I Thought My Baby Hated Me. Then I Broke Through.
Here's what happened.
Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. Here, Louis, a 29-year-old new dad from Buffalo, New York, explains how, after a months-long quest, he finally got his daughter to laugh at him.
You ever see Almost Famous? The lead singer of the band, played by Jason Lee, at one point says something to the extent that his job as a rock star is to find the person who’s not having a good time and make sure, by the end of the second or third song, that they’re having a great time. He’s talking about charisma and being a rock star but he’s also talking about this innate sensibility he has as a front man.
To the same extent, I feel that way about making people laugh. That’s always been my superpower. And I love to do it. If we’re at a party? I’m the funny guy. Around family? I’m the funny guy. I met my wife at a basketball game because I made her laugh. I know how to tell a story and I have the confidence that what I’m saying is good and I work on my stories. It’s all about the delivery. I’m not the performative type, either, and I know this doesn’t seem like it but I’m not that guy who thinks he’s funny. I feel the room and just tell good stories or make funny comments. It comes down to this: I like making people happy, picking them up after a bad day. Humor is my way to do that.
For the first couple of months of my daughter’s life I could not get a laugh out of her. I mean, not even a giggle. There was something about my presence that made her curious. Her brow would furrow and she’d consider me but she wouldn’t laugh. Her mom? Grandma? Papa? Uncle? Brother in Law? My fucking friend Kirk? She giggled and smiled at all the things they did. But I made fart noises, I made silly faces, I danced, I sang, I used puppets, I started doing pratfalls. Nothing. Nada.
It totally bummed me out. If someone walked in when I was trying to make her smile or laugh, she’d look at them and give a wide smile. Never at me. To a point, it was hilarious. There I was, working hard to make her smile, but she didn’t even budge. She was stone walling me. As soon as someone walked in? She’d be glowing. But it really did make me upset. I’m her dad!
Honestly, between the sleep deprivation of being a new dad and the general pressure of trying to adapt to this new lifestyle, I was pretty wiped. And this made me a bit mental. I read all sorts of lists about how to make a baby smile, I read up on the science of baby smiling, I studied baby entertainment videos on YouTube to try to find something that would help. I felt like a harried cop trying to pin down a serial killer. An entire wall of my office might as well have been covered in pushpins and string connecting to theories like a lunatic private eye in a Dick Wolf show.
This went on for, seriously, a few months. Months. It was dark times. I started doubting myself. Do I smell? Am I scary? Am I not around her enough? There are some nights when I’m gone before she’s up and home after she’s in bed. So I started to freak out more and think about some of the dads I knew growing up and wondering Is this why they grow into bitter old men who just go to work and resent their families? Because you start to think that your kid doesn’t like you and that worry can easily turn into resentment. Like I said, dark times.
Then, one day, about two weeks ago, I’m walking into the living room and I just casually go from straight-faced to smiling — like a quick transition between the two — and she just lights up. I mean, she just started to laugh and smile and laugh. I was totally caught by surprise. Then, I started to dance and sing and make silly faces and she almost fell out of her bouncer. Man, I just lost it. I started to cry. My wife came in and, well, she laughed at me because I was being ridiculous. But, god, I was so happy.
Now, she’s been laughing and smiling and, I swear, she gives me the heartiest laughs of all. It’s wild. It’s like she was biding her time and just waiting to build up her biggest laugh for me. It’s amazing. I’ve had tough crowds before but she was by far the toughest. Hell of a joke to pull on me, though. She’s got great timing.