Almost the minute I became a father, I understood my own father a whole lot more. The fear and axiety of becoming a dad hit me like a ton of bricks. While I was elated and very happy to see my baby — my progeny, my contribution to the world — I was also scared sh*tless. My world was going to change. Things would never be the same. Although I have adapted to constant change in my life — immigrating from Mexico, moving to Pennsylvania, having different jobs doing different things — I had also become somewhat comfortable with where I was in life. That comfort was traded in for added responsibilities with serious consequences if those responsibilities were ignored or forgotten. Sleepless nights would be a thing.
So I didn’t blame my dad much anymore for walking away when he did. When offered a choice, humans will take the path of least resistance. We will do the bare minimum to get by, especially if there are other things in our heads that seem more important… Or more attractive. Mom probably assured him that he would still be my father if he wanted to, and that he would get to see me on vacation and holidays when I’d also get to see his side of the family. In a way, he got the best of both worlds. He got to influence my upbringing and imprint himself onto my way of being and to be free of most of those serious responsibilities.
Even when I went to visit him, the people actually doing the feeding and grooming of me were my aunts, older cousins and grandmothers. Such is the culture in the part of Mexico where the families come from. All he really had to do was walk around with me and show everyone how I was reading at age two, memorizing the names of all his tools at age 3, solving puzzles at age four and winning academic awards in kindergarten. Never mind that he didn’t teach me how to read… Though he did teach me a lot about machines, physics and some other sciences.
Being a father is hard, man. It’s certainly not easier than being a mother, from what I’ve seen and heard from my wife. (She did, after all, take the brunt of the physical and mental impact of the pregnancy.) If I get something wrong right now, the little one will be impacted for the rest of their lives. Things that I like to do must often take a back seat to things that need to get done for the child’s sake. It’s hard to accept that I am not the center of my universe anymore.
Then again, I was never the center of my own universe, at least not in my mind. I have always worked serving others, so I kind of see my “job” of being a dad as serving my child become a well-adjusted, happy and productive member of society. To do this, I can forgo some stuff. I don’t have to be up until late playing videogames. (Not that I really want to, given that I usually have to work the following morning.) There also isn’t much time to go “hang out” with friends, either, because the toddler goes to be at around 7pm each night. That, and it’s hard to ask my in-laws for babysitting late into the evening.
With all of this in mind, if anyone tells you that they have their stuff together when it comes to being a father, they are probably lying to you. Or maybe they are super-human… Or have tons of disposable cash to hire all sorts of assistants. Because, let me tell you, the toddler is unpredictable, and she can and will bring about some very interesting challenges at the most inopportune times. (Let’s just say that I’ve had to run into the house and grab a shirt at the last minute because someone spewed their milk, and that said shirt has been very, very wrinkled.)
So you take it one day at a time. Sometimes, you have to take it one hour at a time. You plan as best as you can. You pack all the supplies into the “go bag,” and you hope and pray that there are no unexpected surprises. And, if there are unexpected surprises, you take them in stride and try to understand that these things can and will happen, and that there is no blame to go around. It’s not your fault you forgot the extra diapers, and it’s definitely not the child’s fault that they had to poop.
In the end, I like to believe, it will all be worth it. You’ll end up with a bright young man or young woman who knows how to take on the world. They’ll learn from your patience and planning and how you respond to adversity that the world is a complicated place full of unknown and random variables. And, if you complete the hard job of being a parent — a father, in my case — in a way that is half-decent… You’ll become more than a man in their lives. You’ll become an idea they carry around until they themselves become intangible… Until they themselves become a legend.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.