In the Reader Request thread, Mary Kay writes:
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on becoming a father. Both before and after the actual event.
I mentioned this to Kate, and she asked whether I thought there was a difference between “fatherhood” and “parenthood.” I’m not that attuned to such things, so it had never really occurred to me that there is a difference– I’m becoming a parent, and I have a Y chromosome, thus “parenthood”=”fatherhood.” She sees some differences in expectations between “parenthood” and “motherhood,” and I suppose that “fatherhood” does suggest a little more coaching of sports teams than “parenthood.”
Anyway, we’ll go with the gender-neutral version for the post title, with the understanding that anything I saw is likely to be unconsciously slanted toward a male perspective.
The short answer to the question is basically what I’ve been saying to everyone who asks about the baby: It’s a linear superposition of “exciting” and “absolutely terrifying.” I’m given to understand that the “terrifying” part only lasts about thirty years, though, so there’s that.
As far as the “exciting” part goes, I’ve wanted to have a kid for a while now. It was actually kind of difficult to wait until after tenure, but Kate was able to get me to see reason on that. I’m really looking forward to it– not so much the sleepless nights and diaper changes, you understand, but the bedtime stories and games and teaching stuff.
The “terrifying” bit is just that the stakes are so high. I’m not talking about all the absurd warnings about things that lead to INSTANT DEATH for the children of unwary parents, because I think a lot of that is overblown. I mean the whole parent-child relationship– sharing responsibility for shaping a person, teaching FutureBaby! how to behave, how to think, how to learn.
That’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s scary to think about what might go wrong. What if the kid ends up not liking books? Being a Duke fan? Going to amherst? Those kind of thoughts will keep you up nights.
At the moment, “exciting” is winning out over “terrifying.” I have a fairly high opinion of myself (hence this blog), and a higher opinion of Kate, and I think any kid of ours ought to be pretty darn cool. I’m reasonably confident that the three of us will be able to deal with whatever comes our way.
And as far as general parenting goes, I don’t think I could ask for a better example than that set by my own parents. As I said, I have a fairly high opinion of myself, but I think a lot of the credit for what I’ve accomplished really goes to them. They were always there, always patient, and always supported me, even when I had really hare-brained ideas about how to spend my time (I mean, really, grad school in physics?).
If I can do even a poor imitation of what they did for me, FutureBaby will be just fine.