When my daughter celebrated her first birthday, oh so many years ago, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Despite my clumsiness and failings as a new father, my wife and I and our newborn baby girl had managed to survive. In celebration, I wrote down everything I had learned.
My ramblings fit only a page or two, but they were still hard-earned lessons. I put them in a drawer and forgot about them where they sat for years and years on end until a couple of weeks ago when I stumbled across the worn pages.
The lessons come across now as dated in spots, but still have the best of intentions. When I think of my daughter I still see her as that precocious one-year-old, even though diapers are a distant memory. In fact, in just a few months, she’ll turn 21.
In any event, I hope you enjoy.
I read all the manuals, including the manual of all manuals: “What To Expect in the First Year.” I talked with my parents and my parents-in-law. I talked with friends who had children. I prepared myself for the changes.
I still wasn’t ready.
The first “waa-aaa-aaah” shrieked through me and still sends shivers through my spine. I laugh now at my first feeble attempts to pick up my daughter. I worried I would hurt her. Now I worry she’ll hurt me.
I struggle as a parent, but I have learned a few things in these past twelve wonderful months. I’ve learned that a little person grows a lifetime in one year. I guess the most important thing that I’ve learned is that while I worried about how we would manage prior to my daughter’s birth, I can’t imagine life without her.
Every parent is different, every child is different, but here are a few of the things that I’ve learned in my short year as a father:
–As much as a father thinks he’s in control, his child’s the one with the real power. She wants a sip from my glass of water, she usually gets a sip.
–Parents need sleep, lots and lots of sleep.
–Real parents can decipher their child’s cry thirty feet away in a crowded store-full of kids.
–Your daughter will miraculously say “Daddy” when she wants something, but will forget the word even exists within five feet of a family member or long-time friend. “She’s not saying ‘daddy’ yet,” they’ll say. “It just sounds like ‘daddy.’ You’re just hearing things.” Yea, right.
–Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, and The Who might know how to jam; Billy Joel and Bryan Adams might know how to sing the best ballads; and Stevie Wonder might have the sweetest of all voices, but that guy who sings “Winnie, the Pooh; Winnie, the Pooh; chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff; he’s Winnie, the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh; Wily nilly silly ole’ bear” sure knows how to rock.
–Babies will look cute in public, but will refuse to do “pet tricks” on demand.
–The phrase “no, no, don’t do that” has no meaning to a child. They look at you like you’ve lost your marbles and go about doing what you didn’t want them to do in the first place.
–Show me a knob or a fancy decoration and I’ll show you something most children want to touch, grab, or put in their mouth.
–Drool on a blue blazer or tie has a certain sophisticated look that only another parent can truly appreciate.
–The meaning of the word child: Little people who wield enormous power disproportionate to their size.
–The JC Penney photographer chewing gun and daydreaming about skipping out early for a weekend trip to the beach can laugh at me all he wants, but if I have to act like a crazy, rambling lunatic to get a smile out of my daughter than that’s just what I’ll do: Whatever it takes to see that beautiful smile.
–Buy the extra-absorbent diapers with the Velcro tab. Spend a little extra.They work better. Trust me, I speak from experience.
–Walmart has formula fifty cents cheaper than Target or K-Mart. I hate Walmart, but a deal is still a deal.
–Buy stock in Disney. The Beauty & the Beast, Aladin, The Little Mermaid, etc., and hundreds of other movies. Millions of kids worldwide can’t all be crazy. Go with what works, need I say more.
–I try not to use it much, but the pacifier is every father’s best friend. When the chips are down, when the baby is crying her loudest, you want to have it handy.
–Forget about saving for college tuition. The thought’s too depressing and have you looked at the cost of preschools? Not colleges, preschools. It’s enough to make your head spin.
–The more I like how the new dress looks on my daughter, I guarantee you, the more expensive it will be.
–Boys, even at this age, are up to no good. You can’t trust them.
–All new parents should invest first in one of those rotating miniature swings and then a bouncy seat. I would suggest then lining up an exer-saucer and maybe a walker and then finally a toddler swing. It’s really rather simple: motion is the key. Keep the baby moving, ever so gently, and you have a happy baby. A happy baby means happy parents.
–Lose any sense of vanity you may still possess. Lack of sleep, crumpled clothes and a crying infant have a way of making a father forget that he once checked himself in the mirror three, four or five times before he left for work.
–There’s something to be said for animal crackers and a nice cold glass or milk in the middle of the night, especially after your daughter has been up half the night.
–My daughter, even at the tender age of one, could have the finest dinner money can buy, but she still wants a bite of the greasy, overcooked fast-food cheeseburger I have on my plate.
–My daughter can go long stretches at a time without a visit to the doctor. No sniffles, no cries of pain in the middle of the night, no emergency visits, then in a matter of one week’s time, she’ll come down with a cold or flu or some other rampaging virus and spend multiple visits in the doctor’s office. And just like that I’ll fork over a small fortune, okay make that a humongous fortune, to make her better and I won’t care one bit. I just want her up and smiling and feeling better.
–You’ve seen the pictures of presidents and world leaders before they took office and then years later after they’ve served and have grayed and been ravenged by time. That’s me. I’ve lost more hair in one year then I’ve lost in the previous thirty years of my life. I started the year looking like I was in the prime of my life. I could’ve passed for someone in his early 20s. I’m ending the year looking like I’m in my 70s.
–I can have the worst day possible, but when I rock my daughter to sleep at night and see her little hands or face in the dim light, I’m filled with a deep and soothing peace, the kind that never ends.