I’ve been working my way through close to three hours of video footage of Ellison over the last few days in preparation for her first birthday. Amazing when I look at my lovely wife and I in those old movies, almost suspended in time. We had know idea what awaited us. In fact, I even watched some footage from as late as March and, as I watched myself move through the film like a ghost of myself now, I thought, “Dude’s clueless.”
Now, it’s not that we’ve endured an especially challenging series of events since March, but as you grow into Dadhood, the skills almost assort themselves automagically. You react off instinct and instincts become repeatable and then they become habitual. And you become a dad. It’s not like the Incredible Hulk where you rip off your clothing and explode in size then toss of dumpsters and large vehicles. It happens gradually. Like weightlifting. Training for a marathon. You’re chiseled down to your new form. Mentally, you’re put through the ringer. It’s a game of endurance and tremendous tension. And, in the end, you become dad.
Everyday, you become even more dad. Dad 2.0. Dad 2.1. Dad. 3.0. Dad 3.1. Dad 3.2. New and improved everyday.
You collect stories and experiences like merit badges. The dark circles under your eyes are proof of your journey. Road-tested, boot-camped, pressurized, flame-tempered, pulled, pushed, pressurized, prodded and put through the ringer.
In becoming a dad, I can change a diaper…in my sleep. And, now, no matter what the stink or the smear-zone, I don’t gag. Not that I’ve conquered my gag reflex altogether, but I’ve learned how to steer it and direct it. In becoming a dad, I can guide along a pier and beam structure without making the wooden floor creak like gliding silently on vast sheets of bubble wrap. Occasionally, in a moment of weakness, you might hear a sound. But it will not wake a baby. In becoming a dad, I can leap baby gates fearlessly and nail the landing. I don’t do it often, but I can. In becoming a dad, I habitually type into microwaves otherwise arbitrary cook times like twenty-four seconds, eleven seconds, eight seconds. Most people might not know the significance of those times, but as a dad, you might. Thirty seconds is too long. Fifteen seconds is too long and ten seconds is too long. When you go to a new house with a microwave you’re unfamiliar with, you chop twenty-four down to a more cautious eighteen. Eleven and eight seconds are still safe. In becoming a dad, I’ve managed to arm myself with a quite impressive arsenal of clicks, whistles and whoops. Even still, with every new day, a few sounds are rendered useless and ineffective in the pursuit of getting Ellison’s attention. In becoming a dad, I can hear a baby cry from more than a hundred yards away during a noisy outdoor festival. My lovely wife’s hearing is so keen, she hears Ellison even when she’s not crying. Might need to get that looked at. In becoming a dad, I’m an entertaining peek-a-boo partner. Not the best because my knees aren’t quite what they used to be and my frame makes stooping behind furniture a bit difficult, but I make do. In becoming a dad, my left arm has become useful in lifting twenty-pound infants and carrying for long distances. I’m confident that, in a street fight, my left jab would drop an opponent. In becoming a dad, I can wash dishes, stir dinner, cook a bottle and bib a baby all in one fluid motion while singing “She’s a Rich Girl” in perfect key. Yep, even the high notes. In becoming a dad, I can write songs about Ellison on the spot to any melody. You name it. In becoming a dad, nothing tastes bad. I’ve found myself licking apricot and mixed fruit puree off of my fingers as I clean Ellison up. I’ve never eaten an apricot in my entire life and I hate fruit still. In becoming a dad, I can neutralize any source of danger in a standard living room in just under two minutes. Well, almost any. Ellison will always find one hazard you didn’t find. In becoming a dad, cleanliness has become paramount. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily obsessive, but I’ve noticed a change. And I’m Miyagi with a fly-swatter. We don’t use chopsticks. Chocking hazard, homie. In becoming a dad, I’ve sleep harder for shorter periods. I wake up without an alarm clock and nap in an upright position. It’ll get better, but for now I can sleep anywhere and rarely complain about fatigue. In becoming a dad, I’ve realized why you become a dad. The trick, in the end, is to not over-obsess about becoming a dad and forget to be one. You can get so involved in the task, the drudge, the daily checklist that you detach from your core job duty of being a loving and emotionally-connected dad.
More on that movie, later.