Right about the time my son, K-Man, was born, my older brother and then father of twin boys of his own (he’s since added another) told me, “Welcome to the longest days and the shortest years.” At the time, I had no idea what he meant. Then I blinked and K-Man is turning five. How the he(ck) did that happen? As I watched K-Man lead his friends on a Star Wars march through the house during his b’day party this last weekend, I couldn’t help but reflect.
Early in K-Man’s life (and even slightly before), I wrote a blog about the Life & Times of a New Dad and then a book for expectant dads. Both were dedicated to capturing what I believed was the truth about fatherhood and new fatherhood, in particular. It seemed, to me, that most of the books, at least, written for new dads were all incredibly touchy-feely. One of the most popular went so far as to feature a chapter entitled, “Make the Pregnancy Your Own.”
What f-ing planet was that guy on?
Make the pregnancy your own? It’s a little difficult to do when, as dads, we’re freaking invisible during the pregnancy. At some point, we just become “the #$%^ a-hole that got me this way.” I wanted to write about a dad’s perspective (mine, anyway) in real terms. With real experiences. And, the truth was this: Having a new kid was downright brutal. Having a new kid was ALL about the longest days. I couldn’t even see my way to think in terms of years.
Making the pregnancy your own? That’s wasn’t real. THIS was real:
I’ll never forget the time K-Man, early on the morning after my wife and I went out and got plastered for the very first time after he was born, woke us up with his impersonation of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace. Only, instead of war paint on his face, K-Man was covered in his own sh*t. Covered. The walls. The crib. His body. Absolutely covered in (what we’ve come to know as) poo.
But that was just one day. One brutal morning. There was so much more that happened each and every day. The sleepless nights. The crying. The endless diapers. The lack of ability to really communicate. Potty training. My wife and I talked at length, as we both took turns crying, about how incredulous we were about the fact that people actually think they can have kids to strengthen their relationships! Are they high? This new kid thing was brutally difficult. The new parent thing was even worse. I wanted to throttle the authors of books who wrote about the importance of things like bonding and other crap like that. I was convinced that these books were no more than some great conspiracy, “We did it. Now YOU have to. Look how FUN it is!” I was convinced that there was some league of dads laughing their asses off over pints of Guinness; another one bites the dust.
But then, I remember how incredible six-months was when he was sleeping through the night, could sit up and laugh, but not yet move. We could just pop him into the middle of the room and he’d sit for hours. Laughing his ass own off, and therefore, making me laugh my ass off . K-Man’s first word was Harley (pronounced “Arley”) for our dog. His first steps were taken when he was a little over a year old. His first-ever baseball game was a no-hitter. Then, of course, there was the time he, proving that he listens to everything, swore for the first time. Hard not to laugh. In these series of firsts, the long days seemed to shorten, though, and the shortest years started to emerge.
Recently, we were in Santa Barbara playing in a pool. I was throwing K-Man over and over. And over again. At some point he met a friend and when I went to throw him again, he told me, “Stop, dad. I’m playing with my friend.” It brought me a great deal of pride that he so easily found and new friend and untold sadness to be faced with the reality that some day, the long days will be gone for good. It seems that on celebration of his fifth birthday, I only want the most incredibly long days. And damn the shortest years.
I’m here to celebrate, though. I’m here to rejoice in the last five years. I spend an ungodly amount of time considering the lessons that I hope to teach him – even at his young age. They range from saying please and thank you to trying to explain gratitude. Mostly, though, I want him to know that he can chase his dreams with never ending support. Ever the method actor, over these five years, K-Man has thrown himself into his obsessions with fire fighters, SCUBA diving, super heroes and now, all things Star Wars and Clone Wars. If he wants to ride on fire trucks, swim with dolphins, leap tall building, or battle the Sith (about whom I knew nothing before he told me), I want him to do just that. If, as he tells us, he wants to be a rock star and make pizza or play football. Go nuts, boy.
I know. Every dad says these things.
We all just want our kids to be happy, right? But what has stuck me the most and the deepest is that, while I may very well be teaching him whatever lessons I can, like (maybe sadly) trying to embrace 49ers football, he really is the one teaching me about following passions. I speak to college students. I own my own company. I’ve written a book. And, he’s really the one teaching me. The truth is that while I continually search for the thing that drives me the most, I’ve found it. I’m a dad. It’s the thing that I do best. And for that, I am eternally grateful to K-Man. For without you, kid…thank you.
This isn’t meant to sugar coat anything (like those annoying new dad books). Some of the things that were incredibly difficult and incredibly frustrating are still there. Communication is still sometimes difficult. Patience has now meaning. And, yes, there are still epic meltdowns. But, five years later, I have far fewer of them.
All kidding aside, the early days of new parenthood are f-ing difficult. There’s no hiding that. So, if you’re mired in that, sympathies. Deep, deep sympathies. But know this, it gets better in a way that is unimaginable. Early on, you’re more caretaker than parent. Vacations aren’t vacations…they’re trips. Your kid is just another piece of luggage; only unlike a Samsonite, it needs constant attention. That changes. It all changes. And before long, you become less of a caretaker and more of a…dad.
And that’s just awesome. Happy birthday, K-Man. Thank you. I look forward to many, many long days…and long years…ahead.