I have stood in the delivery room of a hospital four times. Each time I felt the same way – both thrilled and terrified. The excitement is obvious, the terror is sobering. During this precious moment I come to a daunting Good-Bad Dad realization – I am now responsible for this beautiful (but screaming) bundle of joy.
With time at a premium from that point forward, I’ve fought back my fear by fine-tuning the skills I’ve mastered, while working around those challenges that simply require more practice. I have to keep my Super Dad powers in tip-top shape through routine exams. I think of this as the GBD equivalent of Superman ensuring his tights are always clean and ready for his next adventure.
During this well-daddy check-up, I’ll start by focusing on those skills I do poorly (the “bads”).
1. Cleaning up, touching or coming into contact with bodily fluids – any and all, human or animal:
This aspect of life is forced upon any GBD in the hospital delivery room. In many ways, entering the room can be a tipping point for all fathers – the point at which we make the all-important decision to take in the view strictly from the north or to check out the full panoramic. Our spouses should realize that this decision can provide signals to the husband-now-dad that will be coming home with the baby. The fluid parade unfortunately only just begins here. Just as I was useless during Aimee’s four deliveries, I try my best to avoid the pee, poop, blood, snot, cough remnants and boogers that my little ones love to share.
2. My middle-of-the-night helpline is out of order:
I am all-in each day with all of my kids. The product of that hustle is that when the pajamas are put on my cape of servitude flies off. I feel terrible that I’m worthless when our little girl cries for her 2 a.m. bottle – but I just cannot help my lack of action. My wife works as hard as I do but seems to have this skill mastered.
At our infant’s first scream, I inevitably do one of two things: (1) jump out of bed as if shot out of a cannon with no earthly clue of what is going on or what is needed from me or (2) continue carelessly snoozing. I will assume that fixing this quality would be at the top of my wife’s wish list for me.
The “bads” list could continue. If I dwell on my shortcomings, however, my fatherly powers will falter. In that spirit, I pride myself on doing some important fatherly duties well (the “goods”).
1. Diagnosis of mountains vs. molehills:
The “to go to the doctor or not” muscle has taken a multi-faceted regiment to master. I have been successful in navigating the precarious waters that exist in-between addressing concerns for our children’s well-being and quickly bringing my wife around to the idea that she might be overreacting. This Good-Bad Dad has successfully staved off everything from an Urgent Care x-ray for a stuffy nose to an Emergency Room visit for a harmless fall where concussion protocol was contemplated.
2. Recognition of when to buy generics – the “Coke or Cola” awareness:
I learned very early in fatherhood that hell hath no fury like the scorn of a mother watching her GBD husband unload store-brand diapers for a newborn. Note that I still try to sneak in off-brands after a few years – but never again for the little ones!
When I go to the store, buying generic is tempting – I have five kids so groceries are a big portion of the weekly budget. That said, I have come to master the ability to figure out what is “generic-able” and what is not. My quick list of products that pass are: Sandwich bags, band-aids, apple sauce, mac and cheese, and cream cheese. I’ve compiled this list through several generic failures with diapers, packaged cheeses, yogurt, bread, shampoo, baby bottles and laundry detergent.
The “goods” and “bads” leave little doubt that self-awareness is critical for me. This admission provides no consolation to my wife holding a screaming infant at 2 a.m. as she attempts to mop up an “I don’t need a pull-up” night gone wrong.
As a GBD, I cannot find fulfillment until each of my paternal obligations are perfect so I must keep working on the “bads.” If form holds, I will find a way to get up coherently at 2 a.m. soon. This will likely happen on the day where I’ll need to replace the pee-soaked mattress protector in my son’s bed as he vomits on the bathroom floor.
Typically the practice field for my “bads” is the time when chaos is breaking loose at an hour that only vampires appreciate. It is at this point where I force myself to remember the feeling of exhilaration I experienced in the delivery room those four times – without the imagery of the bodily fluids, of course.