Friday, March 30, 2012

Fatherhood, Year One

A Day in the Nerdery: Being a nerd is fun. There's a peculiar level of joy that can only be enjoyed by someone who knows how to properly visualize 'power armor-shattering pelvic thrusts', 'brace-for-impact bathroom breaks', or 'thing-foot'. I'm here to share that joy, whether you like it or not.

This past month my son celebrated his first birthday. And by celebrated, I mean toddled around and pounded the wall below where I have my gladius mounted with angry anticipation of feeling its heft. After a while, he got wasted on this sort of activity and pulled a stack of a dozen or so DVDs onto his head. Good times. Now, beginning with the day of my son's birth, I am making it a tradition to write my little sidekick a letter. What I write in that letter is not for you, so you don't get it unless I publish a memoir or something--in which case I'll expect you to snatch it off the shelves like a certain pale juniorized Running Man series.

What I do feel like sharing, though, are a few thoughts on the first year of being a poppa-bear. Something which is entirely different and cooler than being a Paw Paw bear.

1985 was such a long time ago, wasn't it?

(Marvelously unsettling to PC sensibilities, no?)

First of all, being a dad is easy. Before my son was born, I worried about coping with feeding, puking, pooping, peeing, and other foul minutia I was too blissfully ignorant to dread. I'm a youngest child--never babysat any babies or toddlers--and thus I was befrighted by my inexperience. Most of these hangups were gone by the end of the first week, when my wife was still recovering from being used like an overstuffed manilla envelope.

I'll let that image sit for a while.

We got home and in one week super-dad arose like a billionaire from a terrorist's cave, sporting a cobbled-together-but-still-awesome power suit which was remarkably adequate to handle everything. More or less. Audumbla still got to do her thing, you know, but otherwise it was ruling the galaxy as father and son for that first week, and I picked up all the tricks I needed. Diapers (unfortunately) quickly lost their inscrutable, sphinx-like quality as I quickly schooled all the women in my life on the art of changing a wrasslin' nerd-baby in record time. Waking up repeatedly every night felt somehow normal and sleeping for six or more hours at a time has started to feel like a suspicious setup for some terrible stinking surprise--mostly because it usually is. And whatever hangups survived that first week were obliterated by the end of the first month--there are only so many times that you can be defecated upon before you're no longer cowed by the dolorous smell of a steamy diaper load. So yeah, there are a lot of new things to pick up as one becomes a dad, but I found that I was constantly surprised by how easily I adjusted to them with just a little cooperation and dependence from my family.

"After a while, he got wasted on this sort of activity and pulled a stack of a dozen or so DVDs onto his head. Good times."

Secondly, being a dad is tough. So what if lesson one and two contradict each other? Deal with it, pops. You've got to cope with a constant sense of paranoia that is a polar opposite of the dumb spirit of invulnerability that possessed you in your high school and college years. You go from feeling invincible to feeling powerlessly frail. Now the possibility of death means failure and heartache--who's going to take care of my little guy? Who's going to raise him on ExoSquad and Gargoyles? Who will teach him right from wrong in terms of quality genre analysis? What if he gets raised to be the next generation's equivalent of a Twilight fan? Pow! Welcome to fatherhood, chump. You've slept your last peaceful night, MacGregor. Similarly, it's easy to be overwhelmed with fear at how frail your child is. Every fall--especially at night--becomes a wrathful, tear-inducing experience in which you play over only the worst case scenarios. Constantly. Every little eccentricity you pick up on now might be the foundation of a debilitating social problem or evil streak. Am I raising Damien? How'd he get that knife? And so on.

But it's really tough because you really aren't prepared for the timing of anything--which is happens to be everything marvelous happened last week. He likes to laugh when he sees his shadow? That's so cute; he just stopped doing that last week. That sound he makes when he wants your attention that sounds like the hound puppy from The Fox and The Hound? Adorable; and haven't heard it for more than a week. Everybody says that kids grow up so fast, which is true enough, but that overused proverb easily becomes just meaningless white noise that disarms you for the startling truth. You see, what you aren't prepared for is how quickly that first year, with all its divers moments, goes by. As your baby gets older, you become preoccupied with sleeping through the night, having that tooth finally break through so he'll stop crying all day long, or that he'll stop drooling so much. You're so focused on getting past these annoying milestones that, while you may appreciate them, you don't spend enough time savoring the concurrent wonderful stuff. I would be so busy trying to keep Bucky asleep and comfortable that I only half appreciated that we were watching our first science fiction film together--Battle: Los Angeles. I'm so anxious for him to talk that I never bothered to film him making those wheezing hound-dog sounds. I'm not sure I ever got a picture of him in his homemade Serenity onesie. And so the litany of being a dad goes: you wish you had a camera; you wish you'd paid attention; you didn't know how hard it was being a dad.

"...there are only so many times that you can be defecated upon before you're no longer cowed by the dolorous smell of a steamy diaper load."

Thirdly, I learned how very different I am from my wife. Not in a bad way, but just the fact that the parenting experience can so polarize one's perceptions and opinions. My waifu might see Bucky chewing on her cell phone with peculiar diligence and dub it cute: he's trying to talk. I see that and label it expensive: that phone is going to get wrecked. He stands up straight, pulls his shoulders back, and sticks his tummy out. Is he cute? Certainly. Also probably going to sprint for dad's pile o' RPG stuff? Most definitely. That dimple-on-dimpled grin and askance look isn't just a cute photo op, mom. It's also a setup to headbutt you in the face for the thirtieth time this year. But dad sees the setup for the melee combo--and the little bugger never gets to headbutt daddy. And when I'm tossing him around and wooshing him across the apartment with a fairly accurate Newtonian physics engine, he's not crying because he's too full or sleepy for such play: he's crying because mommy made me stop. And so forth.

Even though she's a quaint Canadian-German alien bride with no exposure to quality sci-fi before we met, I'd never felt all that different until we both sat down, watched our son, and started interpreting his little thoughts and actions. Is he cranky or is he being a turd? Is he watching you with sleepy eyes, or is he calculating something while you're lulled into a false sense of security? Is he holding that spoon against the back of his head to brush his hair, or is he luring you into range for a crack across the nose? Did he mean to wake me up with a chubby knee in the groin, or did he forget I was there? Mars vs Venus has nothing on mommies vs daddies.

It's been a wonderful first year of beginning my nerd dynasty. My son got all eight of his teeth before he was eight months old. He's walking and stomp-sprinting at will--which means he rarely sprints except when he thinks my game stuff is unguarded. He's learned the lamentable Art of the Boneless Way--useful for foiling subduction attempts and punishing me for keeping him away from said gaming stuff. The little earthman has taken to doffing his cloth diapers with epic verve--standing proudly and tearing them off like a pair of track pants, then posing with a triumphant grin before bounding off into the kitchen as naked as a Mamet script. He also developed a taste for salt and vinegar chips, too--honestly, I thought giving him a piece would make him stop grabbing at my plate.

Also, I think he recognizes (and likes) the Firefly theme song, so that means he's developing along nicely and I'm doing my job.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff! Thanks to Judy for posting it! You will be glad you took the time to chronicle all of this. I remember some of these moments well! I love some of the images. "Is he holding that spoon against the back of his head to brush his hair, or is he luring you into range for a crack across the nose?" haha... good job!