Empty bottles strewn across the floor. Bouts of comically loud and inappropriately timed flatulence. Window-rattling belches. Puddles of drool on every horizontal surface. Lots of daytime naps. Unexplainable temper tantrums.
No, I'm not back in college. I have 5-month-old twins at home.
My wife and I were lucky enough to bring our twins home in late January, and our lives haven't been the same since.
Stumbling out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to change the dirty diaper of one screaming baby while another baby cries in the crib across the room is an extremely high pressure situation.
You do your best to complete the task at hand, but your mind is racing in a thousand different directions at once, and different parts of your brain are sending conflicting messages.
"That's horrid! Do I really have to touch this shit? It's OK, baby. For the love of all that is holy and right in the world, what is that smell? I hope I'm doing this right. How do these damn tabs work? Please don't pee on me. Is this diaper on upside down? Please stop crying! I'll give you a hug as soon as I can. God, I want to go back to sleep."
Is that fatherhood? How do you become a father, let alone a good father?
The closest I have come to answering that question came from a moment of philosophical reflection while the babies were sleeping.
Elements of Process philosophy floated to the surface of my mind from wherever it is I store unused information from my college philosophy classes.
To put it simply: the motion of the thing, is the thing.
You can't step in the same river twice, to quote Heraclitus. You also can't change the same diaper twice, much to the delight of anyone who has ever changed a diaper.
You can't really quantify a flowing river. You can figure out how much water is flowing past, but does flowing water make a river?
You can point at the effects of the wind, but not at the wind itself.
You can't really wrap your arms around a moment and say "this is fatherhood."
Being a father isn't a thing in and of itself. It's a process.
The motion of being a father is the real essence of fatherhood.
For me, it's cradling my son at 4:00 a.m. while watching How It's Made as his stomach cramps subside and he slowly goes back to sleep.
It's my daughter's face lighting up in the morning when she sees me walk into the room.
It's worrying with my wife about the prohibitive cost of daycare for twins (it costs twice as much!) or washing bottles while she feeds the babies upstairs.
Fatherhood is all of these things, but it is also none of those things on their own, especially when you start to determine if you are doing a good job or not.
You changed a diaper at 3:00 a.m.? Great job, slappy. There's more where that came from.
You're worried about finances and the future? So was your father and his father before him.
It's a never ending cycle. How you react to it is up to you, and what you make of the process is yours to decide.
Just keep moving. Just keep doing your best. The rest will fall into place.