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When a baby takes his first steps it’s hugely significant — but it pales in comparison to a child learning to speak. Going mobile matters. But it’s merely mechanical. Learning to speak is like the moment the caveman first discovered fire. It’s a game changer.
When we get a grip on language we are connecting our brains to our breath. We are exhaling meaning into the word. Walking is nice. Talking is transformative. It allows the relationship between parent and child to become a 2-way street. Finally we can ask, “Why the f–k are you crying?”
And our child can ask, “No, Daddy, why are you crying?”
As a guy who makes his living with words and music, I’d been looking forward to Lev speaking far more than I was to him taking his first step. After all, Lev walking just meant me chasing. And safety proofing the apartment.
But speech. That would open up a whole new world. We could sing together! I envisioned us forming a doo-wop group and howling out barbershop harmonies late into the night on street corners. Michelle pointed out that I sing like a frog dying from a fungal infection; but still I harbored hopes that Lev and I would be the Simon and Garfunkel of the 21st century. But then I started having imaginary arguments with Lev about who had to be Garfunkel.
From the time Lev was a newborn, Michelle and I often wondered what our baby’s speaking voice would be like. Would it be high and squeaky or a deep husky rumble like Barry White?
Learning to speak is like the moment the caveman first discovered fire. It’s a game changer.
Finally, Lev said his first word the other day. He padded quickly into the living room holding his finger up in the air and jabbing it towards my face and yelling boo boo. I was so overcome with joy I didn’t even care that he was hurt. I took his tiny hand and kissed his finger and said, “There. Daddy kissed your boo boo. Does that feel better now?”
Lev smiled slowly. And then he said, “No, dad. Not Boo boo. I said ‘Poo Poo.’ I have poo poo on my hand.”
Actually, that happened to a friend of Michelle’s, not me. (I get enough E. coli in my diet from eating at Chipotle.) What happened when Lev said his first word was much sweeter. He ran into the room yelling “Reese’s Pieces!” And then handed me some chocolate, which I ate while wondering, That’s odd. I wonder where Lev got — and then he smiled wickedly and said, “Not Reese’s you idiot. I said feces. These are pieces of feces.”
Actually, he just sauntered into the room and said, “Father, I took a huge stinky Trump.”
“Okay, Lev, I get it. I’m not falling for this again. Next you’re gonna tell me you made a Ted Poos and a Marco Doodio. I get it. Word play.”
“No,” Lev said, pausing for just the right amount of time. “But I did just Carly Pee-orina in my pants.”
My boy’s first words. Music to my ears.
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.