There is a common theme among first time fathers: unpreparedness. Talk to any expectant dad before the arrival of their firstborn; you witness a blend of excitement and fear. They have no idea what adventures and struggles lie in store. Reminisce with any guy with kids about what life was like before their oldest was born and they will describe these emotions of being unsure of what to expect. The most honest among us will admit, “I had no idea what I was doing.”
You can study books on child development, subscribe to family oriented magazines, and read parenting blogs. You can talk to pastors and therapists and doctors and your own parents. This will help you get a hint of what it is like to raise a child but nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood like having a child of your own. The day your son or daughter is born, you instantly convert from amateur to expert. You do not have a choice in this matter. You are now the one responsible for this tiny human’s health, wellbeing, and development.
The parenting horror stories that once frightened you lose their power to scare you. After a few short months, you discover how babies are sturdier and more resilient than you ever imagined. The snot and slobber that once revolted you with other people’s kids are now adorable on your own. Changing soiled diapers deadens your sense of smell and certain scents cease to bother you. As your firstborn ages into a toddler, you develop superhuman reflexes. While they are learning to walk, you will jump over furniture to catch them when they fall and contort your body to prevent them from tumbling into table corners and TV screens.
Fatherhood can transform any ordinary man into a doctor, taxi driver, bodyguard, chef, teacher, and event planner. These things happen when we will do anything to meet our kids’ needs. No prerequisites must be completed. No experience is necessary. Skills are acquired as you go. Which is good. If we had to have prior experience to become a dad, none of us would ever have kids.
If anyone is a testament to the transformative power of first time parenthood, it is me. I used to wonder how my dad was so smart until this last week when one of my kids asked me how I know so much about everything. The answer is clear now: I acquired this knowledge because I became a dad. And nothing in my childhood could have prepared me for this.
First, I was the youngest of two. I was clueless when it came to taking care of wee ones, but as my kids get older, my abilities are improving. I was also raised in a house full of boys. When it came to being my daughter’s father, I was not ready for anything. How to braid hair or style a pony tail, girls’ fashion, what it feels like to be a girl starting puberty, talking about boys. It is all so intimidating but I am learning as I go.
My brother is five and a half years older than me. Throughout my adolescent years, he was my best friend. We never went through any sibling rivalry and we enjoyed hanging out with each other more frequently than we fought. My kids are closer in age and they bicker often. I did not know how to handle conflicts between siblings until now.
I spent the first half of my twenties attending rock shows and playing video games. My diet consisted of nachos, pasta, Mt Dew, and whatever they served at Denny’s. Meal planning and balanced dinners were foreign concepts to me until I started providing for my family. Now my kids love my home-cooked meals and my oldest thinks I could open a restaurant.
As a stereotypical nerd and formerly the last-one-picked in PE teams, I thought I would never be able to help my youngest, the aspiring athlete, learn how to play sports. Once again, parenthood changed me. I never threw a perfect spiral with a football until I was throwing it to my son. I never made a baseball reach its target until playing with my boys. Baseballs usually bounced out of my mitt, until I started playing catch with my kids. I never made a free throw until showing my kids how to do it.
You do not need any experience to be a dad. Being there. Participating. Loving your kids. These things give you all the experience required.