Oatmeal? It rattles around in the brain until the hunger pains turn into aches. For Christ’s sake, my Uncle Joe died yesterday and the whole day all I thought about was whether or not I should order my comic books in paper through Amazon or digitally through an app.
Maybe this is better defined as immaturity or what some would call ‘a selfish asshole.’ I accept whatever it is you like to call it, all I know is I’m it. I worried about these qualities of mine and how compatible they would be with a baby. I even found myself uttering a foolish question to a co-worker who was an experienced parent: “Are you still able to like…do stuff you want?” The laugh which followed was an answer in itself, it was at least enough to spur the worry already building inside my chest.
I banked on the hope that something would change when I held him, that I would become someone else. That everything else in my life would fade away. However, I found myself still in want. I wanted to ride my bicycle on the riverbed. I wanted to finish the books I’ve said I’ve been reading for the past month. I wanted to work on my novel that absolutely no one was waiting on besides me. God damnit I wanted to smoke weed!
Now, I’m a reasonable man. These desires were nowhere present while we were in the hospital, nor the following week once we had come home. But the clock ticked and the itch rose to the surface. I looked over to my wife and asked: How long does it have to be before I can want to go see a movie and still be a good father?
I soon found out I had been bamboozled. I fell for it. I fell for the scheme and trap set up for humanity by humanity itself. It’s the thing we like to do in every facet of life: pretend to be something we are not. I can say this is an activity I have participated in one too many times but was most recently enlightened to the aspect it plays in parenting.
My friend recently gifted me with his confession of being tempted to want to throw a towel over his crying baby. Now, of course, he would never do it but he shared the relatable sentiment of overpowering frustration. I then heard another story of my mom’s friend who would put her crying baby in a room alone and crank music up to give her ears and herself a mental break for a minute. After that, on a podcast I heard three grown men with children talk about how kids take time away from you doing the things you like to do. They joked about being okay with never knowing their kids if they didn’t ever have the chance to exist.
Was my friend really going to put the towel over his baby? No. In fact he has another child now and they just took her to her first movie. Was my mom’s friend going to leave the baby crying forever and ignore her? No. That baby is actually grown up and is married now. She has three children herself, her son sharing the same name as mine. Do those men on the podcast wish to never see their kids again? No. One of them just had another baby and the other two are constantly sharing stories about life with their children. These stories of honesty and reality gave me peace, enough to know maybe there was a place for fathers like me.
I never wanted to be the stereotypical father who isn’t home and is always out with the ‘boys’, whoever those guys are anyways. It would disgust me if I became the man who hated his family and acted like he regretted about 95 percent of the decisions he made in his life. No, thank you. The other option seemed to be what my Facebook acquaintance displayed: Utter bullshit. Acting like I was something other than I am on social media and pretending I lived in another reality. This did not sit well with me either.
Thankfully I came across the stories above that presented a new option. I could be for my son what I would want as well: honest. I may not have the perfect love to give or patience to show. I may not be father of the year or a model to be inspired from. I may not have had a snap moment or a transformed mindset. But I do have one thing, me. Just me. And even if that means admitting the terrible thoughts I have sometimes and not seeing the newest Terminator installment, then that’s where the chips fall. A father still in development himself, but a father nonetheless.
Blake Nail is a father of one and resides in Cypress, California. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in creative writing, in the meantime he enjoys reading comics and poetry to his son.