My wife and I entered parenthood later than most of our peers. We married young, 22 and 25 respectively, but coming from Salt Lake City, Utah, that seemed perfectly normal. We chose not to start a family right away; it was just the two of us against the world, we were enough and, frankly, we had plans.
My wife wanted to be working for the Secretary of Education by 30 and I vowed I'd have a mantle covered with TONYs, Oscars and Emmys by the time I was 40.
My wife has been successful in her career but, while creatively fulfilled, my mantle is surprisingly void of golden statuettes. However, it is covered with Play-Doh dinosaurs and colorful finger paint landscapes... or maybe they're elephants... or cars.
And they're the most important treasures I have.
When we found out we were expecting, we immediately began planning. My wife works at a university in New York and I was working at a cable network during the day and performing in the evenings. We began pulling together as much paid leave as we could. (A tragic reality for those of us living in one of three countries (of 178) without paid maternity leave... but that's another post.) We came up with twelve weeks for my wife and then I would stay at home and take over.
There was no discussion. It was decided. She makes more money and, since insurance is tied to employment in this country (again, another post) we certainly couldn't rely on the wing-and-a-prayer weeks-of-work system Actor's Equity or the Screen Actors Guild provides. Rather than keep my temporary day job to pay someone else to raise our child, I would stay home. It has not only become my full time job, it is my calling. I can't imagine doing it any other way. My only regret is that my wife can't experience it.
However, first big movie, we have a second child, we switch roles... That's the deal.
In the two years since our son, whom we have nicknamed Turtle and Mr. Man, came into our lives, I've learned much about children, parenting and myself. I work hard NOT to be that parent who gives advice to other parents; I'm a firm believer that everyone has their own journey. However, it's Father's Day and I get to do whatever I want. (That's the way it works, right?)
Here are a few things I've learned.
It's all about logistics and the big picture.
I come from the world of the theatre. You have to be on spot X by line A or the big picture, the story, gets muddy. As a parent, I find myself thinking about logistics all the time. "I'm going into the city today. Should I wear Turtle in his Mei Tai or should I lug the stroller around? How hot will it be? It's 80 degrees now. Short sleeves. Might rain later? Jacket and a stroller cover. How much milk do we have? Where can I stop and grab more? Do I need to take some with me? Should we just wing it? Will I be near Shake Shack or Milk Bar? How can I alter my route to ensure I am?" (You don't need to suffer, right? This is supposed to be fun.) This will take five minutes as you prepare yourself for your day, but it makes all the difference when you're out on the road.
It's not a contest.
So, your friend's child is the same age as yours and can walk, talk and do quadratic equations at 6 months... Who cares? Turtle was the last of his birth class buddies to crawl and walk. He's also four inches taller than most 2-year-olds. Big deal. By the time he goes off to college he will be running, potty trained and able to put on his pants by himself.
This is also applicable to "stuff." You don't need that $1000 stroller. Sure, drool over the one your friend got from that rich uncle, but take that $1000 and put it into a college fund or something. A fancy baby bag is nice and I have one that has literally come apart at the seams in just six months. (The company has been kind enough to replace it.) My army/navy store Alice pack? Bulletproof. Holds two baby bottles, a water bottle, diapers, pads, jackets, swaddles, toys, it's cavernous, kind of ugly... and $20. (It was also the perfect counterweight to Mr. Man snuggled into his Mei Tai.)
In parenting, gender doesn't matter, skill sets do.
There's been a lot written about what Mothers and Fathers do better. It's all nonsense. Skill sets are more important than gender. I am a better cook than my wife, always have been. I worked in kitchens from the time I could legally hold a job and I spent much time at my mother and grandmothers' sides, learning. That's part of my skill set. My wife is amazing when it comes to the evening routine: take a bath, comfy comfy, sing songs, story-time, sleepy sleepy. She is quicker to get silly with him, tells better tales, nurtures differently -- gentle, quiet. It's part of her skill set. We are great at stepping in with little fanfare when our skill set is needed. Perhaps it's because we came to be parents after 15 years of figuring out how best we work together.
Think like a Marine (adapt, overcome, improvise).
No face wipes? Do you have a handkerchief and a bottle of water? Nothing is so dire that you need to freak out. Take a breath, assess, you'll be fine. As my mother used to say, "Don't sweat the small stuff... P.S., it's all small stuff." Breath. Assess. Find a solution. Move on.
Love is limitless.
You will believe yourself incapable of loving someone as much as you love your child in this very moment -- then you wake up the next morning, see your kid wake up, fuss, ask incessantly for a "bobble" and your love grows exponentially. This happens every day.
Note to SAHM's:
"I am not a predator and I'm not invading your turf. I'm just a dad. Also, you are much sexier than that 25-year-old nanny. Just ask your husband."
No, being an SAHD does not lead to weaker men.
There are people who contend that the increase in SAHDs is giving rise to men losing their rightful spot in the hierarchy of the workplace and that the role is emasculating. This is utter hogwash. These are also the same people who insist women are worth 25% less than men and are laboring to undermine the ability of American women to make autonomous health care decisions. These people should be actively ignored.
Yes, being an SAHD does up your sexy factor.
Not just to the flirty barista, but to your wife or partner. Ask my wife.
You are raising a small adult. Remember that.
They are learning from you every moment of every day. They learn your habits, your most colorful language, how you hold your fork, the way you brush your teeth, and they emulate it all. You are their master teacher, their Sifu. This also means they are learning and emulating your biases, bigotry, ignorance and hatred. These are taught. Now is the time to address these things in yourself.
Taking care of yourself IS taking care of your child.
I'm the 40-year-old father of a 2-year-old. I'd like to see him graduate college, get married, and, someday, hold his children. Take care of yourself. Join a gym, start Crossfitting, ride your bike, pick up something heavy every day, stop eating meat, go paleo, whatever. Do anything and everything to keep yourself alive. Take your vitamins. My vitamin and supplement regiment would make Robert Downey, Jr. smile. Meditate, pray, or just find quiet time to read. You can find the time. Trust me. If you can't or won't take care of yourself, there's no way you can take care of your child.
What things have you discovered? Let me know. Please share your thoughts in comments or send them to me in the Twitterverse.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lim at TQK.