I'm So Thankful My Wife Required Me to Be a Hands-On Dad

boy father stroller
iStock.com/AleksandarNakic

I don't remember the first three months of my son's life.

I do remember his birth, when he slipped into this world, his tiny body wet and wrinkled, his eyes scrunching open and shut, as he cried out in a voice that made my heart thrum.

I can remember cradling him gently against my chest for the first time, worried I might somehow hurt him if I held him too tightly.

I remember cutting his umbilical cord, being amazed by its length and girth, and silently thanking it for being my son's lifeline as he grew.

After that, I have a few flashes of moments in the hospital and when we first came home. After that -- nothing.

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If I look at pictures taken during those first three months, they jog foggy memories, but they are incomplete, like a reel of film missing frames.

I was the only wage earner during that period because my wife was on unpaid maternity leave. Luckily, I had taken on a large book project, which covered the shortfall. This meant I was out of the house most of the time. When I was home, I was trying to either cram in a few hours' sleep or finish up some writing. (I don't remember much about writing that book either, though when I read it now, I'm very pleased with the results.)

My first clear memories of my son's life are when my wife went back to work. Suddenly, I was expected to play a major role as a caregiver. Sure, I had sometimes changed his diapers and swaddled him, but my wife had handled almost all the childcare. Now I was charged with taking our son to daycare and picking him up in the evenings. It was not a task I was eager to take on. I felt sure it would disrupt my routines and negatively impact my work. My wife was rightfully unimpressed with my grumblings on the matter.

"You're going to have to make it work so our family can work," she told me.

I'm pretty sure I replied, "Harrumph," and stomped out of the room like a petulant 4-year-old.

The first few weeks of taking my son to daycare were difficult for me. I resented the time I was spending in transit -- even though the round-trip was less than half an hour. I felt I could have been writing, conducting meetings, or taking phone calls instead. Driving my infant boy to and fro didn't feel like meaningful work, more like the job of a simple chauffeur. I griped about this to my wife, who replied I was being selfish and thoughtless. I was told I needed to man up and embrace fatherhood. I was affronted and defensive, but her comments made me think.

I couldn't argue that this new routine centered my life around my son in a way I hadn't experienced up until then. My weekdays were now bookended by our trips -- sometimes in the car, sometimes in the stroller when the weather was nice and I wanted a little fresh air. After I got him strapped in, I found myself talking to him in transit. I'd chat about what I planned to do that day or what had happened, I would try to explain world events, talk through my own problems, or I would simply lavish him with affection.

"Did Poppa tell you how much he loves you today? I love you so, so, so much," I'd say.

If I was lucky, my son would coo back, and my heart would swell.

At some point, I began looking forward to the daily pickup and drop-off. It helped kick-start me in the mornings and provided a goal line at the end of my days. Though our conversations were one-sided, I found they bonded us.

Starting at around 6 months of age, our son began eating simple solids to complement his daily doses of breast milk. When I was home for dinner, my wife put me in charge of feeding him. Watching him sloppily, but enthusiastically, nosh on pureed peaches or mashed avocado bits cracked me up endlessly and further increased the time we spent together daily.

After-dinner baths were another duty I began sharing with my wife. I would fill the tub with warm water and his toys, so he could splash around. After letting him frolic, I would do my best to clean him off, while he wriggled out of my hands and giggled triumphantly. I got exasperated occasionally, but mostly his antics made me laugh. I felt like the dad in Calvin and Hobbes and didn't mind being the punchline in this real-life comic strip.

These weren't the only times we spent together. I pushed him around the neighborhood on sunny days, took him to the playground after he began walking at the 10-month mark, ferried him to local museums to check out exhibits on dinosaurs and wildlife (which he had already shown an interest in), and read to him on a regular basis.

All this time together helped us become tighter. At some point, my wife complimented me on my level of involvement and how she had seen my relationship with my son grow because of it. This time, I didn't harrumph. I thanked her for pushing me to take a more active role in his life, because I deeply cherish my closeness with him. He's not just my son; he's my friend and an endless well of joy and comfort.

These days, I remember almost everything I do with my son and I am thankful for all the time I spend with him -- even if I'm simply making him dinner, reading him his favorite books before bed, or reminding him that the water needs to stay in the tub while he's taking a bath. And though he probably won't remember all these small moments himself, I hope the deeper emotional memories of our times together stay with him for the rest of his life.

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