Becoming a father isn’t some sort of careful metamorphosis: one moment you aren’t, the next you are. It’s insane. Within a day you can go from overwhelmed former non-parent to head-over-heels in love parent. When PalKid was born, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. I still can’t.
These little creatures change daily, and you have to change with them. And there’s no one way to raise a kid. I hope MrsPal will forgive me this liberty, but at a gathering for a first birthday a group of parents were talking about all the books they were reading to teach them how to raise a child. We had already been through the “What to Expect” series, meaning they were tossed in anger out into the snow. When one parent looked at my wife and asked, “So what are you reading?” my exhausted wife answered, “I read the book that says don’t read so many fucking books.” I love that woman.
And as all parents know, it’s not all hugs and kisses. It’s not just the exhaustion during infancy, or the terror after first blood is drawn (PalKid learned to cruise, pulled off the padding on the coffee table, and immediately slammed her face into it, getting her first stitches remarkably early). For Fathers’ Day today, I just wanted a bit of time to myself which most parents know is damned unlikely. It’s doubly unlikely given my wife’s illness, but things have a funny way of working out, especially when you have a spouse who loves you. My niece slept over but had to get up early to go out with her dad, so no sleeping in. My my folks called and I managed to convince PalKid to come out to breakfast, no her favorite thing to do (but one of mine…MMMM…bacon…).
And I finally picked up my new bike. I’ve always loved to ride; not like those serious teams of Spandex-clad road bikers—I just love to get on my bike and ride. It feels like freedom. Today I rode with the kiddo very slowly, then took my own Fathers’ Day ride to the cafe for espresso and reading. I came home, hung a bag if IV fluids for the Mrs, and ordered pizza for me and PalKid (a bit cruel given MrsPal’s inability to share, but…).
I’m lucky enough to have two living parents. My dad was born in 1926, one of the few first generation Americans left in my family. When we had a dog, one that managed to live over twenty years, he would kvetch about the old thing, but he would also sit on the floor hand feeding her until she finally had to be put down. He’s very loving, but I like to think that I had a hand in teaching him how to hug his adult kids. But when it came to my daughter, he was immediately smitten.And she is a charmer. A charmer who hates to go to sleep because it means she would have to stop talking. When my wife was in the hospital, I had an opportunity to spend more time with her, to both appreciate how much my wife really does raising a child, and how much more time I wish I had with them both.
My father is a physician, one who trained in the 1940’s, went off to the Korean War to try to patch up broken minds, and spent decades doing similar but less horrid work in the US. He is a man who went to college during WW II, and given the absence of young athletes, worked out with the University of Michigan football team—until it interfered too much with practicing the violin. He rode a train through Nazi Germany as a passenger, riding with his parents to convince our family to leave Europe. At least, this is how I remember these stories.
As a physician, he has high expectations of himself and of his colleagues. He taught me very early—before I even considered medicine—the importance of confidentiality, of watching a patient, looking for details, even those that might supposedly be outside your own specialty. I still call him from time to time to run questions by him, both psychiatric and medical. My sister, also a violinist, plays the piano, and when I hear her play, I can’t believe it’s her second instrument. It’s the same with my father and internal medicine: it may not be his first instrument, but he sure can play.
The first rule of fatherhood is “there are no rules”. Every child is different, every father is different, and every father-child relationship is different. I’m still new to this, and I have no advice to offer, but dad’s, please adore your children, as much as my dad adores his, as much as I adore mine. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.