Tag Archives: fatherhood

Clean out your desk, Naps. You’re being replaced.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. —CCC 2226

Sunday mornings my mother got up early—and dragged me kicking and screaming out of bed and into my nicest jeans and sweater. I have still never thanked her. (I’m borrowing, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less true.)

One of my great joys in life is sleep. I sleep long and I sleep often. If you promised me a plate of my favorite St. Louis BBQ to cut a nap short, I would tell you, with great pains, to come back later. Now, once I’m awake I can be bargained with, but in medius rest I am unyielding.

On those Sunday mornings, though, while my heathen friends were sleeping in, I was being propped up against my will in a middle pew at the evangelical church down the street. It was probably the most substantial philosophical issue I had with Christianity. Some people can’t accept the mystical nature of the trinity; others balk at the idea of moral absolutes; still others crave more empirical evidence of a divine creator. My reasons were purely axiological. That is, I placed a greater value on sleeping in than the church did. And it’s probably why I stayed away so long.

However, college came and rowdy Friday nights and Saturday nights soon brought reflective Sunday mornings. I longed for something sleeping in wouldn’t provide. Throughout junior high and high school I had become so fixated on getting sleep on Sundays that I’d forgotten to rest.

…then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
—”Those Winter Sundays”

Robert Hayden’s poem is about a father who gets up early every Sunday, even though he is exhausted by the weekday work that cracks his hands and tries his patience, just so he can provide his son with something valuable. As fatherhood quickly approaches, it is a poem I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

When Susan told me she was pregnant, it was six in the morning. I rejoiced with her over our great blessing, and then I looked at the clock and rejoiced once again because I knew I could sleep another thirty minutes on the couch before making breakfast. Right now, on a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon, I have the ability to take a nap if I’ve been going too hard for too long. I can tell Susan, “I am exhausted and I know we have plans, but I just really need some sleep.” Very soon that may no longer be the case because, in the not so distance, I can see a new threat to my sleep approaching. An adorable threat with two arms, two legs, and a potentially wailing head. And no, it’s not a baby velociraptor.

While some parents worry about their finances or their baby’s safety or any of the other million things we’ve now been instructed to worry about, I am single-mindedly worrying about where I’ll get my next nap—before our little siren has even arrived.

This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery—the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.” Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. —CCC 2223

When we got pregnant the first time, Susan asked me to make a promise—that I would give up my early morning naps once the baby arrived. Since we’ve been married, I’ve had a carefully calibrated morning routine which involves waking up, showering, napping, starting the coffee, kind of napping again, and then making the breakfast. It ends with me half-dressed, eating cereal and watching The Office, and then frantically running around our tiny apartment at 7:29 with a tie in one hand and a coffee thermos in the other. (I’m not sure why she wants our routine to change…)

I am reminded again and again, though, that to love is to be willing to sacrifice. And so in a few weeks, I will say good-bye to my sleeping in, my morning naps, and most likely a host of other sleep-related pleasures as well. I will get up early and rouse my child(ren) for Mass and they will look into my eyes and say, “Why are you doing this to me? I don’t even like Father N.”

As Jim would say, “Lord beer me strength.” I know that He will. And hopefully, He’ll also remind me that fatherhood is not a circumstance that just happened to me but rather a vocation I’ve been preparing for my whole life.

winnie the pooh

Fatherhood 101

“I don’t have to go. If you’re not feeling well, I mean,” the father-to-be said.

“No, you should definitely go,” the mother-to-be replied. And then sucking in air and grabbing her side: “You have to learn what to do if the baby’s choking.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he dismissed her.

“Oh yeah? What do you do first?” she asked.

“That’s easy. First I put out my cigar.”

She glared. He smiled. She smiled.

“But really, I’m sure there’s something useful. Baby CPR, how to check allergies, something…”

When the father-to-be arrived, two minutes late, the instructor had already started talking. “Imagine this: It’s been a long day at work, you’re exhausted, your wife hands you the baby and then vanishes out the front door, car keys in hand. The baby is crying and nothing will work. Should you or should you not…shake your baby?”

A twenty-something in the front row raised his hand tentatively. “No? You shouldn’t shake your baby?”

“That’s correct,” the instructor said enthusiastically. “You should never shake your baby. No matter how much it screams.”

What sort of class am I in? the father-to-be thought then. I knew I was a little smarter than the average bear but…

“Okay, now here’s a trickier one. Heisman pose. Should you or should you not hold your baby like a football for comedic effect?”

“No?” the class asked in unison.

“That’s correct, and do you know why?” Again the teacher’s pet up front raised his hand.

“Because you might drop the baby?”

“Exactly.” Now he moved over to the whiteboard and wrote in big block letters “FOOTBALL” and then crossed it out. “You should just never treat your newborn like a football. That means no passing it or punting it. You can hand it off, but only in a gentle, head-supporting manner, and only if you have a good eye on your running back.” They then proceeded to name off items you shouldn’t treat your baby like, which included but was not limited to a Frisbee, a hula hoop, a Christmas-themed nutcracker, and a driver’s license.

“Having a baby does not prove that you’re 21, so let’s stop taking out kids to the bars with us, shall we?”

Who is doing these things? the father-to-be wondered. But then a car seat came up on the PowerPoint and so he readied his pen to start taking notes.

“Your car seat,” the instructor started and then gave a too-long pause. Some of the men looked at each other in confusion. Others, thinking they’d reached a break, got up and walked into the hall. Finally, those remaining in the room checked their iPhones and waited for the instructor to resume. “…is not a third parent. You should use it for traveling, not for sitting all day in the living room. You should not put it outside on the porch at night so you don’t hear the crying. You should not put it on the kitchen table and then take a three-day business trip. I learned that one the hard way.”

Just then the father-to-be realized that he was going to make a great father. He knew how to not treat his baby like sports equipment, and he knew the importance of not leaving children strapped in a chair for days on end. Perhaps that’s why these classes existed, to reassure you that you knew more than you thought.

“Okay, now for the real meat of the class: Infant First Aid.” The instructor then detailed 40,000 ways the world was going to conspire to kill their babies–from brain bleeds and fatal allergic reactions to infants drowning in half an inch of water and electricity exit wounds in tiny feet–and with each section, he told them a handful of stories from the ER and his EMS days. When it was all over an hour and a half later, the instructor asked for any questions. The father-to-be raised his hand tentatively over his head. He didn’t even know what he needed to ask. He just knew that he didn’t know anything.

“Yes?”

“You mentioned the poison control number, but you didn’t give us the, um, other one. For the electrocution people.”

“For an ambulance?” the instructor asked.

The father-to-be nodded.

Then without any sign of a smirk, the instructor replied, “Just dial 9-1-1.”

“Dang it, I knew that one,” the father-to-be muttered to himself.

The room nodded.

“At the end of the day, you have to know in your heart that you’re being a good dad. Your little son or daughter isn’t going to high five you when you get it right. They’re not physically capable.”

The father-to-be wrote hurriedly in his notebook: Babies cannot high five. It was not the last stupidly obvious fact he would struggle to commit to memory.