No man is ever ready to become a father. You can talk about it, discuss it, flog it into the ground until it expires with a despairing wheeze, and still… you aren’t ready to become a father.
But then, something magic happens. If you’re lucky enough to be in the vicinity while your child is being born, and all the horrific things the mother has yelled hasn’t caused the blood to burst forth in gushing torrents from your ears, then you get to see the moment. The moment when that purply pink wrinkled thing stops being an idea for you, stops being a wiggly lump-in-the-tummy, and becomes an independent organism.
Your heart bursts with love.
Yes, even you, you super-macho, hunky, beetle-browed, gorilla-like tough guy. Your heart bursts with love too. Even if you don’t get to see your child being born, the first time you hold them in your arms, look down into their face, and realize that part of you is now alive outside yourself, that you are newly immortal, and that birth truly is a miracle, your heart bursts with love.
Of course there is a downside.
For next several years, you’re going to experience conflicts between what you want to do (go camping, watch TV, have a beer with your buddies, go out to the club or a movie, eat hot food, have privacy in the bathroom, make love with your wife, read a magazine article in one sitting, or make one uninterrupted shot at the basketball hoop) and what you have to do (change yet another diaper, make yet another snack, learn all the names of the SuperAttackTechnoRangerPowerKids and their allies and enemies, admire drawings that you can’t comprehend, clean up yet another spill, kiss yet another booboo, play yet another game of War or Cootie, or drink the slobber from your just-shared soda). This is not to say that having children entirely removes all your former habits and hobbies from your life. Why, just three years ago I went skiing, and I played a computer game last month. I even finished a book last week, though I’d forgotten how the book began or even why I was reading it.
But through it all, the rewards for being a conscientious father will continually outshine the price that you pay for becoming one. It is my firm belief that no man can reach his peak of maturity – his ultimate expression of his maleness, without becoming a father.
You will learn many things as you experience the journey that is fatherhood. And I’m not just talking about where your wife keeps the Band-Aids and the baby aspirin. Or how long a road trip can be when you have lively, healthy, children in the back seat. (Yes, it takes just as long, if not longer, as it did when you were that same child.) No, what I speak of is the long journey of self-discovery that can only be precipitated by the demand of having another human being’s welfare entirely dependent upon your lazy butt.
I’ve learned a lot since I became a father. I have become more protective, more self-reliant, more caring, gentler, stronger, and wiser. I attempt to provide my children with the image of a man as I believe a man should be. This image keeps me from fighting with my wife as much as I used to. It forces me to fix the bookcase, and repair the bike tire. It makes me –surly and reticent in the past –communicate with people, because I believe my children should. I try to show them what a good man should be, and in the process, almost accidentally, I discover that I am becoming a good man myself.
Whenever I use this image, whenever I strive toward the goal ofteaching my children what a husband and father should be, I become more than I thought I was. This is the most powerful gift that my children have given me – not just the chance, but the responsibility to become a better person.
For my sake and for theirs, I continue the journey. Someday, I know, I’ll be able to eat a meal while it’s hot, watch a movie in silence, or go swimming without six bags of pool toys. But for now, I try to relax and enjoy it. All of it. Because it will be gone as suddenly as it came.