Full-Time Dadding: The First 100 Days
On February 29th, 2016, I left my job as a Social Media Manager to take on a new career. Full-time Dad.
Before Brady was born, leaving my job to be a stay-at-home dad had been a reoccurring conversation. When the lil meatball joined us in late-September, we hung out for three months before he was accepted into a daycare program. Two months into that, we weren’t loving our decision. It wasn’t that daycare was bad, it just wasn’t what we wanted for him.
Daycare helped build routines but he wasn’t a mobile, social kid yet and we wanted to make sure he was getting one-on-one time to develop from a bud to a spud.
By the end of January we made the decision to have me go pro as a dad and at the end of February I was saying my good-byes to the working world.
I never expected the dad-path to be easy. I just didn’t expect it to be so hard. The limited mornings, nights and weekends I had spent with him while I was working had me thinking, how hard it could be to take care of a 5-month old? They poop. They eat. They roll around. Simple. Right?
Yes and definitely no.
I foolishly thought full-time dadding was like a full-time job. 9am to 6pm. 8 hours with lunch and Facebook check-in breaks then done. It’s really really not. It’s like a full-full-time job. After five months of life together, we were still figuring him out and he was still figuring us out.
Unlike a day job, you never turn off. You don’t get to walk away from your desk for a break. You don’t get to put on headphones to drown out the office around you. I find myself always in a state of high-alert, listening to see where he’s at or what trouble is coming or finding a way to always have a set of eyes on him now that he’s starting to go mobile while trying to do simple tasks like laundry or just use the bathroom.
The 12-plus-hour days are spent trying to entertain him, trying to educate him, trying to build routines in him, trying to feed him, trying to keep him clean, trying to keep him happy, trying to keep tiny fingers out of harm’s way, trying to solve mystery-baby-rage as quickly as possible and all without grabbing a passport, pinning a “BRB” note to him and fleeing the country. At night, you float in an almost-asleep-almost-awake state listening for any cough, sneeze, or quiet whimper that might escalate into a full-blown 3am wake up. Even as I write this, I’m glancing at a baby monitor to make sure there’s nothing that could wake the beast from his afternoon nap too soon. That constant state of focus can wear you down if you’re not ready.
This job doesn’t have a structure or org charts or daily status meetings. I’ve spent years working towards annual reviews, working for praise from bosses for meeting goals, working to avoid bosses scolding me for missing deadlines. It’s odd to be in a space of working without validation. There is nothing to measure my success against yet except for the fact that every night he goes to sleep fed, happy, and with all his digits in tact. It’s difficult to tell if you’re doing a good job or not. Yes, they cry when they’re hungry, they cry when they’re tired, they cry when they’re annoyed. You have some inkling of where you fall on the grading scale. But you’re putting your entire self into something and you won’t know how it turns out for a loooooooong time. Maybe in four months, when Brady celebrates his first birthday, I can sit down with boss baby in his corner office and he can rattle off my strengths and weakness to work on for year two.
WHO AM I?
When I tell people I’m a stay-at-home dad, I get this feeling of ineptness. Like I couldn’t cut it in the professional world, so here I am carrying a baby around. Like what I’m doing now somehow less important than the social content or TV show marketing sites I oversaw now forgotten forever to the void of the internet. For some reason, I’m still unable to wrap my head around the fact that helping this kid grow into someone awesome is far more important than the number of forgettable emails I used to get in a day. It’s like being a dad isn’t doing enough.
Part of that is because my knowledge base now and what I can speak to is irrelevant to many people. I can’t relate to the cool kids anymore. My days are spent talking baby bowel movements, nap durations, and successful pureed entree consumption. My wife obviously cares about this information, other parents like to listen to compare notes, but for the most part people don’t want to hear about diaper changes and pacifier preferences. Conversations these days usually start a quick Dave update (“Good. Tired. But good.”) and then dive into what he’s like because that kid can yank a spotlight away from anything.
When I wear him in a carrier, people don’t see me. I’m just the mode of transportation for the fuzzy-blonde angel dangling and drooling from my chest. I recently stopped into an event with him where people were so excited to see him that he was swept away for show-and-tell while I was left spinning aimlessly in an office chair (First, don’t worry, Mom was with him. Second, eventually one of the people came back saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t introduce myself!”).
I have to learn that I’m in his tiny shadow right now and that’s completely okay. That’s the way it should be. This is his time now and it’s my job to make sure he does right with it.
WALK IT OFF
I’ll be 38-years old this August and carrying him, chasing him, and keeping up with him makes me feel every day of that.
Before the boy, I could head out for a 6-mile run. These days, 6-miles sounds like 100-miles. Exercise time is limited to walks with the stroller and those have to be done during open windows in Brady’s schedule. And sometimes, you can only walk the same routes so many times before it’s just hard to get up and go do it. And sometimes, an 8-month old doesn’t want to sit in a car seat for an hour.
He’s a tall kid for his age, and freakishly strong. When he’s perched on my arm and suddenly shoots a stiff-arm to try and grab at something, my already-in-poor-shape lower back takes a beating. Lifting and lowering a kid a hundred times a day to the floor, to the play mat or into a crib doesn’t help either. Had I known I was going to feel like I was 3-inches shorter due to a compressed spinal column, I would have spent my days pre-Brady doing sit-ups and planks.
But the physical can be coped with. The mental exhaustion has been the hardest part for me. I’m not a patient person to begin with and when I’m tired, my filter fails and my mouth gets nasty. When the tot is in full-meltdown mode because you opted to feed him green peas instead of sweet pears, it takes a lot of concentration to remind yourself that he’s still a potato with zero control of his own emotions. Which, just like me, are amplified when he’s exhausted.
In addition, mental exhaustion leads to afternoons trying to remember what my wife wanted me to go to for the store for, where I put keys, wallets, diaper bags, and even what day of the week it is. I’ve arrived at grocery stores to realize I left the stroller at home. I packed up the family and headed out one-week early to attend someone’s birthday party, and then was STILL a day early one-week later.
I’ve tried to rely on my phone and apps to keep me sane, but even then, I don’t want to be on the phone updating that info constantly. Beyond that, I don’t want the apps to be a crutch. I have to challenge my brain somehow.
THE BABY BUBBLE
Being a stay-at-home parent can be isolating.
I live deep in the South Bay of Los Angeles and my friends are scattered mostly to the north. Those of you familiar with the cliché of Los Angeles know trying to coordinate time to see people with drive times, nap times and the free times of others is a task all in itself. My wife had the benefit of joining a local mommy group in the area after Brady was born and made some great friends through there. But there are no dad groups. There are rumors about packs of dads at certain playgrounds, but even if I tracked them down, I’ve never been one for striking up random conversations with strangers. And that’s on me to figure out.
The longest days are when it’s just Brady and myself. Those are entire days of one-sided conversation. I say things to him that he doesn’t understand. He babbles incoherent noises as he practices repeating the sounds I make, or just ignores me completely. Those are the days when I feel like the baby butler.
After twenty or more years in some form of work environment, surrounded by (mostly) capable adults, suddenly being yanked from the day-t0-day of meetings and human interaction is jarring. People around you provide insight, knowledge, gossip and make you feel human. When you start to look forward to conversations, usually about your kid, with grocery store check-out clerks, one feels a little out of touch.
But a lot of this has changed as we head towards the 100-day marker. Brady is in a better routine now. I know when he wants to nap (MUST nap). I know when he’s hungry. I, unfortunately, know when he poops. But now I can have lunch, sometimes with other adult humans. I can watch the local news and maybe some of the awful TV shows on the DVR (WHY AM I STILL WATCHING BLINDSPOT!?). I can work on illustration projects. I can even find time to write stupid articles about donuts.
DAD’S ARE PEOPLE TOO
Dads don’t get much respect out here.
The title of stay-at-home dad is growing in this country, but so much of the baby clothing and accessories are geared towards moms.
We have onesies that read “MOMMY’S FIRST MATE” or “MOMMY’S WILD THING.” For starters, I LOATHE stupid sayings on baby clothes (The SNUGGLE is NOT real). But more often than not, dad-based clothing is a random onesie with a mustache on it or some half-assed “I ❤ DADDY” t-shirt.
Then there’s the onesie to the left that labels what appendage goes in what hole with “Daddy-proof” across the chest. Just look and know that this disaster is being sold at a major big box baby store. Someone is making money off of this. The rage of 1,000 suns fills my soul when I see this.
There’s also the dread of playing public-bathroom-changing-table roulette. Will there be a changing table in the men’s room today or will I have to try and change my son’s diaper in the middle of the sinks while other people try to use them and he fights and squirms? Let’s find out!
To imply dads are somehow less capable or caring for their children or what they wear or what they do is just dumb. I’ve seen plenty of equally dumb mothers and fathers during my adventures in babysitting.
This is the future, and all I want is to easily change my kid’s filthy bottom in a public bathroom.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
Yes. You could ask me that question a million times and that will always be my answer.
During Brady’s first few months I had a hard time dealing with the fact that he didn’t care about me. I was utility. Bathing, butt wiping, transportation, rocking to sleep at night. There was no way for me to ever have the bond he had between himself and his mother.
But now, he knows me. He understands what I do for him, to a fault. When little bro takes a little poop, he’ll slide across the floor to find me for a clean up. Adorable. Right? Every parent’s dream.
The thought of the future creeps into my head every now and then. What will it be like when he’s in school and I have to look for a job in my 40s? But right now I can’t worry about what’s going to happen in five years. Just gotta worry about getting this kid to know he’s got wings to fly if he wants to use them.
In the first 100 days, I’ve been here to see amazing moments. I’m excited that there will be many more moments and that I’ll be around to help make them. As frightening as it is to say out loud, I’m here to make him a person. Teach him the rights from wrongs. Teach him to open doors for everyone. Teach him to put his things away when he’s done. Teach him to respect others. Teach him to use common sense and rational thought to solve problems. And he’s here to teach me patience. Teach me to be happy. Teach me to laugh and enjoy the small moments.
I would chose this path every single time.