Small Victories in the Dawn of Fatherhood

My son is now three months old, and we feel almost, kind of, maybe just maybe safely out of the emergency zone of parenthood. It’s no longer a second-to-second job keeping him alive; the intervals have expanded in scope, to minutes, then hours. We’re not going to get complacent, but we can breathe easy now, knowing that we’ve got the hang of raising him – and that he’s got the hang of this whole living thing.

I was talking to a fellow new dad in an online fatherhood group last night when the notion struck me. I finally feel like I know something about being a dad; enough to confidently impart knowledge on someone else. Amazing!

Some weeks back, I began feeling the desperate need for camaraderie in fatherhood. My wife has a close circle of mom friends who she’s known all her life, plus a handful of support groups online. This network provides her with help, advice, and the underappreciated value of simply venting when she needs. We’re a very open and supportive couple, but there’s only so much your significant other can do. When I realized that I was missing this vital component in my own parenting journey, I sought out a fatherhood community that I’d feel comfortable in.

After a lot of trial and error, I found a cozy little space on Facebook to join. It’s a private group, so I won’t be sharing here, but suffice it to say, it’s a legitimate source of comfort, inspiration, questions, answers, ideas, and of course real camaraderie in this tough job of being a dad. I’m blown away by the openness and gentle nature of the group members, as welcoming as they are full of experience and encouragement. After slogging through nightmare realms like Fatherly, which I won’t link because the site and accompanying Facebook page have turned into hot garbage juice, it was such a pleasant eureka moment to find my own dad community.

The people in this group often ask – and answer – some hard questions that have yet to occur to me. The members span the entire range of fatherhood, from veterans with teenagers at home to newbies just piping up from the hospital birthing unit. So far, it’s been an invaluable resource, a constant stream of tough love, concrete advice, and loads of humor.

The humor is important; it’s what keeps this often-literally-shitty adventure from becoming a slog.

father son video games
The author and son, hard at work on a video game.

Until last night, I’d been a mere observer in the group. I smiled at the triumphs of other members, commiserated with their hardships, and took copious notes on all the milestones and related pieces of advice the more experienced members shared along the way. I felt like I was only there to learn, being so new at this whole dadding thing.

I’ve seen far too many people make kids and instantly act like they knew the secrets of the universe. Sure, their babies were only a few weeks old, but they could tell you ALL ABOUT PARENTING with the authoritative voice of Robocop or Ron Swanson. Naturally, the bullshit smelled from miles away. For some reason, more than any other major endeavor in life, creating offspring leads seeming adults into fantastical, childlike hubris. It’s boring and it’s beyond useless, but they’ll tell you everything you never wanted to know about raising a kid, their Expert Opinions on everything, if you let them. I never want to be one of those dads. I’m here to learn, as I always have been.

With that in mind, I must give a special shout out to my dad friends who have given solicited, thoughtful advice along my journey. You guys have been a lifesaver at times. I think you know this already, but I want to thank you again. There’s a difference between being an instant know-it-all and actually sharing relatable knowledge, and you’re on the good side of that fence.

Last night, I found myself sharing my own experience as a father in that dad group for the first time. Someone posted that he’d been a dad only two weeks, but already found palpable relief after settling into something like a routine. I recognized the feeling all too well. After I typed out my short response, I realized that I really am doing alright at this whole fatherhood thing so far. My wife is an amazing mother, and I tell her so all the time, but I still felt the tinge of imposter syndrome in my personal journey. But maybe not any more. Maybe I could give myself a break, take a step back, and realize: I’ve got the hang of this.

Here’s what I wrote:

I was just in your place a couple months ago. It’s constant triage but slowly, gradually, the layers of hardship and stress lift away as you get the hang of keeping your little one alive and then, eventually happy too. Right now, at 3 months, I’m already seeing my son smile and kinda-sorta giggle at times, and I promise you this tiny little thing feels like the greatest reward after the moment-to-moment high wire act of the first several weeks. I promise you, each milestone will bring a bigger sigh of relief, a greater victory.

It’s true, every word.

The so-called “fourth trimester” is done and I feel like a real dad. I’m super ready for what comes next.

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