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Griffin is starting to smile, a lot.  He has finally overcome that newborn frown, the grimace of both pleasure and pain, sleep, and utter dismay.  His eyes are starting to lighten up, turning from a deep, metallic blue to a lighter, more southern-Pacific 25-ft wave type blue with eyes so big they are mesmerizing.  He controls a room better than any executive speaker I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, only that Griffin has much less to say.

What I learned today about being a father:

This may be the new high-point in fatherdom.   There have been so many ups since Griffin’s birth that I didn’t know how much further it could go but from my current experience this may be it.

I’m told that there comes a point, around six to eight weeks, when child begins to smile and giggle and begins to understand (how they can tell this, I’m not sure).  Jackie and I have overcome the obstacles of new parents and have gotten to this point where now, more than ever, neither of us wants to put him down.  He is changing so quickly, growing so fast, getting heavy and long, and his facial expressions are becoming more deliberate making every time he smiles that much more special.

Mama has come a long way and worked to make sure that Grif has had everything he needs, and now, she said, he’s starting to give back.

What I think I know:

Nothing can prepare you for that look in your child’s eyes when you feel, no, you know that they are seeing you.  Before I could have sworn up and down that I recognized the connection, but yesterday it was oh-so apparent that there was no questioning that he was smiling at me.  My heart sank, and I nearly broke into tears today telling a co-worker about it. 

I’m a softy, what can I say.

Jackie was happy, too.  And now I feel like I finally can have a conversation with my son about all the things that are on my mind.  It’s interesting what comes out of our mouths as parents, we start talking in the third person, calling ourselves “daddy” and “mommy” explaining to our 6-week old our day or what it is we are doing right at this moment; “Daddy’s going to take a shower”, “Do you want to help daddy cook?” And then answering for them, “Of course you do.  Of course my big boy wants to help daddy with dinner.”

What I realized yesterday is that he is listening, with an intensity I can’t recall having ever in my life.  Not during my education, my college career, or my professional career.  His eyes are a gaze, staring directly into mine, and he reacts to the different pitches of my voice.  He scowles when I try to sing to him, questions when I am humming along to his children’s music, and gives deep, exhausted breathes when I try to tell him my stories.  But when I talk, just to talk and ask him about his day or have a conversation with mama, he hangs on every word.

I know this is what bringing up child is all about, and I can’t but help want more of it.  Being daddy I watch myself, my actions, my words, just about everything I do, because now some body is actually paying attention.  This is how my child is making me better, and when I thank him for it he gives me a smile, a wink, and an “atta boy!”, just for good measure.



What’s in your wallet?

Jackie takes the best pictures of babies.  When our niece, Harper, was born she went out and bought one of those expensive Canon cameras with the adjustable lenses, interchangeable flashes, and all the other bells and whistles.  It’s a beautiful piece of electronics that has made her good quality of picture-taking to great. 

Being a grad student has slowed down her ability to take her picture-taking to the next level, but we’ve seen a revival of that passion of hers since Griffin was born.  She takes the best pictures, creates these awesome slide shows and collages intertwining all the things from our courtship, our engagement, our wedding, and beyond.  She keeps her masterpieces on her computer for the most part though, never really satisfied with the way the end product looks.  Something about the generic photograph paper at all the big box stores, just another thing I don’t get.

What I learned today about being a father:

I miss my guy.  Today especially for some reason.  I am fortunate enough to have a bright picture on my desktop of him, though, and I keep a special one that mama took in my wallet.  There is nothing significant about today, neither good or bad.  Today feels like just a day, and maybe that’s why I was thinking about doing something other than my work, like taking the time to read some new blogs, maybe skip out on work and go see  a movie (I love movies, and I’ve heard great things about The Avengers), but looking at my boy’s picture not only stopped me from being foolish, but has given me a reason to do better.

What I think I know:

We all come across these times in our lives, whether it’s a rough day at work or a bad argument with a loved one that makes us want to do something that isn’t typical, something maybe dangerous or completely out of character.  I’ve never thought these things were bad, just some situations call for us to be unconventional and spontaneous and I think we all know when this is and when it’s not. 

Today, when my mind was wandering, wishing I was doing something else and contemplating jumping ship from work, it was the picture of Griffin that stopped me.  I realized that what I’m doing, I’m doing for him and my family, trying to create a good future for us so that he can have a life that he deserves.  He stopped me in my tracks, made me re-think my priorities, and helped me be a good daddy and do the right thing. 

So, if you happened to waiver, watch pictures of your children, because even now they’re talking back to you.  The hard things that come with being daddy feel a lot easier and make a lot more sense when you know why you’re doing them.

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.

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.

Mommy took Griffin to work to show him off tonight and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me dazzle her with my culinary expertise.  No simple mac and cheese or pasta Primavera, no, not for my wife!  I prepped the kitchen utensils and cleaned off the countertops and took aim at her favorite dish; Swanson‘s canned chicken chunks mixed with Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Pizza cheese wrapped in a Pillsbury croissant roll with broccoli rice and home-made egg rolls.  Oh, it was to be stupendous!  Alas, however, my sister Skyped me!  And while in Skype my mind must have wandered, for croissants began to burst and flake than rice got overcooked…but in the end, it was those dang egg rolls that  got the best of me.  Home made (not by me, by a co-worker who makes them delicious) and ready to fry in oil over the stove top preheated to high.  I pulled five rolls from freezer and a sixth (just in case), and dropped them into the high heat and nearly set the kitchen on fire!

What I learned today about being a father:

If Griffin could understand what I just did, he’d laugh.  Mama didn’t find it so funny though.  Our cramped two-bedroom smells of burnt…something?  I can’t place it really.  It just smells like smoke.  Everything smells like smoke.

It took less than five seconds for our place to be engulfed in the fumes and smoke, 10 seconds for our fire alarm to go off, 12 for the one in the hallway outside our door.  I pulled the oil off the flame, but smoke poured over the sides, the oil popped, and the carbon filled my lungs.  I was coughing with such force that I dropped the frying oil, with egg rolls, into the sink.  More smoke, more popping, skin getting burnt from the drops of popping oil into the air, and then the oven timer goes off…Let me just end right here, what a mess.

What I think I know:

I am no chef, and I’ve never claimed to be one.  I tried to do something nice for mama because she was trying so hard to be mama and take care of obligations that she had at work which she couldn’t hand over to some one else.  I thought it’d be sweet, thoughtful, the husbandry thing to do.

I called her to warn her not to bring Griffin home for a few hours.  It was just too smoky, my eyes still burn and my lungs hurt and I didn’t want to put them through that.  I opened all the windows (Wisconsin in April!) and let the smoke take it’s course.  Four hours later, four hours, Jackie knocked on the door and I let her in.

“It still smells in here.”  She gave me a kiss and handed me dinner, a McDonald’s bag with the french fries mostly eaten.  Griffin made a face, and we sat down at the table to eat my wife’s second favorite meal and laughed our heads off.

These are the days we don’t forget, one of the stories we’ll share with Griffin when he makes a mistake or is feeling bad about not being good at something.  And if I know Jackie as well as I think I do I know we’ll be laughing our heads off then, too.

It took this many to put out my kitchen fire...

Me, being daddy

I’m scared. 

Today child and mama each have doctors appointments and I can’t be with them to hold hands and reassure them everything is going to be OK.  We get his newborn test results back from the lab, and because tests and doctors make mama worry none of the three of us were able to get any sleep last night.  Mama held onto child tight whispering in his ear that everything was going to be fine, that nothing was wrong with him and that the tests would come out negative for any signs of chronic diseases or disabilities.  It wasn’t an easy night, and it isn’t an easy day because once child ran out of juice daddy held mama tight and whispered in her ear that everything was going to be OK, that the tests where going to come out in our favor for child, and mama too.

What I learned today about being a father:

Doctors and tests never worried me because I always knew that no matter the outcome of anything I would deal with it head on and not falter in destruction of disease or potential disability.  It was easy for me when all I had to think about was me, but today my life has embarked on a totally different attitude towards the health of my family.  I’m worried, and have been all day only because I didn’t completely think there was anything that I should be worried about until mama began to break down.  

Mama is in good health, but since the pregnancy she has run into some complications with her lady parts.  She is scared that we might find out something is more wrong then she thinks, and before last night I didn’t know to the extent what she was worried about.  She opened up about what could be wrong, what might be wrong, and what could happen if the x’s and o’s line up the way she fears they can.  She has over-researched her symptoms, done too many personal tests that can not truly be considered tests and continues to come to the same conclusion: that we will not be able to have more children.

Griffin, our boy, is our first.  And as a new mother the thing that scares her most is not being able to have more children.  She’s scared for herself, but finds solace and humor in knowing that we have him.  But if you add-on the ideas of all that could be wrong with him that we don’t know about with a woman whose hormonal balance is completely out of structure we have created a recipe for super-sized anxiety, (hold the added stress).  Being daddy I worry about my wife, I worry about my child, and I worry that I won’t be there in this time of need whether the news is good or bad because I am back to work. 

What I think I know:

Though I have never considered myself an over-the-top romantic I know that a little support in the right direction goes a long way.  I like to leave little notes in my wife’s purse or travel bag, maybe stuffed in the pages of a book she is or is not reading, to let her know how much I care about her and how wonderful she is.  I don’t do this to gain from it, I just know that sometimes she needs a little pick-me up, a reminder that I’m here for her and that despite what she thinks I am thinking about her.  At the doctors she found my note.  I don’t know how things have turned out yet, but when she texted me to tell me she found my note I could sense a that strength coming back in her.  It read, ‘Found Ur note.  U R the sweetest man I know.  I love U.  Need milk.’

Positive letters from mama make my day better, and no matter how low I can get I know that doing what I can to brighten her day is what being daddy is all about.

Tip of the Week:  Carry the Load.

The Load can mean many different things for different people, because every situation is different.  For me, my wife needs me to be strong when she can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or when the what if’s seem too out of her control.  Being Daddy means I have to carry that load for her, be up when she is down, leave loving messages for her to find even if it isn’t me. 

But whether it’s that emotional load our significant others can’t bear or the load that is all the new things that go with taking your baby somewhere, being daddy is being strong when we need to be, empathetic when she needs us to be, and loving as much as we can be.  Oh, and don’t forget the milk.