There was a point in the first two weeks after my son, Mason, was born where I went five days on only eight hours of sleep. You could say that the transition into fatherhood was not the smoothest transition of my life. Briefs to boxers was smooth, as was going from a flip phone to a smartphone (this change is less than 6 months old if you can believe it.). When I say I’m not the same man I was before I became a father, it’s not just that fatherhood is this awesome experience, and it’s not because making a new life was this mind blowing epiphany of joy and love in forming new life out of a handful of stem cells. I mean it is those things too, sure, but the reason I say I’m a new person is because the first two weeks literally shattered me as if childbirth was my soul’s resonating frequency.
Pre-birth Joe had a nice easygoing life that involved things like social calls with friends at whatever time of day he would feel like. I almost exclusively slept to 10 AM at the minimum unless work kept me from it. I would mention that I used to stay up to the wee hours of the morning, but we all know that that doesn’t change when you have a kid, just the reasons change. I was never stressed or worried about things because I always felt like I had time. Glorious time! I basked in it and flaunted it. I would make it rain in hours over things like YouTube and a plethora of various videogames and things. I was riding high with time coming out of my ears. If I didn’t feel like doing something, who cares! Let’s just try to get it done next week.
Then the baby came…and my comfy world filled with all this extra time came crashing down around me. I was an absolute wreck. Now I had this wad of mushy pink flesh in front of me that needed to be fed every 3-4 hours or else it could DIE!! I not prepared for that. And every time it ate, it pooped! So every time I fed him, I had to then change him. Then I’d have to calm him down because at first he was not very happy with my diaper changing style. I could only describe it as a Jackson Pollock painting being done in reverse. Just me frantically swiping helter skelter at the poop till it was gone. Then you either try to get him to do something if it’s day, or get him to sleep if it’s naptime or nighttime.
All of a sudden the only thing my life had time for was “Make sure the baby isn’t dead yet.” That’s all I cold think of. The thoughts and worries just formed a black hole of anxiety that just sat on my chest, weighing on me night and day. It was the reason I didn’t sleep those five days. You would think it would be hard for me to admit to the world that I was bad at this, but it’s life, we evolve, and I did, too. But not without a lot of help.
I’m so lucky that I have an absolutely amazing wife who doesn’t get nearly enough credit and appreciation for the great work she’s done. If I didn’t have her I couldn’t even begin to think of the struggle parenting would be for me. And to that, I really must tilt my hat to all the single parents of the world. I could never be what you are, I know my limits.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after zero hour that I started to get a handle on myself. The ball of anxiety sitting just below my heart started to ebb as I realized that my son wasn’t this incredibly fragile thing that would fall apart if I sneezed too hard while holding him. In all honesty, my son was built Ford Tough and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. I was sleeping again every so often, and life was taking on a more typical feeling again. Time was starting to come back to me; it wasn’t sifting through my fingers like confectioner’s sugar anymore.
As I got more and more time here and there, I was always thinking to myself, “Ok Joe, what can we get done today?” And I was, like, doing the things I thought of! It was revolutionary! And then when I was done doing those things, the things were no longer things I had to do! So I could then do other things! It’s so sad that this had to be a Eureka! moment for me that was only brought on by my entire way of life being flayed away from me. I’ve never been so happy to have been flayed! You’d think I would have changed my last name to Bolton!
Becoming a father has made me a much better man than I once was. It taught me a value that in the almost three decades of my life I had not learned. Every second counts. Every minute and every hour. What you do with them makes you who you are. Of course, that means that I still am me to a smaller extent, so I do still play the occasional videogame, or watch the occasional YouTube video, or read, and that’s ok. It’s just not all of me any more. And for that I could not be more grateful for what bringing a tiny human into this world has done for me. Thank you, Mason.
By Joseph Mastropiero, a Staten Island dad who blogs about his fatherhood experience. Follow him at justanotherdad.com.