Three Pictures and Some Pants

A few months after the boys were born, I wrote a piece about fatherhood from my perspective that the awesome site for awesome dads, dads.co, was kind enough to share. At the time, I was still coming to terms with the changes that were happening in my own life and hashing out how I felt with regards to the two new lives that I was responsible for.

Now, looking back from their first birthday, it’s amazing how much I’ve changed since not just since the boys were born, but even since I wrote that post.

Yes, I’ve decided to make their first birthday all about me.

I don’t want to talk about the past several months by yammering on about growth and the triumph of the human spirit or whatever. To that end, I am going to sum up my feelings with three pictures and two pairs of pants.

Babies are babies. Our babies are like your babies are like their babies. For a large part of their first few months they are basically dazed-looking, crying balls of human excretion, resembling a Play-Doh playset filled with swamp mud. Babies are, by and large, loud, gross and dumb. Get mad if you want to; you know it’s true.

Our babies certainly fell into this generalization, and the farther we get from their birth, the louder, wrinklier, spewier, sleeplessier, and generally ickier we remember them having  been. I’m not trying to insult the lights of our lives, but I guess I have to call a poopy spade a poopy spade; they were mostly cranky and squirty, regardless of how much love and adoration we had for them.

This notion of the boys was mercifully retired one day when the boys were a hair over a month old and I took a few pictures as they lay next to each other in a Twin Z pillow. There was nothing extraordinary about it; just some more baby pictures among the thousands I’m sure I’d taken by then, but this picture really impacted me.

Partly this pic had such an affect on me because of the look C is giving his brother, and to the fact that they’re holding hands. I know, I know, at their age in this picture, it takes a bit of anthropomorphizing to read much into this. The hand-holding was coincidental, and C was glancing all around him with that same look; he could have been staring at a teddy bear or potted cactus for all it mattered. No thoughts in those heads but the entrance and egress of food.

Bros.

“You look like a very young Winston Churchill. Oh, and I just pooped.”

Yes, the boys are adorable here, but what really struck me was the juxtaposition of these two kids. M is mellow, sleeping, peaceful. C is wide-eyed, alert, awake, and anxious-looking. Before they were born and continuing to today, that has been more or less their respective “personalities”; M is the more calm, relaxed, thoughtful of the two, while C is more the go-go-go, alert, excitable, and “look before he leaps” type.

That said, it was in this picture that I first saw our sons as people; real, honest-to-God, fleshed out people. It’s hard to explain, but there was something in me that switched from viewing these babies as just babies, or as screaming crap dispensers, or as the reasons sleep was becoming a distant memory. Suddenly I saw them as “people”, as my boys, as individuals who didn’t just need to be taken care of, but that needed to be nurtured and raised to be good men.

If the boys’ personalities hit me in that photo, they clobbered me in this one:

4 months

“Your naiveté is silly, Daddy!”

There was no epiphany this time, it’s just…look at those smiles! I had never in my life seen (or at least noticed) any person look as overflowing with pure, unadulterated joy. I fell in love with these guys all over again. There’s a difference between seeing a person as a human and seeing a person as a person. Smiling and laughing because their old man was acting the fool behind their mommy while she took so many pictures the camera’s memory card was praying for Judgement Day, I saw these guys as full-blown little boys, and reveled in what was (and is as of this writing) the only example of anyone ever laughing at me when I was trying to be funny.

Because chronological order can go screw, this last picture is from the very early days after we brought the babies home.

Kat and I have known each other since 1997. We’ve moved in together, gotten married, been on adventures, overcome struggles, and gotten pregnant, but this, THIS, is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. She’s not grinning ear-to-ear or holding her sides from guffawing, but trust me, she is at the maximum threshold of human happiness. After our ordeals with infertility, miscarriage, and the deterioration of my emotional and physical health during her pregnancy, here she stands, holding her new babies and old husband. Her smile in this picture is beautiful and sweet and.it totally says “Screw every single other thing in the world. Screw all the struggles and problems, screw worries about the future, this is all I’ve ever wanted.”

Or she might just have fallen asleep...

Or maybe she just fell asleep…

Winding back the clock even further, while Kat was pregnant I was having some health issues, and they made it hard to know exactly how to feel about – or at least how to deal with – the pregnancy and impending role as a dad. When I found myself in an REI one day, I looked at children’s stuff and came across little convertible (zip-off lower legs) hiking pants. They were tagged as being for six-month-olds, they were more money than I should have spent at the time, and hiking pants are basically useless for babies. But we love hiking and I wear convertible pants when we do, so against all logic I bought two pairs:

Look at 'em. Yep, takes an awesome looking guy to make convertible pants look good.

Pacific Northwest slacks

The boys are a year old now, yet those pants still fit in what is apparently a sort of “five-small-barley-loaves-and-two-fishes” deal. On paper, I shouldn’t have bought them, but they stand as one of the only “wrong” decisions I made during that time that ended up being OK. The boys have been wearing them double the stated age, and, like their old man, they look awesome in hiking pants. I bought these pants in a sincere if ill-advised moment of impulse shopping, but they wound up being a great purchase from a practical standpoint and one of the few “silver linings” that came out of an otherwise pretty terrible time.

It’s such an oversimplification to try and sum up this past year with a few photos; we’ve had so many ups and downs, we’ve watched the milestones come and go, we’ve been humbled, we’ve been empowered, and we’ve both been given purpose in some different ways. Our boys won’t remember this year, but we’ll never forget*.

Bonus picture:

Pictured: personalities at 1

Pictured: personalities at 1

*Except actually we’ve forgotten big swaths of the first few months.

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Stereotypes

Pictured: What Ward Cleaver always wanted to do.

Pictured: What Ward Cleaver always wanted to do.

Since becoming a father – and a father who spends most of his time with or near his kids – I have come to find that a number of stereotypes exist about fathers. I suppose that if I’d thought about it I might have guessed at this, but as a fatherless guy myself, I never gave it a second thought.

It’s pretty obvious that even with more and more women in the workplace and more and more stay-at-home-dads, the doting housewife cliché is still shockingly ubiquitous, even while having less and less merit. I had never really considered the fact that there are stereotypes for fathers too: the buffoonish, slovenly, football-watching to the exclusion of responsibility, scheming guy who still somehow manages to be the main bread winner has been the standard sitcom trope since Mike Brady rode off into the sunset. And even then, fathers just a generation or two ago would not be the types of dads to babywear, let alone wear super-hero costumes while shopping.

Enter my people: the Generation Xers, Yers, and the Millennials. Yes, when not busy arguing that vinyl sounds better or buying back our He-Man action figures on eBay, we (for the most part) are busy breaking stereotypes and redefining gender roles. Stay-at-home daddery is at its highest level ever, and I see more dads involved more intimately with their kids than even a decade or two ago.

That said, I was a bit taken aback by the comments I started receiving pretty much the first time I set foot outside with my twin boys and sans wife.

“Giving your wife a day off, huh?”

“It’s nice to see a dad out with his kids/I wish more dads were like you.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“I bet they like getting to hang out with dad once in a while!”  

I admit, I’ve never seen a guy out with his kids and wondered any of that. Fatherhood stereotypes aside, these kinds of comments don’t take into account single dads, widowers, gay dads, mannies, cousins, uncles, godfathers, or wizard/apprentice relationships.

At first, I started to get offended, both on my behalf and my wife’s. Why would people automatically assume we fit into clichéd gender roles? When I’m out with the boys on a Tuesday afternoon and someone asks if I’m “giving my wife a day off,” are they assuming that not only is she a stay-at-home mom, but that I’m taking time off of work to relieve her? Do they think we’re both unemployed? That my wife is so in need of rest that she had to twist my arm to get me to relieve her of her babies for an afternoon? Does having a day off mean she also doesn’t have to have a martini and fresh-baked pie ready for me when I get home?

What little offense I did take subsided pretty quickly, and for three reasons:

  1. There are years and years (like, all the years ever) of gender roles to work against. People – especially people over a certain age – have certain ideas in mind about who does what in a family. Their friends and families are all that way, and they might not have their fingers on the pulse of today’s modern family.
  2. It doesn’t hurt me. Racial stereotypes, sexual stereotypes, educational, class, income, physical – these are actually harmful. Even the stereotypes regarding what a woman’s role in the home is harmful, in that they are reducing a woman’s job to housewifery and mothering. Assuming that I’m not the primary caretaker (or that I’m taking the day off work or off of watching football to spend time with my kids) might be outdated, ignorant, and annoying, but it doesn’t hold me back or (in my opinion) even devalue my caretaking. If, as a dad, I correct someone and tell them I spend most of my time with our boys, they will most likely applaud me for being an involved father. At the worst, they might think I’ve been emasculated, but I know I haven’t been so who cares. However, if a woman says she is away from her kids most of the week to work, takes up time and space at her job to pump, or “makes” her partner stay home, she is often viewed as a poor mother. Women in the workforce without kids take enough crap from men, and even other women, as it is. When they have children and continue to work, (terrible) people just see them as failing in every aspect of a woman’s role. Those are harmful stereotypes. Thinking that I can’t put together outfits for my kids because I’m a guy really doesn’t ruffle my feathers.
  3. They’re partly true, at least in my case. I can’t put together outfits. I pretty much forget one thing (see blog title) every time I leave the house with them. And frankly, I flat-out don’t know as much as my wife does about babies, kids, and parenting. I’ve read some books and watched some videos and even been to a couple of classes, but wife has read ALL the books and seen ALL the videos and been to ALL the classes (except a babywearing class; only I’ve done that, what what!). She has thought about being a mother since she was a kid. She babysat and voluntarily held babies when the opportunity presented itself. Being a mom is in her DNA, while I didn’t think seriously about what having babies actually meant until we decided to start trying.

I never would have thought that this issue would warrant heated Internet debate, but it has because of course. We have one side that thinks any joke at the expense of dads is rude at best and setting a terrible example for our kids at worst. Then we have the “calm down, it’s just a joke” side. Commercials in particular are a hot-button item; there’s a great neutral article on both sides of TV commercial gender role issue hereyes, women are often portrayed a certain way in ads, too, and that way is usually as a modern Donna Reed.

For me, being a dad is rolling with the jokes while working to defy the stereotypes and raising my boys with their mom and me as their role models; not sitcom and commercial characters.

Noobs

Check out this great read from Twiniversity that pretty much perfectly sums up the early days of life with newborn twins. It still doesn’t do the stress or difficulty justice, but nothing can until you’re there.

I feel like I’m in a strange sort of limbo right now; newborn twins in the house damn near killed me (spoiler: they didn’t), but even though I remember the stress, the pain, the fights, the sleeplessness, the wondering how I could ever be a father, let alone a father of twins…I kind of miss it. I feel sad that these two wonderful little people were here and we didn’t get to fully enjoy them.

Letting Go

One thing that has been surprising/not surprising since even before the boys were born is the massive influx of “stuff” that a new baby – let alone two – causes. Seats. Bouncers. Toys. Diapers. Swings. Cribs. Stuff for the walls. Dishes. Food. About five minutes after the first positive pregnancy test our house began filling up with more things to keep babies warm, cool, entertained, fed, safe, clean, stimulated, relaxed, awake, asleep…

Naturally, the “butterfly effect” kicked in. Bit by bit, our stuff started to get displaced. The office and guest bedroom became one. Closets were emptied. Kitchen cabinets were consolidated. Bags and boxes were taken to Goodwill. Closet contents went into the garage.

Still, we had too much stuff. It seems like every nook and cranny is filled, so much so that some of that new baby stuff is in cardboard boxes taking up floor space. There have just been too many things we “couldn’t” get rid of. “We’ll need that someday. That has sentimental value. It’s just too cool to get rid of. If we get rid of it and decide we want it again, we won’t be able to replace it.” We (read: 90% I) couldn’t stand to get rid of enough stuff.

Now, eight months in, I realized that I am more or less over any attachment I had to a large percentage of our stuff.* I think it happened when I suddenly and without trying made peace with the fact that with babies in our lives, I needed to be ready to lose things, and to practice patience and forgiveness when it happens.

Once that had settles in, it wasn’t long before I realized “hey, if I can be OK with a baby breaking something I care about, why have I been lugging some of this crap that we never use from house to house?” I’ve finally started to see what K sees, cabinets and closets and what have you overflowing with stuff we can easily do without. I’m keeping a mental list for whenever we have the time and wherewithal to put together a garage sale. If it doesn’t happen before our next move, the thrift shop is going to get quite a load of stuff.

I’ll probably shop for more baby stuff while I’m there.

*calm down, K

If I Knew Then…

Surprisingly, after all we went through with IVF, I was not the stereotypical “Hollywood” dad in the delivery room. I was emotional and everything, but – like I detail here – I didn’t feel like I had that instant papa-bear epiphany of new-fatherhood. I didn’t instantly become Ward Cleaver* blended with RoboCop…

Dispensing sage advice...and street justice!

Dispensing sage advice…and street justice!

…immediately fusing wisdom with a fiercely protective nature.

And cranking out little RoboBeavers.

And cranking out little RoboBeavers.

Between the stress, exhaustion, and other variables, it took me some time to bond with the twins. That may sound heartless, and in a way it sometimes feels that way to me. I feel a lot of guilt over not receiving the babies, cutting the cords, sobbing, handing out cigars, and arriving home to a begin a series of wacky, new-father shenanigans.

One of the great things I’ve found since becoming a dad is the existence online of an educational, helpful, and supportive community of fathers (and mothers) of every stripe. Linking in with other parents around the world – reading their stories and sharing mine – has been indescribably helpful to me.

One of the sites I discovered was dads.co, a relatively new site that saw fit to publish my thoughts/concerns/stress/relief during my early days of fatherhood; I’m looking forward to some follow-up content between us.

Spoiler alert: Being with and doing things for my boys is all I want now.

And a crossbow. I also want a crossbow.

*I was originally going to use Heathcliff Huxtable. I hate this new world.

Sacrifice

These days we have three things (outside of work) that we would like to get done on any given day, and each day we are forced to choose what will be accomplished and what will be sacrificed.

After jobs and time with/for the boys, Kat and I each want to get the following things done: get a decent amount of sleep, do things (look for better jobs, blog, etc.) that are in the long-term interest of our little family, and chores/daily responsibilities.

The problem is that after work and kids, our time is so limited that we usually need to pick which things we won’t get done.

Want to spend a while searching for jobs with better schedules and/or pay? Go for it. Oh, but then you might end up staying up late, and then you’ll be all crappy the next day. So maybe go right to bed and get a good night’s sleep. If you do that, though, keep in mind that the carpet will still need to be vacuumed and the lawn will still need to be mowed when you get up. So maybe you get the house in shape a bit, but gosh, that guest post someone requested you to write for their blog will go unwritten. But how good can your writing be if you don’t get more sleep?

The cycle has been continuing ad nauseam for, oh, about five months now.

How do we decide what’s a priority at any given moment? When is the long-term investment more important than the in-your-face, really should have been done a week ago item? And when is it worth sacrificing sleep, or is it ever, considering how much we lose already?