My Journey Into Fatherhood – Part 1 (Prenatal)

[Disclaimer – This series of posts is about my personal journey into fatherhood. There are an infinite number of ways to be a good father and parent and I made the choices I felt were best for me and my family. I do not rank or judge other peoples’ parenting choices so please respect mine.]

As I sit here with my son nestled tightly to my bare chest in one of our baby wearing carriers I can’t help but wonder how I got here. I mean, I understand how I got here on planet earth (basically the same way he did), but how did I become a father? I keep repeating the words “I have a son. This is my son” to myself and even after almost 11 weeks it still seems surreal. There’s no class to become a parent, no final exam, no certification or prerequisites. And yet over the course of the entire pregnancy and the last 10+ weeks I’m now a baby wearing, cloth diaper changing, nose booping dude who sings and dances with his son in his arms. Seriously??? The same dude who not too long ago was playing drums in a heavy metal band and riding his bicycle across the entire state? That guy?? I ask this in the best way possible – What happened???

I owe much of my journey to my wife. Without her I would not have found the books, movies, and other educational material to be the parent that I am. She’s so much more intuitive and natural at this; it’s amazing watching the interactions between her and my son, even during their struggles. I know I would have figured out how to be a good parent eventually, but a lot of the things I read I would not have ever done despite them making so much sense, mostly because I just plain hadn’t thought about them. Having all this awesome background knowledge has given me the tools I need to make better parenting decisions grounded in logic and facts as opposed to gut feel and urban legends. That’s a good thing for an engineer. 🙂 Specifically, I’m talking about books like Origins, The Baby Book, and Great Expectations; the movie series The Business of Being Born, and our Bradley Method prenatal training classes. To me there was no better way to become an involved father than to gain as much knowledge as possible from the moment he was conceived. To give him the best possible start I could in life was and continues to be my prime goal. I am blessed with the good fortune of physical, emotional, and financial health, and I definitely want to use those to advance him in life as much as possible. I want to look at him when he finally strikes out into the world on his own and say, “Son, I’m proud of you, now go make this world a better place.”

I want to give a HUGE shoutout to the Bradley classes and our instructor, Melissa Lee. Bradley’s entire focus is husband-coached natural childbirth, which is what we wanted from the very beginning. But wait, husband-coached? Me? Yeah buddy. It remains to this day the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, which is not meant to minimize what my wife went through in any way at all! I can legitimately say that I prepared for his birth and that I was there helping bring him into this world.

But would all this preparation help me out once he arrived? Would things go as smoothly as I had hoped? Would my training and confidence help me weather the storm of being a first-time parent? Would I be able to stand with the weight and responsibility of raising another human being on my shoulders? That’s what this blog is for, to figure all of that out, so definitely stay tuned. I’ll reassess at 3 months with Part 2. 🙂

PS – Feel free to ask me any questions about any of the material I referenced, or just weigh in with comments! If you don’t feel comfortable posting here you can just email or Facebook me. 🙂

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My Top 10 Father/Son Moments (So Far)

What? Another Top 10 list? What is this, Letterman? Nah, just a repository for my thoughts so I don’t forget them. Enjoy! 🙂

10) Mastering the art of changing a cloth pre-fold diaper while half-awake/half-asleep at 3am.
9) Watching him fall asleep on my shoulder, setting him in the crib, and having him stay asleep for longer than 0.34 seconds (but not longer than it takes to type this sentence).
8) Feeding him with a bottle for the first time. It was awkward since we hadn’t developed our feeding rapport yet but still, up until then it was all Mom. Yet another way for me to connect with him.
7) The first story I read to him – I Broke My Trunk.
6) Giving him his first bath in the nursery when he was less than 3 hours old. He will never be that small again.
5) Watching Great Grandmama (BuBu) hold him for the first time. He is her first great grandchild so naturally she had the biggest smile I’ve seen in a long, long time!
4) Holding him while I sang to him and danced with him to some of my favorite songs by Clutch. For an hour. Twice.
3) After my first full day back at work in nearly 3 weeks I came home and he had the brightest eyes and widest smile. I asked him how his day was and we “talked” for nearly a half hour!
2) A few hours after his first vaccinations he woke up from a nap and was inconsolable. Not even feeding would help; he was obviously irritated and probably in pain. I changed his diaper, picked him up, and just held him. Rocked him. Whispered to him that “it was all going to be okay.” It took little while but he settled down, nestled himself on my shoulder, and eventually fell asleep. I felt his breathing go from rapid hysterics to calm, peaceful sleep. He knew I would comfort him, protect him, and that as long as he was in my arms everything would be alright.
1) Turning to my rock star wife after 20 minutes of pushing, over 8 hours of active labor, and at least 24 hours without sleep, with eyes full of pride and love, and announcing “It’s A Boy!”

If this is how awesome it’s been after only 2 months I can’t wait for what’s in store later on!

2 Months – Eyes Wide Open

My Wonderful Son,

They told me time flies when you have children and they were more right than I ever thought possible. It really doesn’t seem like two months have passed since I first laid eyes on you and proclaimed triumphantly, “It’s a boy!”. Regardless of my perception of time, watching how much you’ve grown tells me it has been at least 2 months.

I wrote last month about how I started to feel a connection with you and how I wanted to explore it further. Now? That connection is solid. I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been, how much I’ve loved every minute of it. You make eye contact with me and smile. You “talk” to me, both with your mouth and your wonderfully expressive eyes. After my first full day back at work, I came home after being away from you for the longest span of time so far (9 hours). You were so happy to see me, so full of energy, and had so much to say! It was like we had a full conversation about what you and Mom did that day!

Even during the tough times I feel we’re connected. I can tell you know I have your best interests at heart, even when I can’t figure out what’s wrong right away. Feeling you settle in, nestled against my chest, calming down, and going to sleep is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. You know you’re safe and secure, and your hands clutching my fingers shows me how much you want me, how much you need me.

Eventually that feeling of yours will develop into a closeness called love. And I’ll be here, as I always have, and always will be to show you the feeling is mutual. Let’s keep growing together, eyes wide open.

Some Adjustments May Be Required

Through the magic of paternity leave and a corporate holiday shutdown I was able to take 15-1/2 straight days off of work last month. It wasn’t super relaxing with all the holiday running around, visits (everyone wants to see the new baby!), and general ruckus. But it was definitely two things: 1) time away from work; and 2) nearly 100% spent with my wife and new son. And despite the fractured sleep, general holiday stress, and ever-present learning parenting learning curve, I had a lot of fun. So now as I’m 1 week into the new work year, things feel a bit different. The work I’m doing doesn’t feel as critical and important as it once did. I’m a lot less tolerant and quicker to weed out the things that I do that are pointless and wasting my time (there wasn’t much there anyway, but still). I’m kinda irritable and a little bit annoyed at things.

That’s when hit hit me: I miss being home with my wife and son. And not just because I don’t have to do work. I can honestly say I like my current job and career path and enjoy coming to work most days. Let’s be clear: parenting is work, and when I leave my day job I go home to my second job. Only my second job is way more fun and rewarding. And for that reason I feel like when I’m at my day job that I’m missing out. It feels weird to come home and change a diaper when I haven’t changed the one before it. I’m agitated that I can only spend a few hours with him before having to prepare for the next day – prep for breakfast and lunch, then do pet chores, wash, rinse, and repeat. Worse, some part of me feels like I’m not being a parent, not taking care of my son, because I’m at work. Isn’t that ridiculous? I know logically that working provides financial support and stability and that’s one of the core tenets of being a parent. But it’s indirect. It’s not tangible. It requires me to be away from him. And right now I don’t like it one bit.

I know that this is just an adjustment thing and eventually I’ll be comfortable with it, but I’m not sure I really want to be truly at ease. We all know that time accelerates and kids grow up way too fast. He’s already growing up before my eyes; it’s amazing, wonderful, scary, and sad all at the same time. I don’t want to open the door to prioritizing work over my son. A good friend of my wife’s gave me some good food for thought when we were discussing how she balanced work and family. To paraphrase, she said “When I’m at work, I’m working. When I’m at home, I’m a mom.” This resonated with me then and even more so now. When I’m at work, I’m an engineer. When I’m at home, I’m a dad.

Now if only those “make millions from the comfort of your own home” scams really worked……

Of Music and Men

There are a lot of things in my life that I value highly and want to pass on as important to my son. Music is definitely near the top of the list. I’m a lifelong musician – I studied classical trumpet for 10 years and dabbled in jazz, have been playing drums for 16 years and am currently in a successful local heavy metal band, and I took piano and organ lessons as a kid. My mom is a piano player and my dad has acted and sang in many community musicals despite not being able to read music. My brother played baritone and tuba in school and is a bass player in another successful local heavy metal band. I have a wide variety of musical tastes as evidenced by the 4,381 songs on my iPhone and the 7,654 songs on my computer. So you could say music is a rather large part of my life.

Along the same lines, I had a random revelation – I think I would be absolutely devastated if my son did not have similar musical interests as me. I know he’s going to grow up to be whatever he wants to be, but music is such a critical piece of my being that I will make it one of my prime missions to impress upon him how much it can be a force for happiness, comfort, inspiration, guidance, and creativity. But I have so much music! I can literally play music for him 24/7 for a LONG time and not play the same song twice! I do have a few favorites though, so I’ve come up with a list of 10 albums across a wide variety of musical genres that I will do my very best to show him how awesome they are. It was ridiculously hard to narrow this list down to just 10, but these albums have each deeply touched and altered my life in some way. I’m hoping my passion for them will enable my son to have similar experiences with music. There is so much for me to teach him!

[Note: A lot of these albums have explicit lyrics and some people may think they are not suitable for children. While I generally do not condone profanity, I believe that it has valuable uses in certain musical contexts. That is is abused by so-called musicians in lots of modern music is a discussion for another day.]

1) Lateralus by Tool220px-Tool_-_Lateralus
This my favorite and most listened to album of all time and Tool is also my favorite band by more than a country mile. The musical genius, passion, and emotion from this album are beyond words. I can listen to it front to back over and over and over again.

220px-The_Ultimate_Experience2) The Ultimate Experience by Jimi Hendrix
It’s Jimi Hendrix, do I need to say more?

bodyandsoul3) Body and Soul by Rick Braun
Rick Braun is one of my modern idols as a trumpet player. His range is incredible and he makes it sound soooo easy. Plus his Getzen Genesis sound is so smooth it’s ridiculous! This album got tons of playing time during my high school trumpet playing years.

220px-Led_Zeppelin_-_Remasters4) Remasters by Led Zeppelin
Really I could just play the entire Zeppelin catalog from front to back, but this album hits most of the high points. Sidenote: Heart’s rendition of Stairway to Heaven will bring you to tears!

Hybrid_wide_angle5) Wider Angle by Hybrid
Hybrid are the pioneers of UK progressive breakbeat music. This double album showcases their incredible writing abilities and collaboration with the Russian Federal Orchestra as well as captures the energy in their live mix sessions.

220px-Cracktheskye6) Crack the Skye by Mastodon
A wondrous concept album that explores the heart and spirit of its astra-traveling main character. Definitely a stretch album for the metal masters but one that struck a vibe with me.

220px-TheSwordWarpRiders7) Warp Riders by The Sword
Another concept album by a little-known band that has all the best elements of classic and hard rock with thundering drums and ripping guitar riffs.

220px-Strappingyoungladalien8) Alien by Strapping Young Lad
Devin Townsend is a musical genius. On this album he is somehow able to channel all the pain, anguish, and suffering into some of the most brilliant music I’ve ever heard.

220px-Nine_Inch_Nails_With_Teeth_Standard9) With Teeth by Nine Inch Nails
Speaking of turning pain and anguish into music, there are none better than Trent Reznor. Pro tip: He was one of the influences behind picking my son’s name. 🙂

220px-Swans_The_Seer_album10) The Seer by Swans
I bought this double album after hearing part of 1 song in an indie music shop in Seattle. Aside from the jaw-dropping musical brilliance, I especially like this album because it teaches a lesson about music as art. This album requires total concentration to listen to and appreciate; it cannot be listened to as multitasking background noise. Listening through it completely is a life-altering experience on its own and takes my mind to lots of places trying to figure it out and interpret it. It’s pure art.

220px-NirvanaNevermindalbumcoverBonus: Nevermind by Nirvana
This album is indisputably awesome, but the main reason it’s on the list is because of its significance and impact to the direction of music. This album literally changed the direction of all music and launched arguably the most prolific and influential period in American music – the 1990s grunge and alternative rock movement.