The Byford Files

Becoming Dad

There’s a point in this game where you actually feel the transformation taking place. It’s a humbling and frightening experience. I’ve always been reluctant to personal change. I don’t mind change itself. I pride myself on my ability to adapt to situations, conditions, hardships, struggle. But when you feel yourself actually changing, it’s sometimes a more difficult pill to swallow. For instance, I’ve struggled in my spiritual life and have found that changes there take incredible levels of patience and humility. That’s a work in progress. And it’s a day-to-day struggle. Sometimes hour-to-hour. Or minute-to-painstaking-minute.

But in the transformative game of becoming a “dad,” not by the birth of a child, but in the actual change in you after the child arrives and beats you, breaks you down, uplifts you and inspires you is altogether different. It’s different because you don’t really sense it’s happening until it’s progressed far along and unstoppable. You don’t always have time to sit back and reflect. It’s like four months later, you’re a changed man and you don’t even realize how you got there. You almost have memory of what life was like before Ellison came along. That’s truly life changing. Sometimes I feel that even despite the many forewarnings and advice on how “life was going to be as a dad,” the whole experience was still undersold. It’s mind-blowing.

I woke up at 3:00am this morning feeling refreshed. Six hours of continuous sleep is considered luxurious. Four is acceptable. I was running on six hours previously, but it was from about 11:00pm to 5:00am. Now I can’t even stay awake past half time. But then again, I can’t even really think of anything worth staying up past 9:00pm for anyway. When Ellison’s butt hits that crib, you know the clock’s ticking and you’d be smart to join her soon. Sleep is likened to being caught up overnight in a bunker on a deadly battlefield. You don’t really sleep, you just rest your eyes.

I tape programs I never watch and really have no intent on watching. Entertainment happens at first chance or not at all. Or when it comes out on rental. Your window of opportunity is slim. This weekend, my lovely wife and I are planning on taking in Black Swan. We’ve been planning it for a week. Nothing happens as spontaneously as it used to. Everything must be done in calculated fashion. At least while Ellison is still a baby.

I’ve started becoming obsessed with the concept of my own legacy. What will I leave behind for my beautiful child? One of the common fears of new dads is the recognition of your own mortality. Knowing that this child will likely outlive you. What will Ellison remember of me? What do I want Ellison to remember of me? Certain words and phrases are migrating out of my language. You want your child to see you as you are, but not how you want to be. I want her to know me and my brokenness, my faults. I don’t want her to think I’m perfect. I don’t want to deceive my child into thinking I’m superman. But at the same time, I want to do everything in my power as a mortal human being to provide for her. To give her the happiness, the life experiences and the beauty of this world that she so rightfully deserves.

You take better care of yourself. More fruit. Less sugar. More fresh food and less fried food. Not because you want to outlive her, but because you want to be there for her as long as you can. It’s not like you’re trying to beat her to the finish line. You just want to run as much of the race with her as you humanly can.

I used to be completely wrapped up in my own interests. That was until this last week, I discovered that my interests were just ways of passing the time until I became a father. I still have my interests but they’re explored and fed under the cover of nightfall or early morning. My interests when Ellison is awake is Ellison. I miss my family even if it’s for brief periods of time. Weird. I used to be crazy independent. I used to have time I would dedicate to music. I used to hog all the free promotional music that I could. Now I prefer less. I personally request maybe seven or eight promos within the year. And three of those will be for my lovely wife. I don’t listen to hip hop as much anymore. Didn’t think that was going to happen as drastically as it did. Maybe because hip hop sucks in 2010-2011 or maybe because I just don’t really have any use for it anymore. I’ll jaw up hip hop anytime though if you wanna grab some coffee and talk hip hop. And I’m always good for a recommendation. Part of that was by design though. I had become fed up with hip hop a few years back and started listening exclusively to hip hop that was twenty years or older. Than I travelled even further away last year by listening to almost 100% funk. This year, it’s Bob Dylan. Next year, probably the blues. By focusing your listening efforts, it makes things easier. Less work involved.

I used to be an obsessive audiophile. Now, I can’t even keep up with missing artwork in iTunes. I don’t even care anymore. Our life’s too short to obsess about not having the artwork on iTunes.

I used to watch snow forecasts like some cats play Fantasy Football. Now, I don’t care. If there’s snow on the mountain and I’m within a tank of fuel of being there, I’ll consider it. Otherwise, I’ll wait until Ellison is ready to stand up on skis. Baseball seasons used to start at spring training or even earlier with the mid-winter blockbuster acquisitions. This year, the baseball season starts on Opening Day. No fantasy sports anymore. I had pretty much swore myself off of it a few years back, but now I’m certainly not doing it. I can’t bet money on fallible humans playing sports measured in inches when I got diapers and food to pay for and college to save for.

My life is rhythmically driven by tasks. My day is a series of repetitive movements and ritualistic motions. It’s necessary to maintaining harmony in the house with a baby. Make sure the dishes are kept up. The laundry doesn’t stack up. Soon, we’ll add the lawn to the mix as spring arrives. You discover quickly the emphasis of the family being a team unit. You have incredible respect for single-parent households. Not sure how they do it.

I’ve had a crick in my neck since Ellison arrived. Guess that comes with always looking downward. Guess that comes with being a tall dad. That and all the reading I’m doing now. It happened overnight. I’m now a reader. I’m slow and my comprehension sucks, but I read now. It’s not that I can’t read. It’s that I preferred not to. I’m more the History Channel type now. I haven’t watched MTV in well over a year.

I listen to NPR. I couldn’t tell you the top radio single right now. I have no use for popular radio.

I’m protective of my household. A kid came by the other night selling magazines and after my lovely wife shoo’d him a way, I watched him through the window until he was gone. You start thinking about what you would do to protect your house. I never thought about that before. Not that my lovely wife isn’t worth protecting. She is. But I figure given her work history that she’d be a participant and not a spectator if our home was ever threatened. She’s tough like that.

Maybe Slug’s right about this fatherhood thing. You can embrace it. Live it. Take it on and enjoy it. Or you can be “sad dad.” Like a man trapped in a world of high expectations where every corner turned is a new reminder of how you’re not good at your job. I’d rather take it on. Do that thing. Make my lovely wife proud. Make my mother proud. Make my daughter proud. Make my father proud. Make my grandfather proud. When the world’s on my shoulders, I wanna be Atlas.

Yep, we’re getting older. I got older real fast, but it’s probably just a correction in my age. I’ve got the soul of a grandfather. Ask my lovely wife. I just didn’t want to own it for the last, eh, 15 years or so. Now, I have no choice. It’s what Ellison brings out in me.

The stakes is high. And they just got a lot higher. Being a dad ain’t no joke. It brings incredible joy. You’re brimmed with happiness. But at the same time, you’re overwhelmed with questions and uncertainty. That’s some heavy stuff. Stick to your guns. Smile because she’s watching. Cry because she’s watching. Mind your p’s and q’s. Stay up, soldier and realize you’re not alone.


2 thoughts on “Becoming Dad

  1. j3 says:

    liked what you had to say. i love you and you are the most incredible Dad and have been since day one.

    i hate to correct you in these things, but i feel your readers ought to know the whole truth…. giving up MTV, hip hop, have been fairly easy for you. COPS on the other hand, I watch you struggle with daily. I know how bad your heart is aching to watch a good “domestic dispute” or better yet, a “sting operation”, or a killer tasering (is that a word??) But your dedication to bringing up our sweet girl in a world without COPS is admirable. thank you for your sacrifice. I love you!

    the lovely wife

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