Your daughter is precious and beautiful, little brother, and, I’m sure, the apple of your eye even after only a few hours of existence. I’m so happy for you and your lovely wife. And, without sounding like our dad, I’m damn proud of you, too.
While I look at your beaming smiles and the picture of her in that tiny Chicago Bears jersey, I can’t help but think about the first days of each of my kids’ lives. The truth is, though, there isn’t much to reflect upon. You see, I just can’t seem to remember much of anything about any one of my five kids’ early days. My memories of each, regrettably, no longer exist.
Maybe I can’t remember the early days because I was too worried.
I stressed about getting each baby on a routine. I lamented that I wasn’t helping enough – with feedings and other household chores that needed attention. I obsessed over proper swaddling technique and whether we should allow our new, little bundle of joy to be out of sight with the grandparents so we could steal a few quiet moments alone.
Early days come with sleepless nights
If it wasn’t my worry that has repressed my memories, maybe exhaustion is to blame. I was too tired to think clearly at work, too exhausted to have energy to make dinner or to pay the bills by their due dates. The extreme exhaustion of a new baby also made a great excuse to become more of a recluse and to ignore my other important household role – being a decent husband.
So, little brother, forgive me for feeling a bit down as I look at your social media feeds littered with pictures of my darling, new niece. She is majestic, I swear, but it reminds me of my biggest source of fatherhood regret – the lack of attention I paid to my kids’ early days.
I can’t remember how any of my boys slept in the sterile, hard hospital bassinets. I fail to recall the differences in each of their early morning shrieks to be fed. I can’t, frankly, recall if I was ready to leave the hospital or if I begged to stay for the extra hands and free diet soda.
Looking back as you begin your fatherhood journey, I now realize that maybe I wasn’t too tired or too worried – I was too preoccupied with being perfect. Perfect and parenting, simply, don’t intersect. In fact, the more you strive for one, the less you’ll resemble the other. If there is one thing I take away from looking at your newborn’s adorable pictures, it’s that I’ve wasted far too many years of my own kids’ lives trying to be the best.
I wasn’t an effortless diaper-changer. I had difficulty waking up at a moment’s notice to heat up the bottles at 3 a.m. I struggled to keep my wits about me when no amount of milk or cuddling or walking or driving around the neighborhood would soothe my baby’s god-awful nighttime screams. I was too imperfectly perfect at wishing those first few months away.
Baby, you got this
So, I beg you, little brother, to make the beaming smiles you’re wearing on the first day of little Payton’s life authentically last – through sleeplessness and uneasiness.
I implore you to tuck away any self-doubt you carry about your ability to handle the heavy responsibility that you’ve just taken on. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.
I just want you to be better than me.
Don’t let your worry about her gas subdue your laughter when she farts. Don’t let your natural preoccupation with keeping her on a schedule allow your 1-month photo shoot to be cut short. If she pees in your face as you too-methodically change her diaper, remember and laugh at that warm, wet, disgusting feeling as you wipe your brow and start anew.
No matter how much sleep you (haven’t) gotten, smile more than you frown – especially in the direction of your wife. Compliment the newly developed dark circles under her eyes by claiming you’re developing a set to match. Don’t make exhaustion an excuse for acting tired.
So while I can’t remember much of anything from my babies’ first few months, I hope you do – because, like your daughter, these days are precious and impossible to replicate. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Don’t look to me as a blueprint for what to do. Little brother, I want you to be present, be fearless, be all-in. When you are, without a doubt, you’ll be far better than me.