Being a Dad

One fatherís first few days as a parent.

Parenthood is watching Roseanne on Nick at Nite at 2am... and 3... and 4. At least, that’s what the first couple of nights home from the hospital were like.

We welcomed Kaylen Elizabeth into our lives at 9:38pm on a Thursday, were home as a family by Saturday afternoon and had become familiar with the overnight television schedule by breakfast time Sunday morning.

Those first nights when the three of us were home together were rather rough. Kaylen would spend the day going about the normal baby activities— eating, pooping and sleeping, often in entertaining combinations. Come actual bedtime, however, she wasn’t remotely ready for the cradle. Those eyelids kept opening, those feet wouldn’t stay still and the crying— there was plenty of crying. But enough about Dad.

Of course, we had no idea what we were doing. The lamp stayed on the whole night. The TV (as I’ve mentioned) glowed continuously with the volume at a probably higher than sleep-inducing level. We talked to her, fed her, bounced her, changed a few diapers and did our best to keep from getting anxious at the abundant crying that pierces a new parent’s heart more sharply than the eardrums.

Finally, mercifully, some time in the fuzzy area between midnight and lunchtime, Kaylen fell asleep and we joined our babe for a much-needed slumber break. The mercy ceased that second night, however, when the whole dance was repeated.

The good thing about those first two nights at home was that as busy and long as they were, each presented a longer rest period than the first night in the hospital. If there was any worry that the parade of nurses would keep me from sleeping, it quickly disappeared when I realized I would be doing that myself. Here was this fragile new creature with mucus making frequent cameos in her mouth and throat, and spit up a constant threat, and I was supposed to leave her alone?

Every time I would try to lie down, Kaylen would make some noise I was hearing for the first time, or worse, she’d make no noise and I’d have to lean over her bassinet to make sure she was breathing. I would create distressing sounds in my half-asleep state that couldn’t possibly come from a baby, yet my inner protector would yank me from my foldout chair-cot to check on nothing— and everything.

By Kaylen’s fifth night on the outside, though, we three were starting to figure things out. The babe fell asleep somewhere around 9:30pm, and rather than stay up to watch the Colts and Bengals on Monday Night Football, I took a right turn down Smart Road, laid her in her cradle and went to bed with my wife. Despite the mandatory feedings and changings between bedtime and the morning, it was a restful night for all three of us.

The nights since have been mixed, as I’m sure most parents have experienced. Sometimes Kaylen sleeps for long stretches between feedings, and we can actually achieve REM before we all get up again. Other times she seems to be preparing for a rave.

On the first two nights that I returned to work, Kaylen decided she didn’t like that night-sleeping garbage, though I guess I can’t fault her for wanting some quality time before my office time. Her latest trick is to nod off during the 9 o’clock hour, deeply enough that she can even lie in peace in her cradle for a while. But when 10pm rolls around, she tugs on her party hat and starts to boogie. She and my wonderful wife have become late-night pals, as Mommy hangs out until Baby finally gives in to slumber, allowing Daddy to collect a few winks before the 5am alarm.

We’ve tried some of what has been suggested. The lights now stay out, and the TV is at least quieter, if not off. I do my best not to talk to Kaylen when I get up with her in the night, and I try to avoid eye contact as I’ve read and been told by our pediatrician. That second part’s especially tough when those angelic blue eyes are caressing my cheek while my little girl lies calmly on her changing pad.

I know that all we really need to do is keep learning and trying the little things while maintaining our patience. From what I hear, it doesn’t really matter what we do for at least the first six weeks. Kaylen is going to sleep when she wants to and stay awake when that’s the more attractive option.

In the end, every late-night bounce, middle-of-the-night diaper change and bleary early morning shower unwittingly taken two hours before I’m actually supposed to get up is well worth it. I had a pretty good idea of what was in store when we decided to have a child: the sleeplessness, the responsibility, the cuddles.

When I hold our little miracle, and she’s staring up at me while I talk, sing or do nothing in particular, I feel a purpose. I feel fulfilled. I feel excitement at the opportunity to introduce this new little person to the world, and wonderment over what she might do or become. I feel the most amazing feeling of my life.

I feel like Dad.