Thirty-one years ago I became what is known as a stay-at-home-deadbeat-dad. I almost never left the house and was dependent entirely on my wife’s income. The reason? The two of us had become parents, and since Anne had the better-paying job it made sense that I should become Alex’s primary caregiver. Here’s what I learned from that experience:
YOU are not the center of the universe! Matter of fact, in the general scheme of things, you and your erstwhile silly ambitions count for nothing. All that matters is that when your wife comes home from work at night, the baby is alive and the house is still standing. And I’m talking here about just one kid. Honestly, I have no idea how larger families manage.
Your life will never be the same after the baby comes. I remember once telling my mother-in-law that should Anne and I ever decide to have a child, said child will surely manage to accommodate itself to our schedule. She simply smiled knowingly. “Poor sonofabitch has no idea what he’s talking about.”
The first few months are the hardest. That’s because the baby never gets sleepy. Oh, sure, he may nod off in his car seat or in his stroller—but then what? Do you leave him where he lies or pick him up and carry him into the house? Well, of course you do the latter, because there are laws against leaving babies in the driveway. So you pick him up and carry him inside to his crib, and no sooner does his head hit the pillow than his eyes pop open and it’s playtime once again.
You, on the other hand, are ALWAYS sleepy. All you ever want is to hit the sack. Think of it as basic training. The baby is breaking you down, eliminating every last vestige of the person you used to be–preparing you for the even harder task ahead, which is toddlerhood.
Toddlerhood. Soon as a baby learns to walk, it will automatically begin walking in the direction of the nearest cliff or busy highway or irrigation canal. So you’ve got to be hyper-vigilant at all times. Take your eyes off him for just a second and poof! He’s disappeared into a department store coat rack and there he will stay, motionless and mute, while you run about frantically calling out his name. Store personnel will look at you disapprovingly, and female shoppers in the checkout lane—the same female shoppers who earlier cast approving glances at the nurturing male–will avert their eyes and whisper amongst themselves.
“Isn’t that the guy who doesn’t have a job and who is always losing his kid?”
By and by, things will gradually begin to get better. Now that you no longer aspire to make something of yourself or impress women, you’ll find a certain satisfaction in doing things that—had you no toddler in tow—would get you arrested for loitering. Once, I remember, Alex and I spent an entire afternoon just watching a backhoe dig a hole in the ground.
On another occasion, Alex and I were dawdling away on the shores of Lost Lake. Alex had found a log raft and was poling along, pretending to be Huck Finn as I watched from the bank. A curious young lad approached, and Alex invited him aboard. That’s when the boy’s father called out from his campsite: “Hey, get the blankety-blank back here! What do you think you’re doing? Do you think we came up here to have FUN?”
Well, no, he didn’t actually say that last thing, but he might as well have. What he should have done was what I was doing—check first to make sure the water is only a foot or so deep and then stand close enough to the shore so that if the kid falls off the raft, I can rescue him in a flash.
It’s my belief that children who aren’t allowed to take any calculated risks will become accident-prone adults. Conversely, children who are forced to try things before they’re ready will become phobic. And finally, parents who can’t or won’t find the time to spend with their children when they’re little will come to regret it after their children have become big and they themselves have grown old. Because no success in life matters a whit should you fail as a parent.