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On Ryan’s Plate: Notes from a New Father

May 31, 2012

 

I’ve been thinking for weeks about how to capture in blog post form the intense joy and terror of becoming a new father. Having Lila has been amazing and overwhelming. Every time I’ve tried to capture the experience in words, I found it indescribable. But I can’t just say it’s indescribable. That sounds pretentious. Plus, this would be a pretty short blog post.

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So let’s start with the obvious. Fatherhood is life-altering in every sense of the word. Becoming a dad makes you examine everything you are, everything you have ever been, only to find it all inadequate. What qualifications could I possibly have that entitle me to take responsibility for an entire human life? Why didn’t I prepare more? What have I been doing with my life? Why did I spend so much time memorizing the biographies of the six characters who have served as Batman’s sidekick Robin and so little time learning the kinds of skills that could truly benefit me now, like CPR, or woodworking, or starting a fire by rubbing sticks together? Can you actually start a fire by rubbing sticks together? If you can, it seems like something a dad should know.

But the deeper, scarier realization is that you cannot prepare. Not really. We read all the hot books – your Baby Whisperer and Happiest Baby on the Block and What to Expect When You’re Expecting – and they were immensely helpful. But being a dad, like tightrope walking, is something you can only learn by doing. Which means on day one, you know almost nothing. And day two isn’t much better. A colleague and father of two recently told me “I can tell you with all confidence, you don’t know what you’re doing.” He meant no offense, but he has me pegged. He has every new dad pegged. In fact, he has every dad pegged. Just as you’re getting used to a phase in your child’s life, they up and change on you, bringing a whole new set of challenges. It’s the more intense version of teaching a new class, where you’ve read only a few pages ahead of the students. But in this case, you’re chapters behind.

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And then there’s the crying. Before becoming a dad, I naively feared changing poopy diapers most of all. US Weekly’s cover recently proclaimed that Eric Johnson, Jessica Simpson’s fiancé, had the same fear (this information about Jessica Simpson’s fiancé is more useless knowledge that doesn’t help me start fires with sticks). Eric and I, poor bastards both, had no idea. Changing diapers is no picnic, but it pales next to those early weeks of crying. The constant crying of a newborn baby elicits a unique form of terror, frustration, and powerlessness. Anna and I spent those first few weeks shell-shocked. Between the two of us, we probably spent 15 hours a day rocking her, holding her near the hairdryer, bouncing her on an exercise ball (to add insult to injury, Anna is a significantly better bouncer than I am). And we were the lucky ones, with a good baby who calmed down in just a few weeks and sleeps long stretches at night. If you want to know if you’re ready to become a dad, hire an actor from your local community theater to follow you around and scream in your ear for two straight weeks. If you don’t murder the person, odds are you’re ready. If you do murder the person, hide the body in the dumpster behind O’Charleys and get a low maintenance pet, like a chinchilla.

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But the crying is worth it. The poop is worth it. The crushing self-doubt is worth it. Anything is worth it in the moments when she wraps her five tiny fingers around just one of mine, or when she falls asleep on my chest. From the instant I saw my daughter, I felt something I have never felt for anyone else. I love my family and friends, and I love my wife more than ever now that I’ve seen the strength and compassion she brings to motherhood. But love for a child is just different. It comes so quickly, and feels almost primal. It is a feeling of obligation and accomplishment. It endures despite and because of incredible paradoxes. I love her because she is so vulnerable, yet so stubborn and feisty. I am a part of her, yet on some level she will always be a mystery to me. And I will love her most deeply, most fully, by slowly pushing her away.

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I cannot wait to see who she becomes as she grows up. I cannot wait to get to know her at every phase of her life. But in the years as she grows older, starts school, leaves for college, gets married, and as I grow older and eventually die in that tragic Sasquatch hunting mishap, I’ll remember the experiences of rocking my daughter while she falls asleep as some of the purest, most tender moments of human connection I’ve ever felt. It is, for all my effort, a connection that cannot be put into words.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 31, 2012 12:27 pm

    Adore this post! Yes- on the job learning is the key! The pictures touch my heart 🙂

  2. Katie @ Legally Fit permalink
    May 31, 2012 12:51 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes-beautifully written and so so true. Lila is so lucky to have you guys as her parents.

    On a lighter note, the pacifier used to be that huge on Audrey’s face 🙂 time flies!

  3. Lee Peterson permalink
    May 31, 2012 12:56 pm

    Wow…this took my breath away. Anna and Lila, you are both lucky gals! xxoo

  4. May 31, 2012 1:14 pm

    Oh my gosh…this is amazing! As a mother of two boys who is far past the crying, poopy diapers and sleepless nights faze, I still find the whole making another human being thing to be crazy and slightly overwhelming. We are now in the pimple, looking at hot girls and generally trying to be cool (or fly under the radar) stages. Parenthood is quite the amazing phenomenon. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though.

    Thanks for sharing your side Ryan. You two definitely make me feel more normal as a parent!

  5. May 31, 2012 1:43 pm

    So sweet and very beautifully written. You too really look similar!

  6. May 31, 2012 1:47 pm

    Oh Ryan you are a great dad!! I loved this!

  7. May 31, 2012 1:52 pm

    I always love Ryan’s posts but this one is just so…awesome. I almost wanted to say “indescribable” but thought that would seem too much like I was mocking him from up above. So beautifully written. You guys might be the only parenting couple I follow online that actually make me think about having a baby and not want to run, hide and scream instead. The way you are able to put words to the whole experience is just incredible.

  8. May 31, 2012 2:13 pm

    So lovely! Lila is a lucky gal to have such loving parents.

  9. Marie-Sophie permalink
    May 31, 2012 2:49 pm

    GREAT post!! And that comment about screaming and hiring an actor … hilarious! I sneakily read the blog at work and cracked up at my desk. Not my most glorious employee moment but it was just too good! 🙂

  10. May 31, 2012 2:56 pm

    Loved your post and have loved having the three of you here for the last few weeks – it’s been amazing! She is a precious little girl, and she is so lucky to have the two of you as parents. Can’t wait to watch her as she grows.

  11. May 31, 2012 5:05 pm

    OMG…so sweet. So…honest. I am sending this to my husband because he seems to think that one day, he’ll magically “be ready”. 🙂

  12. May 31, 2012 6:59 pm

    I hope you two are saving posts like this for Lila to read when she’s older. Give them to her when she turns 16 or 18 or 20, or gets married or has kids of her own.

  13. June 1, 2012 5:04 am

    Such a sweet post with precious pictures! Very inspirational about learning as you go and so true for life!

  14. June 1, 2012 10:34 am

    Lila is a.beauty! And it’s refreshing to hear another honest take on parenting. Sounds like you know exactly what you’re doing when it comes to being open about the ups & downs – even if the rest feels like constant guess work.

  15. June 1, 2012 4:06 pm

    Sweet post 🙂

  16. June 1, 2012 7:36 pm

    Such a sweet post, Ryan. Lila is so lucky to have you and Anna as her parents. I hope to meet the little lady soon! Miss you guys.

  17. June 2, 2012 1:25 am

    This post was so hilarious, honest, heartfelt, sweet, and memorable. I love love love love it!

  18. Patti permalink
    June 3, 2012 11:13 pm

    I loved your blog and have read it several times. It brings up a lot of memories of times spent with you as a baby and during childhood. It is hard to explain the connection a parent feels for their child (no matter how old they are or how far away they live) I’m so happy that you are getting to experience it with Lila. Lila is blessed to have you both as parents.

  19. June 4, 2012 5:32 pm

    I couldn’t even finish reading this or I’d be weeping at work! Too sweet.

  20. christine permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:14 pm

    beautifully written post! I am saving this and will have my husband Ryan read this when we are pregnant.

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