The Dad You Imagined He Could Be

IMG_5849 Like many girls, one of the reasons you married your husband is that you could tell he would be a great dad. You remember that February night--the one before you even started dating--when neither one of you felt the cold as he talked about how he admired his dad. He couldn't contain his excitement at having kids one day, and you swooned.

Years later, you're both delighted--though a little shaken--by those two pink lines that appear in seconds. But you can still see that he will be a great dad to this baby--this son. He is strong and reassuring during the pregnancy, attending almost every doctor's appointment. He understands when you're too tired to attend the basketball games he coaches, and he rushes home afterward to be with you. Like you, he wants this baby, marveling at the ultrasound, the constant kicks, and the rounding of your belly.

But the realities of a newborn are way different than vaguely "wanting kids." Nothing quite prepares you to see your man become a father. It's different than it looked in your head, just as that baby cries a bit more than he did in your head. That first night in the hospital, when the baby won't stop crying, you both secretly wonder what you have done. In your sleep-deprived state, you're convinced you won't survive.

But you drive home as a family of three on a Saturday, your husband's hands steady on the steering wheel. He drives a little slower with awareness of the hiccupping bundle in the backseat.

At first, it's hard. You expect him to be the strong one, the one who is immune to exhaustion and fatigue. You don't like seeing the humanness of him (or the fact that he learns quickly to sleep through the baby's cries). You also expect him to be patient, but there are times he voices the words in your head, "I can't do this anymore; he won't stop crying!"

You see him wince at the piles of laundry even though he tries to hide it. Sometimes you're jealous he gets to escape. Sometimes you feel guilty for how much you do "nothing" during the day. You wonder if you'll ever be a team.

You see how much he loves the baby, but it's a nervous, tentative love that holds him carefully rather than expertly, that marvels in his newness and tininess. It's a love that stands in contrast to the deep knowledge and connection you have with the baby--the son you carried inside you for nine months.

You feel annoyed that he's jealous of the baby, but at the same time, it makes you wonder if you do love the baby too much or him not enough. You struggle to figure out what to do with all-consuming love for a little tiny boy that, for a short season, has eclipsed so many other feelings. You wonder if he's not a little too obsessed with having time alone with you; doesn't he love the baby?

You both get frustrated wondering who is doing more and you start making lists. "I walked the baby for over an hour last night and got up with him." "But I did all the laundry, the dishes, and finished making dinner. Now I have to go to work." (One day, you'll look back and see how silly this all is, but it won't be until you're both a bit more rested and clear-thinking, a bit better able to discuss your needs and serve each other).

A pastor tells you, "When my first son was born, I was so angry. I went around punching walls. I didn't expect it to be so hard for me--the dad." And you'll both breathe a sigh of relief because you both resonate with that: "I didn't expect it to be so hard for me--or for you."

One day, little things will start to happen. You'll see how he can make the baby smile--a different smile from the one the baby gives you. You'll relish the goofy voice he uses for the baby.

You'll realize there's no one else you'd rather have beside you on a trip with your baby. Only he will understand the fifteen million stops to nurse and comfort a baby who hates his carseat. Only he will let you keep talking and talking because the baby stirs anytime you don't. He will take the baby on long walks in the morning so you can get more sleep.

You'll hear him tell his family how much he admires you. You'll be thankful for all the times he insists on picking up pizza or groceries on the way home. He'll bring you everything you need during marathon nursing sessions and watch TV with you or let you read quietly.

Months later, it will be just the two of them running errands (after you dismiss the car wreck scenarios and actually let someone else take the baby in a car). You'll hear the excitement when he comes back and tells you all about it. He'll show you videos on his phone and tell you what you missed.

It will be easy not to notice these things. You'll make the negative lists far more quickly (especially at 3 in the morning). It will be easy to compare your husband to the stories you read in books or the pictures posted online of yet another bouquet or sweet gesture. But you could tell those stories and take those pictures too, if only you'll open your eyes. And for all the negative lists you made, when you look back, only positives will come to mind. You'll see that, though it looked different than you expected, he's been the dad you hoped he would be all along.

You'll see the spontaneous kisses on the head, the sudden exclamations of, "You're so cute!"

He'll want to hold the baby and see everyone's reaction to him. When you're getting ready to go out, taking turns handing off the baby, he'll say "Doesn't mommy look pretty!?"

You'll start to realize that his day is different from yours in a way you never expected, and now that you aren't working the same job, it takes effort to relate. It takes thoughtfulness not to offend when you're both feeling so raw. You suddenly have to remind yourselves to hug and kiss. But you're both growing, sometimes rapidly, just like that baby. And your love will gain traction again, just as that little boy gains traction and starts to walk.

Fatherhood isn't in those big things you write home about. It's not about comparison--to other dads or to yourself. Rather it's accepting that this dad, this man, this husband is the one chosen to be the father of this child. It's the "thank yous" and spontaneous chocolate bars and the long walks together and the cleaning up the dishes when you just had to make cookies late at night to sustain you through a night of wake ups.

It's the delight in getting away and the delight in staying home with the toddler. It's the way you both laugh at his antics and get freaked out when he gets a bump on his head.

It's the note he leaves on your baby's first birthday right before he leaves for work: "Thanks for coming into our lives and making us soooo happy!"

You'll both adjust and change and find deep within each other the person you always knew was there--the guy who talked about how he couldn't wait to be a dad and the girl who drank it all in with glowing eyes.