Reader Request: Parenthood

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.

More like this

It is all well and good for you to try to follow your father's footsteps, but if you push you wife to "be like me mother", it can get nasty ;-)

By Roman Werpachowski (not verified) on 28 Jul 2008 #permalink

I'm going to be a first-time dad in September, and I've been reading your thoughts on your impending fatherhood. I'm wondering - everything you say, I keep thinking, "That's what I'VE been thinking". Do you suppose I'm just hearing what I want to hear, or are we on a very similar wavelength about parenthood? Not that you can answer that.

I'm going to be a first-time dad in September,

It'll change your life, you know.

(I've been dying to say that to somebody...)

PARENTHOOD - anything that makes life sometimes hard. having to wake up early and not sleeping in, diapers!!! saying no. Everything about raising a kid that seems like a job... because that's what it is.

FATHERHOOD - Having your boy or girl sit beside you and put their hand in yours for the first time and know that they feel happy and content. Nothing else matters at that point. Not work, theroies, grants or position.
good luck and look for that first memory.

By ROBERT FETT (not verified) on 28 Jul 2008 #permalink

Even in these modern times, most fathers will still feel a little extra stress about having to provide security and financial stability for his family. I know most families are dual income and sometimes the mother even makes more than the father, but most people around today still feel the influence of a society that expects the man to be the big provider. The twist with the "modern" father is that the man is now allowed to bond more with the child emotionally and be more involved in the child's daily life. Achieving a balance is difficult, creating a real tug-of-war between work and home, a feeling very familiar to single parents.

And Chad, since you're a music fan, I'd recommend Brian Joseph's hilarious/touching 2005 album "If I Never Sleep Again". It's an album entirely about the experiences of fatherhood, with titles such as "9 Months to Fix the World", "Making Love", and "Alpha and Omega". Not to be a softy, but I well up every time I listen to "Lullabye for Mom and Dad", sung from the perspective of the baby.

By Harry Abernathy (not verified) on 29 Jul 2008 #permalink

I spent a lot of time before Jorie was born worrying about how I would deal with all the physical, emotional and disciplinary problems a kid can have: even "How do I cope with a surly, rebellious teenager?" when said teenager was barely a fetus.

She's still a long way from being a teenager, surly or otherwise, but I now realize that the long-term worrying is all fruitless, since in fact you're never dealing with a generic child. You're dealing with a specific child, who you'll know very well, and everything is going to depend on applying what you already know about that child. Most of the time, you'll probably have a fair idea what to do. Of course, this also means that most advice concerning raising generic children is going to be useless.

The closest you'll ever get to generic-child befuddlement is right at the beginning, and even newborns are all different. Newborn days are also probably when the difference between fatherhood and general parenthood are largest, since mommy is going to be so tied down; you'll probably have a little bit of guilt over this which you'll have to channel into being a good utility player.