My 6 brutally honest fears about becoming a first-time dad

My wife disappeared.

She drove with a friend to Kroger to buy pregnancy tests.

I sat in a cidery with our friend’s husband and we talked philosophy as we waited for our wives to return.

They did.

My wife couldn’t hide the smile on her face.

Her face bore a bright mix of surprise, delight, and reluctance.

“So?” I asked, nonchalantly.

She nodded, grinning.

“Oh, really?” I said.

Her eyes smiled back, confirmed.

I had nothing inside me but pure disbelief. I took a generous swig of cider. There was no possible way. We had not been “trying” although, quite honestly, we had not been “preventing” either. It was a bit of a coin toss every time, depending on the night.

She ordered a glass of water. I noted this.

As we sat and talked about this possibility of new life developing inside her, I could feel the ice pick of reality splintering its way into my stubborn skull.

I remember the very first thought I had when the truth finally “set in.” It was “Dave, your life is no longer about you.”

It reminded me of my wedding day.

My wife and I have been married for six years. When you get married, your life becomes no longer about you, too, as you sacrifice for your spouse, but I consider myself lucky because my wife is my best friend and a lot of things I like to do she likes to do and so marriage has been, well… actually pretty light and fun. Don’t get me wrong — we’ve had our hard, dark times— every marriage should, but I’m blessed to say it’s been full of levity, growth, and meaning.

When this baby news first came, and was confirmed later by half a dozen more pregnancy tests, a collection of insecurities about being a first-time dad bubbled up inside me.

As I air them out in this story, I ask for your support. I’m writing this to record the journey, to look back on, and perhaps also to help some who are reading this in a similar boat.

I’m hoping many of these fears are not just my own, but have been experienced, owned, and matured through by scads of dads before and around me, which gives me hope that I can do it, too.

Fear #1: I’m too selfish.

For the people who think humans are innately good, I don’t relate. On the outside, we can all seem mostly good — we’re not actively harming people or wishing evil upon people. But on the inside, I see a lot of selfishness in myself. I tend to seek my own comfort and personal gain first. And this selfishness is the opposite of love. A big part of love is sacrifice, and sacrifice means laying down my desires for the benefit of others with no return for me. Having a baby requires a lot of love, perhaps more than I can give. I realize this is more philosophical, but it’s a concern I think about often. Fortunately, I have a wife, friends, family, and faith that help build love into me, whether I like it or not.

Fear #2: I might like being an entrepreneur better than being a dad.

I hear horror stories of marriages and families breaking up because the guy (or the girl) can’t let go of his/her “career goals.” I’m aware of a drive in me that could lead to this, but here’s the thing. To give up on a committed relationship for the purpose of pursuing a work opportunity I believe ruins a person’s ability to maintain a healthy balance in life. Yes, I love my work. I can work 13 hours straight and it flies by in a second. But if all I did was work, I would be a mental health basket case. I’d be alone, consumed by money and the pursuit of fame, only to fall into bed every night unsatisfied. My marriage, and soon my young family, bring a wholeness, a deeper, more joyful character to life than if I worked all the time as a self-driven entrepreneur. Ambition is not the key to success.

Fear #3: I’m afraid of the unspoken expectations and judgments from family, friends, and people in parks.

Even as I write this, I can feel the wide-eyed stares from people close to me that say, “I would never do it the way you’re doing it.” I’m completely new to this parenting thing. No prior experience. Same for my wife. We’re going to do things differently from how you do it and that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

We’re blessed to have parents, in-laws, cousins, friends, and siblings with kids so we have plenty of role models to look up to, learn from, and lean on. But everybody’s watching. They want to help us. Good! We need it. But what happens when “helping” or “advice” comes across as judging and patronizing? I’m just being honest. From family to strangers on the street, people will be watching us and comparing. Based on what our little one does, they’ll make an assessment about who we are as parents. I guess I would ask this of my community: Please be okay with us failing and learning from our failures on our own. Don’t feel like you need to shield us from choosing the wrong toys, picking the wrong food, or setting the wrong sleep schedules. We’ll listen to your advice, but also just smile — maybe you’ll need to look away some times— and let us learn.

Fear #4: I fear getting fat.

Just an observation, but it seems a lot of dads get a belly after they have the first kid. An inch around the midsection is tougher to lose once its installed around the waistline, right? My wife and I are pretty active people, but it’s becoming harder and harder to find couples who play sports together. I’m assuming this gets even more difficult the bigger our family grows.

Fear #5: How will I deal with the bitterness that comes from FOMO?

My wife and I lived in a new city every three months for the last two years. The nomad life has been thrilling and I’ve loved it. Now that we’re starting a family, we’re doing the “settling down” thing and looking to buy a house. I’m sad to give up our adventures and stay put, but I’m also aware of the importance of long-term community and having roots. The fear comes from the persistent thorn of “What could have been…” or “If things were different…” or “What if we lived in a different city…” There’s so many exciting paths in life to be lived and yet we’ve chosen only one. How do you find contentment with the path you’ve chosen, knowing that you could’ve chosen a different, possibly better, path? The bitterness sets in when you resolve to give up the possibilities of other life paths, and choose to resign your ability to choose. This “plateauing” scares me. As I wrestle with it more and more, I’m learning that it’s a balance between choosing to be content with where your feet are and choosing to change things up and not being afraid to change. It’s a tough balance to keep.

Fear #6: I fear losing my identity.

I see this all the time. What makes a person interesting and fun can fly out the window when they have a baby. They stop playing sports. They stop hanging out with friends. They stop playing games. They stop creating things. They stop asking questions about your life. Does a baby kill your drive? Does a baby dissolve your fringe interests? Does a baby replace your sense of risk and adventure? I understand that a baby requires time, care, and nurturing, which pushes out the things that previously filled that time, and there’s no way around this, but I feel like the identity of being a parent can go way overboard and consume all the other identities a person may have. Parenting is a primary role, yes, but should it displace secondary roles as well?

Whew! It’s all out. Those are my fears about becoming a dad. Do you relate? I’d love to know how you’ve dealt with fears as a new dad. Maybe leave your story, advice, or thoughts in a response below?

Here’s an open letter to my son/daughter (we find out the gender next month!)

Hey, it’s great to meet you. You look like your mother. And like me, too, I guess. It’s weird. When I look at you, I see part of myself. I feel like I already know you, but at the same time I don’t know you at all. You are your own person and I’m excited to not only get to know you but also see you grow beyond me. I’ll take care of you, protect you, and teach you everything I know, but I also know that I’m going to be human and mess up. But I have a feeling we’re going to be best friends, just like your mother and I. You’re invited to our exclusive little group. As we get to know each other, and I start changing your diapers, I promise I’m going to work on loving you the best that I can, even when it’s not enough. I’m already interested in you. And I can’t wait to ask you questions and hear your crazy answers. Even when you’re immobile, smelly, and crying, and I’m frustrated or annoyed, please know that deep down I’m fascinated by who you are and how you work. Mom is, too. You’ll probably like her better than me. She’s more fun. But I’m better at sports. So there’s that. You’re going to turn our lives upside down, including our sleep schedules, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that it will be worth it. God decided to give you to us now, so he probably equipped you with an adventurous spirit and a sense of humor, knowing you’d have to deal with our unconventional ways. Get ready, world. I’m ready. You ready, baby? See you in a few months. Love, Dad

If you enjoyed this, let me know with your 👏 claps! Also, I’d love for you to share it with others. We can help each other by recognizing that we’re going through similar life experiences.

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