Reflections on Fatherhood

Dads speak out on the joys and struggles of parenting.

Becoming a Dad

When my son, Matthew, came into the world four years ago, crying and cranky and as healthy as a 7-pound, 8-ounce peanut could possibly be, I knew things were going to be different. But like most every new father, I had no idea just how different.

At first I believed the two sleepless months that turned my wife, Darcy, and me into walking zombies (albeit not as functional as real ones) were merely an initiation into parenthood, after which life would return to normal. Guess what? It never did.

Instead it got -- and keeps getting -- better and better. Every stage has been like witnessing a little miracle, whether it's been watching him learn to crawl, walk, talk, drink from a regular cup, express himself in sentence form, self-potty, play by himself, play with friends (on "dates," yet), count to 30, hit a pitched Whiffleball, or, most recently, have his inaugural sleepover with his "best buddy." What's amazing is that each development has been all but blurred by the excitement of the next one -- and the anticipation of every advancement still to come.

After surveying dads across the country on everything from the best part of being a parent to how well they pack a diaper bag, I discovered that I'm definitely not alone. We all have a lot in common. We miss some aspects of pre-parenthood: sleeping, spending time alone with our wives. On the other hand, we differ on the small details -- some of us don't mind diaper detail, while others cringe at the thought. But what ultimately comes through is the fact that while these little wonders have changed our lives forever, it is most definitely for the better.

After all there's nothing like the joy of having a small, warm body crawl into your bed every morning, give you a hug, and say "I love you, Daddy." After a start like that (even at 6:30 on a Saturday morning), how bad can any day really be?

    The Joys of Parenthood

    What's the best thing about life with kids?

    "My little girl doubles as a hot-water bottle on the couch."
    --Michael Verdon, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, father of a 6-year-old girl

    "Watching my son mimic me. He even patted my wife on the butt once after seeing me do it."
    --Brian Fortner, Germantown, Maryland, father of Cole, 20 months

    "Playing with my son's Hot Wheels Power Loop Race Set after he goes to bed."
    --Allen St. John, Upper Montclair, New Jersey, father of Ethan, 6, and Emma, 3

    "The realization that if I had anything to do with the birth of these smart, strong, beautiful girls, then I must not be such a bad guy after all."
    --Ben Smith, Decatur, Georgia, father of Johanna, 5 and Simrill, 3

      What do you enjoy doing the most with your child?

      "I hope my friends don't read this, but I would have to say it is dancing and singing with Emma. It is truly a joy to see her face light up when we're both dancing around the living room, singing to my not-so-good guitar playing or is just acting silly -- the Wiggles have nothing on us."
      --Jeff Summersby, North Bay, Ontario, father of Emma, 21 months

      "Eating knishes at baseball games and watching her dance to the organ music."
      --Stephen Kline, Brooklyn, New York, father of Julia, 20 months

      "I like teaching my son new things, such as how to make a snowball. I also like taking him to Home Depot in the middle of the day and watching all the contractors in there stare at me and the kid. Often the cashiers will say something like 'So you're watching the little one today.' And I say, 'Yup, I watch him every day, all day.' They kind of don't know what to say after that."
      --Brian Fortner, Germantown, Maryland, father of Cole, 20 months

        What's the thing that surprised you most about parenthood?

        "Every child is different. You think you've learned something with one child, then the next child is the exact opposite."
        --Richard Gershon, Fort Worth, Texas, father of Michelle, 14, Ben, 9, Claire, 4, and Eve, 2

        "The endless discussion about my child's excrement."
        --Andy Laskin, New York, New York, father of Sam, 14 months

        "I used to be a workaholic. But now all I want to do is put in my 9 to 5 and head home to my family."
        --Jeff Summersby, North Bay, Ontario, father of Emma, 21 months

        "How much laughter you can experience on a single day."
        --Greg Navin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of a 20-month-old baby

          The Struggles of Parenthood

          What do you miss most about your pre-baby life?

          "Being able to actually stay awake to watch Letterman."
          --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

          "All the quarters that we now spend on daily laundry runs."
          --Andy Laskin, New York, New York, father of Sam, 14 months

          "Romancing my wife. I still surprise her, but it's not the same because we're always thinking about our child -- even when we have a sitter."
          --Brian Fortner, Germantown, Maryland, father of Cole, 20 months

          "Time alone -- both by myself and with my wife. I need time to read, to hear myself think. And that time is extremely rare now."
          --Alan Beck, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, father of Eddie, 18 months

          "Going to a party that does not involve a Moonbounce, face-painting, or an Elmo birthday cake."
          --Gary Barkin, Los Angeles, California, father of Jordan, 3, and Dean, 8 months

            What's the child-care task that you hate the most and why?

            "Wiping runny noses. They never stop running. How does so much snot fit into such a small body?
            --Richard Gershon, Fort Worth, Texas, father of Michelle, 14, Ben, 9, Claire, 4, and Eve, 2

            "Cleaning her car seat. I never know what type of month-old mystery meat I'm going to find."
            --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

            "Leaving her at school. She cries."
            --Stephen Kline, Brooklyn, New York, father of Julia, 20 months

            "Making formula from powder in those disposable plastic sleeves. The formula never dissolves fully, making me feel guilty that I'm giving my kid colored water -- and it seems I never get the amount right and the stuff ends up overflowing the counter."
            --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

            "Because I feel that children should have time to be kids and shouldn't be rushed even if we are, the task that I hate the most is waking my kids up in the morning. I will slow down to give them breakfast even if it means I get to work half a half hour later."
            --Doug Forman, Ann Arbor, Michigan, father of Alexandra, 6, and Gabrielle, 3

              What aspect of raising your child do you worry about the most?

              Education. I want her to have the best possible schooling, but it's a fine line. If you put too much pressure on the kid, she'll either turn out to be a drug addict or a Supreme Court Justice -- it's a toss-up.
              --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

              "I worry about giving him good values and the ability to reason as well as feel."
              --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

              "I'll start worrying when they get to high school and date boys with names like Flippo."
              --Ben Smith, Decatur, Georgia, father of Johanna, 5 and Simrill, 3

              "I want to make sure they enjoy childhood without being pressured to grow up too fast."
              --Gary Barkin, Los Angeles, California, father of Jordan, 3, and Dean, 8 months

                Relationship Changes

                Does your wife treat you like a competent father? Should she?

                "Most of the time, though sometimes she makes me feel about as competent as an Enron executive. And hell, yeah, she should. It takes hours of dedication to teach your child how to make those noises with your armpit."
                --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

                "Most of the time. It was a slow learning curve for her to trust me, especially since I made a few dumb maneuvers with the stroller when our daughter was a baby."
                --Michael Verdon, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, father of a 6-year-old girl

                "Most times, though on occasion, when the laundry and the dishes pile up, she complains that I am her third child."
                --Ben Smith, Decatur, Georgia, father of Johanna, 5 and Simrill, 3

                  What's your ongoing disagreement with your wife?

                  "I feel my wife is too permissive. When I arrive home from work, my daughter is frequently half-naked, playing "man cub" from The Jungle Book, and there are discarded lollypops hiding in random places. When I'm in charge, the play area is clean and art projects are underway."
                  --Scott Saef, Chicago, Illinois, father of a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter

                  "About whether we should go to Chuck E. Cheese's more than twice a year. I like it, she hates it. My daughter loves it."
                  --Michael Verdon, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, father of a 6-year-old girl

                  "I could be more romantic."
                  --Eric Hammerling, Amherst, Massachusetts, father of Mateo, 3

                  "Whether Luke should have regular school, or -- my novel suggestion -- no school."
                  --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

                  "How many kids to have. She wants only two and then it's snip, snip for me. Our second is due in August. I'm not so sure two should be it. Maybe it's the snip, snip that got me."
                  --Brian Fortner, Germantown, Maryland, father of Cole, 20 months

                  "Whether watching TV with a baby constitutes quality parent-child bonding."
                  --Gary Barkin, Los Angeles, California, father of Jordan, 3, and Dean, 8 months

                    What impact has parenthood had on your sex life?

                    "In the early months, I wondered if I inadvertently took a vow of celibacy when I signed the hospital papers. Now it's the same as before birth. Begging and buying expensive gifts go a long way."
                    --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

                    "Without going into too much detail, because my wife will hurt me, the number of times has dropped off, but when we do find the time and energy, we make the most of it. Hey, it's not the quantity but the quality that counts."
                    --Jeff Summersby, North Bay, Ontario, father of Emma, 21 months

                    "Parenthood has made it much more meaningful, in that you see the covenant it represents no matter how often you do it per day -- er, week."
                    --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

                    "Let's just say our second child is on the way."
                    --Greg Navin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of a 20-month-old baby

                      Daily Routines

                      When you dress your child, what does he wear?

                      "Depends which grandparent is most likely to visit, in which case the garment will be the last item purchased by that grandparent."
                      --Andy Laskin, New York, New York, father of Sam, 14 months

                      "Anything that has a zipper instead of those snaps you have to fumble with."
                      --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

                      "As long as it fits and doesn't smell, it's okay. I follow the same rule for myself."
                      --John McNerney, Westwood, New Jersey, father of Brendan 31, Ryan 27, Sean 19, and Meghan, 10 months

                        What book did you read your child last night at bedtime?

                        "Something to do with a turkey that goes into the pool with all its clothes on."
                        --Andy Grossman, New Rochelle, New York, father of Chloe, 3 1/2

                        "Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon."
                        --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

                        "I tell her an adventure/fantasy story every night where she and three of her friends are the heroines. I steal a lot from Disney, but she loves it."
                        --Michael Verdon, East Greenwich, Rhode Island, father of a 6-year-old girl

                          What do you do when you have a moment alone?

                          "What's that?"
                          --James Martin, Fairfield, Connecticut, father of Samantha, 4

                          "Check how the Michigan Wolverines football team is doing."
                          --Eric Hammerling, Amherst, Massachusetts, father of Mateo, 3

                          "Think about crystal-clear rivers and giant salmon."
                          --Pete Bodo, Andes, New York, father of Luke, 3 months

                            All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

                            Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2003.