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Being Daddy 101, 101

I feel like I’m starting from scratch again!  You wouldn’t have guessed that Jackie gave birth over a month ago because it feels like it’s happening all over again.  The constant complaining, the shouting at the Playstation 3 for cutting out on shows, the weeps and sobs when that commercial about the orphaned dogs comes on TV, and that’s just me!

Seriously though, Jackie is going through some new emotions and changes in her attitude that I just don’t get.  Griffin is feeling it too, following right along with mamas reactions towards how daddy makes a bottle, how daddy folds baby’s clothes, and how daddy can’t seem to utter a word in when mama’s yelling at everything and anything.  I’ve always liked rollercoasters, no, loved rollercoasters, but this is the bumpiest, loopiest, most upside-down ride I’ve ever been on! (Speaking of rollercoasters I suggest Six Flags in the Chicago land area, epic rides)

What I learned today about being a father:

It’s been nearly four days since my last post, and I know what you’re thinking, “Why so lazy daddy?”  I promise when I say I’m motivated, obligated, and doing my best to emancipate myself from my wife to keep up on this blog.  I am trying to convey this in the best way possible, but over the last four days my wife and sister (who is in from out-of-town) planned a Cinco De Mayo party without telling me; one that I had to take off early from work to prepare for.  My sister was supposed to help me cook, Jackie run errands and prep our small two-bed for company, while I did all the grocery shopping, meal and bar preparation.  Though I wasn’t keen on the idea of making food I for twenty in our little kitchen, at 6AM I had it in my mind that with all the help from the other two this wouldn’t be an issue.

Daddies, never make plans that something won’t go wrong.

My sister ended up lame with a hurt back, one that would end up making sending us to a hospital and making her bed ridden for the remainder of her stay in town, at a hotel room, with my parents coming into town.  Jackie called grandma over to help clean the apartment which turned into grandma and mama sitting on the couch watching Grey’s goo-gooing and ga-gaing over baby.  Daddy went to work until 11AM, then to the store to buy the goods, then home and unloaded and went straight to work prepping, baking, and cooking for the next 7 hours.  It was a whirlwind of on-goings and what-the-heck-am-I-doing dessert making, but it all worked out in the end.

And that’s the thing, Jackie, completely ignoring my pleas for help, just kept saying, “B, it will all work out in the end.  Everything will be great.”  Smiling wide, looking at baby.

What I think I know:

Despite the problems with my sister and Jackie’s emotional ups and downs, all in all it was a great weekend.  My parents were able to meet their grandson for the first time, and though they had to take turns, one watching my sister, one at the two-bed holding Griffin, they couldn’t have asked for a better, more complete weekend.

I didn’t get it, to be honest.  I talked it over with my parents Sunday night, wondering with the serious back issue my sister faced (and I mean serious-serious, she couldn’t walk, stand up, move from her laying position, or get to the bathroom in time because of the pain) and the long road they took to get here why they thought it was such a great weekend?  It was damp and rained off-and-on all weekend, we didn’t even get a chance to go out for dinner or lunch or hang out as a family.  Moms (I call her moms, can’t really explain why) and dad chuckled, and they agreed that it was great because they got the chance to not only be fun, loving grandparents, but they got to be parents again.

The art of being a parent never really goes away.  My parents house has been empty for over five years, and though the enjoy us staying over when we come into town they never, ever have to take care of us.  This weekend moms and dad went to work on my sister, and I, older brother and all, got a chance to give good brotherly help as well.

As everything changes, some things never do.  My parents, the guardian of their children, went into protection/take care of mode without hesitation.  They relished this role, the role of parent, husband and wife taking care of their little girl.  It was amazing, perfect even, just watching them do what they do best hoping that in the coming years I can be the best daddy I can be.

Once the smoke cleared, the grandparents gone and my sister back home, I sat with Jackie and listened to her complain about our dinner, yell at her phone, scold the dog, and tell me how need to stop telling people stories because it takes me too long to get to the point.  The point is, and I’m sorry it took this long, she gave me a kiss, thanked me for watching Grey’s with her, let me hold baby and got me ice cream, just because. 

Being daddy it sometimes feels like we are starting over again and again, but it all works out in the end.

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Asleep Standing Up

I take pride in my work ethic, working hard and going above and beyond to do what’s best for my family and my company.  There has never been a time in my life where anyone would have found me asleep on the job.  I’ve worked in many different environments since I was ten years old, work days that lasted over 15 hours, and have somehow managed to put in the extra time to keep up with my personal activities and entertain Jackie’s very often at times warped idea of what constitute as “doing something fun.”

All that changes in an instant, and on a short elevator ride from the basement of my office building to the third floor I became a victim the second worst kind of enemy behind time, sleep.

What I learned today about being a father:

When the elevator reached the 8th floor a co-worker of mine tapped me on the shoulder.  “You OK?”  I was startled and nearly buckled, leaning into the corner of the elevator I had shut my eyes for what I thought was just a second, but on the way up I had dozed, just like that.

He smiled widely and, aware of our new baby, simply said “You’ll get used to it.”

Please be aware, you’ll never get used to falling asleep in an elevator.  I mean seriously, it’s a metal box with no soft edges.  The mirrored plates that line the inner workings of most elevators are usually cold, sticky to the touch.  Has anyone else ever noticed the unnatural film that is invisible to the naked eye that builds up inside elevators?  The sides of my hair changed drastically from said film, sticking out in ways I never thought possible.  A quick trip to the bathroom and a few finger-fulls of water would do nothing to contain the new bend that had formed.  And though it was only  a few bunches of hair, by the looks of me it had become obvious to myself (and everyone else in the office) that being daddy has changed me.

What I think I know:

To make it through the day I was extra caffeinated and made a point to walk around for at least 20 minutes of every hour.  It was the longest day of my life, and my coworkers all had something to say about how pale I looked, how my the redness of my eyes was out of control, and there were only a few pokes of fun about my stint of sleeping in the elevator (like all great work stories, mine made its way through office email).

Though it was tough to get through the work day, it was much easier when I got home.  At home it’s go-go-go, and being daddy means that I have to be prepared to take Griffin out of mama’s hands so she can take care of her needs, make dinner while baby feeds and mama pumps, rock child when he’s fussy, change pants when it is needed, and by all means never, ever, forget to take out the garbage.  Being daddy is about resilience, fighting off being tired and finding the extra energy throughout the day to make things happen.  Today, when I got home, Jackie could tell I was tired, worn out, beat up from the inside and that I needed some time, just a few minutes, to rest my body…And then she went all in about the dealings of her day and I can tell you this much, no matter how hard the day is at work, no matter how tired I think I am, it’s nothing compared to being mommy.

Heavy Lifting

Griffin is growing at a staggering rate and our ration of diapers is running long on the sizes that don’t fit him.  We were warned, but we’ve been asking people to bring us things we need when they come to visit, such as diapers, baby wipes, formula, sanity, you know, the everyday things that mamas and daddies need to make sure their baby is taken care of and that they don’t forget about each other in the process.  Now I’ve got a corner full of newborn diapers that don’t fit and a drawer full of newborn/0-3 month old onesies that mama has thrown on the floor to make room for the 3-6 month old clothes…what a mess.

What I learned today about being a father:

Can you believe it’s been four weeks since Griffin was born, I started this blog, and my hair has started to turn colors other than the nice, dark auburn color I’ve grown to know so well?  In the last 28 days so many great things have happened, but now a reality of sorts is setting in…Change is upon us! 

Jackie and I thought we could plan for this, but we were totally wrong.  Our diagram of baby growing and parenting was thrown out the window 27 days ago, and we’ve been trying to pick up the pieces ever since.  I’ve learned that she is the decider, when she makes a move I just go with it.  When she says to do something that doesn’t make sense I question it every time on accident, not on purpose, trying to gain a better understanding of reason, and she motions with many different contortions of her body and face of how ridiculous my inquisitions are.

What it’s come down to is this; when Jackie makes a mess I clean it up.

What I think I know:

“I didn’t make the mess on purpose, it’s for the baby!”

Sooner or later you will hear this line, or one very similar to it, that describes mama’s reasoning for whatever it is she is doing that daddy doesn’t quite get.  Being daddy has taught me to look past my wife’s simple indiscretions, keep my mouth shut and my head down (to see what’s on the floor that’s not supposed to be there) and never, never ask a question in the form of a statement. 

Our partnership is more than that, however.  It’s being on the same page, turning corners and expecting that the other will be there.  I don’t mind doing the heavy lifting because that’s what I’m good at.  Mama is good at reacting to the changes of baby’s needs, knowing when to create space (even when it is by tossing clothes on the floor, in the crib, or out the car window; it was an accident) and having the magic touch that calms babies emotions after spending too much time in daddies hands.

Being daddy takes a lot of understanding and reacting at a moments notice.  No amount of preparation will prepare you for the changes that are being thrown your way, for the odd times when mama uses baby as a reason for doing what she does, or for the calming, loving effect your little child will have on you.  It sounds cliché, I get it, but within the cliché is much truth.  Our children are a miracle, a miracle created by the actions of individuals, which makes us pretty cool too.  Sometimes the heavy lifting is reminding yourself about that, telling your partner how awesome of a job they did, and knowing that every time you ever said to yourself that you wanted to make a difference in a person’s life that you are.

I know there’s more to this story that I haven’t learned, but I’m keeping my eyes open and my ears alert to all the learning that hasn’t been described in detail for me.  Mama is making sure of that too.  I mean, just last night she taught me how pack old clothes into plastic containers and mark them for when we have our next child…”You want another one?”

Sometimes being daddy is questioning mama’s sanity…sometimes.

Being Daddy Tip of the Week:

Do everything you can to listen to instruction from you partner.  Mama’s do not like to have to explain themselves twice…and remember that whatever she is asking you to do is “for the baby.”  So rub her feet, and stop asking questions.

Kung-Fu Papa

I’m a martial arts junky and a fan of foreign films of just about every genre.  Last night little Grif wouldn’t go to sleep.  I did the dance with him, actually dancing with him, singing in elaborate voices that sound more like Cartman from South Park than a real human being, and pushing him back and forth in his stroller in our small two-bedroom (he likes the car seat, even when not in a car).

I did everything I thought I knew I could before having to sit down on the couch.  He kept grabbing, whining, smiling, making baby noises that creep out the neighbors.  I was spent, so I turned on the Netflix, him dangling from my arms.  I strolled through the offerings and settled on a movie about 17th century Mongolia.  From the moment the movie started Griffin, now sitting up in my left arm looking like daddy, became fixated with the television.  His eyes were wide, his mouth shaped in a small “o”, and he was still.

What I learned today (tonight) about being a father:

When mama grasps for peace and quiet she hands baby over to daddy.  Being daddy is a mix of taking care of mama and baby, but when she relinquishes control of her child its double duty for daddy. 

It’s important for mama to get her sleep and for us dads to learn how to take care of ous infants.  But be warned, because everything I thought I knew up to this point went out the window.  I ran through the list in my head titled “How to Keep Baby Quiet”, thumbed through chapters 1, 2, and 3, until the list went blank.  Jackie got out of bed, twice, but each time she reached for him I told her “I got it.”

I really thought I did, and when I didn’t I gave up trying so hard, sat down and turned on the telly, and that’s when my miracle happened…silence.

What I think I know:

As new parents we trend on proven ways to calm our babies down.  I had to watch a video before leaving the hospital, the 5 S’s (Swaddle, Side, Shoosh, Shake, Suck) and it worked for all of two days before my being daddy radar kicked in.  From there I moved on to other things, like singing, humming, skin-to-skin, dancing, baby-walking, cheering on mama when she was about ready to nurse, etc.  All those things were great, and here I am four weeks into his life and everything has changed again!

Being daddy is all about adapting and babies changing quickly.  Sooner or later he might be a terror on the bike path, a car junkie, a rodeo clown or a professional skydiver but the one thing I know is that I have to learn now how to take care of him today.  I never thought TV would be the answer, and I know that I don’t want it to be a staple in my sons life.  Heck, when he was born we dumped our cable company for this very reason!

But it was dimwitted luck that I found success through my martial arts films, and even though I know it wasn’t because of the film, rather, it was because I used the one piece of advice I actually think helps from the 5 S’s film; I relaxed. 

No amount of training or film study can prepare us for the changes in our children.  We have to roll with their punches, adapt to their environment by creating an environment based on merits we choose and hope that some day they succumb to our wills, willingly or with force.  But until then we can’t let our emotions get out of control.  Their crying won’t stop the more anxious we get, so when the time comes find something that calms you down, and baby will take cue and follow suit.

Then enjoy some Stir Fry for lunch, and celebrate passing the lesson of being Kung Fu papa.

Future Daddying

I came across a wonderful website, fatherhood.org, that I wanted to share with you.  If you’re a dad or know a dad I suggest that you share this with them, let them check it out and decide what to do with it themselves.

What I learned today about being a father:

I took off work two hours earlier than I normally would.  I wasn’t being productive, thinking about a new idea I came up with rather than doing the work that was in front of me that needs to get done, even if it doesn’t need to get done today.  That’s one of my major flaws, my mind races in different directions, seeing things that aren’t there and wondering how I can get them there.  My new creation has me researching vitamins and energy supplements and how they interact with the chemical balance of juice.  I’d go into detail for you, but I just spent the last 20 minutes writing about it before I realized how boring my description is, so I’ll move on instead.

Anyhow, I thought about going home but I didn’t.  I was missing my family, but I have realized that at home I can’t get any work done at all.  So, I went to the library instead.  I know, not a cool move by daddy, but for two hours I was able to research in peace, no phones ringing at work, no mama needing daddy at home.

When I came home Jackie was on her way out.  She was frustrated, Griffin had been fussy all day.  And when I told her I left work early to do some research I saw a defeated look in her eyes, the longness of her face being pulled further into the ground.  She didn’t say anything at first, kind of shrugged it off, and continued to tell me about her day.

What I think I know:

Wrong.  Everything about being daddy over the last 24 days told me that what I was doing was completely wrong.  It wasn’t wrong because I left work early, every thing was covered and the work that needed to get finished did, but it was because I used being daddy as an excuse to sneak away for a few hours to do the things that I love do, attempt at being creative.

She thinks I take up enough time with this blog, doesn’t understand why I do it or why I anyone would read it.  I can’t explain it to her, but the reason she fell in love with me was because I aspired to be a writer.  She liked my creativity, my inspiration from life events that gives me ideas to better our future, to create some thing or write some thing that changes the way one person, just one, looks at the world.  I have always wanted to do that, but being daddy is what I’ve done to change a life.

She didn’t have to tell me she was tired, or that she was disappointed that I didn’t come home when I left work.  She didn’t need to, rather she just went about what she was doing.  On her way out she looked at me and simply said she was proud of me.

And being me, I didn’t get it.  I still don’t.  Jackie, my wonderful wife, knows me well enough to support my ideas, whether they are crazy, intangible, out of the ordinary or just plain weird.  Being daddy has created a different future for us, a new path that hasn’t been written or paved and who knows, maybe future daddy’s ideas will be the ones to change the world.

But in the meantime I need to just focus on being daddy today.  Future daddying depends on it.

Daddy Question:

The blogosphere is full of creative people who have creative ideas and unique perspectives.   How do you balance your creative side while being the best parent that you can be?

Griffin John, Future of Me

My Future, Griffin John

They Grow Up So Fast

If you haven’t gathered from my thoughts and whisperings I am not from where I live.  I moved to Madison with my wife so she could attend grad school.  She is an Educational Psychology student shooting for her PhD within the next two years.  Being here with her has improved my life dramatically, but my birth family isn’t here and when Griffin was born I was worried that he may never get to know my side of our family.

My sister is in town on business for the next three weeks.  She is six years younger than I, much more smart and much better looking than me, and yet sitting with her in our small two-bedroom listening to her stories amazes me the more I get to know her better.

What I learned today about being a father:

My sister is awesome.  She tries to keep in touch through all the different modes of communication you can think of.  She’s driven to be the rock that holds my three brothers and me together even though she moved away from home four years ago.  She is driven to be as successful as possible, to put her mark on the world as a young business woman and to retire before she’s 40.  She loves talking about money, her life, her husband and his family but more important she completely understands why I am the way am and likes me just the same.

In my eyes she is still my little sister, the young girl who cheered me on at my basketball games and would get excited when she was a part of what the boys were up to.  She was always the smart one, always the one we all said would make something of herself because we could all see the it in her.  And as she sits here, with Jackie, Griffin and I, and she tells the stories about her life, I can’t help think how fast she has grown up.

What I think I know:

So nothing I previously said explains what I learned today about being a father, but as much as I can remember about my sister when she was just a girl, I can’t for the life of me remember why we ever thought she would turn out the way she did.  I mean, I lived in the same house with her for 12 years, came back from college for some weekends and holidays and made sure I was there to stare down her date to her first high school dance.

That’s what being a brother was all about, but what I didn’t realize is that it’s these same qualities that go into being daddy.  I’ve got to see the good qualities that my son portrays, reinforce the positives and deal with any negatives in a way that teaches him to be a good person.

Seeing my sister makes my day, and I’m glad she’s in town for a few weeks to share in the life of her new nephew.  My parents are on their way from Omaha, NE, to spend some time with us and meet their new grandchild as well.  These are the first of my clan that Griffin will meet, and there are many more to come, which is awesome and scary at the same time.  Awesome because my family has a lot of different components to take from, scary because even today I can see the differences in Griffin.  He is bigger, longer, more wide-eyed than I would have thought after only 25 days.  He’s growing up faster than I want him to, but there’s no stopping it, it’s going to happen.  But it was my sisters presence with us tonight that made me realize that I’m still her big brother, and that even though she’s grown up she is still my little sister.  As old as he gets, and as grown up as becomes, he will never be too grown up to be anything less than my son.

I like that.

Things I can’t Hear

I realized today how hard it is being mama.  Jackie, nearly in tears, talked to me about how she doesn’t know if she can breast feed any longer.  I listened as best I could, trying hard not to say anything that didn’t agree with her reasoning or say anything that agreed with her reasoning too much, so I didn’t say anything at all.  She was anxious, nervous, and under enormous pressure to meet the goals she had set for herself with this endeavor.  It was hard to see, hard to be there and try to console her when I couldn’t completely understand what she was going through.  Baby cried, too, and I could tell in her eyes that she was having a mama breakdown which was breaking my heart.

What I learned today about being a father:

Jackie is a rock.  She works hard at everything she does and is not one to accept any type of failure whether it falls on her or people she sets expectations for.  This, however, has her baffled.

I’ve noticed the frustration with his feedings over the last two days, tried hard to be understanding and do whatever I can to help.  I offer to make a bottle, give her mama breaks, get her favorite dinner and just about everything else under the sun that I think might make a difference but nothing does.  And everything I do isn’t enough, or is wrong, or isn’t what she wanted from me.  I’m trying to understand, still, but I’m not quite getting it.

During yesterday’s afternoon feeding she spoke out loud to Griffin about his feeding habits.  They have changed, over the last few days, and he has become more fussy, picky, if you will, about when he feeds and what he is feeding on.  It seems to change by the minute and has become insatiable.  Then, during lunch and dinner I noticed something completely changed about my wife; she complained about both meals.  Her feeding times were off, too.  She wanted lunch at 1:30PM, dinner at 5; and everything that touched her mouth wasn’t good enough.  It even carried over to breakfast this morning too, and it hit me; Baby and mama were now eating out of habit rather than necessity.

What I think I know:

My mind may be playing tricks on me, but what I think I know is that mama and baby are facing the same challenges when it comes to their temperaments and their eating habits.  Neither eats a complete meal and both show distaste for whatever it is they are eating.  When she is fussy, he is fussy, and vice verse.  When I started to mention it to her to try to relax her assumptions she went off on a tyrant about all the things I didn’t know, what I didn’t understand, and how I would never get it.

Listening to her isn’t easy, and understanding both of them is extremely hard.  Part of being daddy is getting to know what the faces and sounds our babies make mean, drawing from past experiences on what calms them down and what does not.  Whether it’s a certain position or a particular Nuk, our babies need us to get them, and our partners need us to listen, be here, and never let their frustrations get the best of them.

Jackie took a shower to relax, and I took Griffin, crying baby and all, and put to work one of the realizations that I came about the other day.  I plugged in the iPhone, opened up the windows, and danced while singing to Coldplay.  I don’t know what it is but my voice, no matter how bad it sounds, grabs his attention, makes him hold still, and gives me amble Babyface Time with my son.

Jackie got her mama break too.  And when she sees Griffin smiling and being calm she smiles and is calm.  She hugs daddy, kisses her son, and gets ready for his afternoon feeding.  Today, above all days, she fed him strictly from the breast.  “All right Grif, I’m not letting you off that easy,” she said.  And then it happened.  Griffin took from the breast, mama ate her salad, and I realized that being daddy is not just about trying to understand the things I hear but understanding better the things I can’t.