Meet my one year old daughter, Amara.
This little girl is absolutely full of joy. From head to toe, it’s all happiness. She has her “moments,” for sure–mostly after bathtime and around bedtime; she hates it when we take her out of the bath–but it’s uncanny how she can light up a room. Has never met a stranger, and always seems to have something to “say.” She has an incredibly gentle spirit and a crazy intense side, and is 100% a social butterfly. She has a habit of grabbing facial parts and twisting–hard. She has a mean fishhook. Watching her sleep is the cutest thing.
I love it all.
Ever since she came around, life has, of course, been quite different for me and my wife. Typically what you hear along those lines in our culture is that life is “over” once you have kids. Trade in the sports car for the minivan. Trade in late night raging parties with playdates and soccer games. Trade sleeping in with waking up in the middle of the night to change a soiled diaper.
Like I said, life is over….dread it.
You know, though? That hasn’t been my experience. Once Amara came around, my life really took off. Fatherhood didn’t “end” my life; in a lot of ways, June 7, 2011 is when things really began to get good.
Don’t get me wrong, the particulars I mentioned above are still there–well, minus the minivan part and soccer part, and I never really was a raging partyer to begin with. All I’m saying is that the hardships are still there, but in a sense, I kinda enjoy them. Oh, I complain with halfway-witty Facebook status updates too, just like everyone else, in an attempt to make my life seem sooo hard and me sooo heroic, but really, when the chips are down, it ain’t that bad. The stuff I gave up in exchange for the responsibilities of parenthood didn’t suit me that well in the first place anyway.
Take, for example, the late night feedings and diaper changes. There was an initial adjustment period where it just sucked, yes. But now, in a strange sort of way, I look forward to it. I get to bond with my daughter in the quiet of the night when she actually sits still for a few minutes. Then I go back to bed. It’s kind of nice. Unless she wakes up an hour or half an hour before I’m supposed to get up…then I’m a bit perturbed…but you get my overall point, right?
So sure, I gave up some freedoms, like the freedom to come and go as I please and not be beholden to someone else’s schedule (I actually gave that freedom up when I got married, well before Amara came along). It can be a chore to balance schedules and all that. Now, I need to be home at a certain hour, which is much earlier than before, and this has put somewhat of a cramp on my work life and social life.
But I don’t mind the exchange. I think I actually came out well ahead. I gave up some “freedoms” in exchange for responsibilities, but the responsibilities have added a texture, depth, and meaning to my life that the freedoms just couldn’t offer. Fatherhood kills your ability to “do what you want,” but that is actually a good thing. Responsibilities add depth to your life, they do not take away depth. Were I to be faced with the choice a million times, a million times I’d make the same exchange.
I’m living this right now, for both my wife and daughter are out of the country visiting family (due to cost, I could not come along for the ride). So in a sense, I’m living the single life again, and it ain’t all that grand. Yes, it is kind of nice to have the freedom of schedule again, and I have plenty of friends and service opportunities to fill up the time, but I’d much, much rather be with my wife and daughter.
Nothing beats coming home after a hard day at work and seeing the look on my daughter’s face as I walk through the door. Nothing beats coming home after a stressful day to have my wife hug me when I see her. Nothing beats the comedy of sitting at the dinner table and watching Amara try to throw away the food she doesn’t like, and nothing beats discussing the events of the day with my wife over a meal.
I realize this isn’t everyone’s experience. Amara is just an easy going kid, and I harbor no illusions that that is because of my fathering skills. We have just been blessed with a kid that is easier on her parents than most children. Perhaps things will be different when child #2 comes along.
I also realize that many parents and singles will read this and might feel hurt because this ignites their longing for something different. I urge you to not take it that way because that is definitely not my intention.
I write this post because whether it be out of fear of hurting someone or because focusing on the hard stuff makes us seem so much more heroic, children get a bad rap these days. This is one guy’s experience, and I put it out there in an attempt to bring a small amount of balance. Sitcoms, pop mythology, movies, pseudo witty e-card memes, and well meaning parents on Facebook (including yours truly!) seem to focus on the hard parts and perpetuate the “your life is over once you have kids” view.
Example: whenever I post something on Facebook about parenting, whether good or bad, there’s always some shlub–usually several shlubs–who come along and say, “wait til they turn X. Then it reallllllllly gets difficult!” The X age is usually an age said parent has already passed with his kids. It usually comes off as a condescending “ahahahahhh (deep, James Earl Jones laugh)….you know nothing, little one (pat on the head from above).” Come to think of it, I think I’ve been that shlub a time or two, and I don’t even have a kid in the X age range.
Can we simply put that impulse to the side for a moment and celebrate the little things?