When you become a father, you suddenly need to learn a whole new set of skills. You’ll be doing things you never thought possible, that your pre-baby life never prepared you for. The good news is you’ll pick them up pretty quickly. The bad news is they change you. It’s impossible to be a halfway decent father without becoming a slightly lamer person. The evolution is both impressive and soul-crushing.
Many of the skills I’ve acquired are quite useful and, without them, I’d be adrift as a father. Skills like diaper-changing and baby-holding and swaddling and so on.
Unfortunately, many more of the skills I’ve learned thus far are things I wish I hadn’t learned. Because while they may make me a better father, they also take me further and further away from my pre-father self.
Here is a list of skills I’ve picked up that help me be a better parent but a worse person:
Swearing Less – I’m still working on this. It’s not easy; I like to swear. But as my son continues his ascent towards becoming the next Rich Little – his ability to copy everything we say is uncanny – I am terrified of the day that he regurgitates a filthy word on the playground. So I am swearing less. MomandBuried, however, is another story. Get with the program, lady! Just two seconds ago she dropped an f-bomb while discussing the Today show.
Nursing Beers – Ugh. Parents have small windows of restaurant and bar-based activity (yes, even in Brooklyn). You never know when the kid will explode (THERE’S A BOMB IN HIS RIBCAGE!), so you need to be ready to go at any moment. Which means ordering a second beer is a major risk, which means I need to savor every sip of my beer without ever having none left. My newfound ability to make one pint last 45 minutes is the surest indication yet that I am not in college anymore, even if I still look 20 (shut up, honey.)
Patience – I’ve always been able to whistle the song. But I never suspected I’d be able to tolerate as much of my baby’s tomfoolery as I do. If one of my friends shit his pants and started screaming if I took an empty bottle of sunscreen away from him, someone was gonna get punched. With a toddler, that happens practically fifteen times a day (not the punching part, though he has been grabbing my FACE a lot lately) and I remain unfazed. Acquiring the patience of a parent will probably serve me well as my life progresses, but it’s another thing that makes me feel old. It was a lot more fun when I could fly off the handle and unleash a tirade of swears at the jerk in front of me in the checkout line.
Not Gagging – The amount of grossness a parent has to deal with on a daily basis is off the charts. Snot, puke, drool, poop, urine, paint, glue, mushy food. I don’t mind that I have learned not to gag or even to hesitate when faced with the nasty, but I resent the fact that this stuff is such a daily part of my life. And the food itself, good GOD. The other day we bought my son some “healthy” cookies that were made from chocolate and beets; what a delicious combination! And just last night I had to taste test some disgusting spinach-based tater tot debacles. Because in order to get him to eat his dinner, we are forced to taste everything he eats and act enthused. For the record? I AM NOT ENTHUSED.
Being Friendly – I don’t like people. My kid likes everyone. At playgrounds and stores and subways, his friendliness forces me to interact with all sorts of riffraff. I barely like talking to my wife, let alone the 64 year old Hispanic man in the Angry Birds t-shirt on the F train at 8 in the morning. Give it a rest, junior!
Not Pushing Children – it’s not like my pre-fatherhood days were full of me running around knocking over kids. Back then I devoted a fair amount of energy to avoiding children, at all costs. But the impulse to push some kids around was always there (hence the avoidance). Nowadays, I’m forced to be around kids all the time. They haven’t gotten any more likeable. But, thanks to being around an occasionally unlikeable child of my own and learning firsthand just how hard he is to control without a taser and some rope, I have gotten better at keeping calm and not getting violent. It’s not their fault, even when a berserker child accidentally hits me in the privates.
Not Pushing Parents – speaking of unlikeable kids…again, it’s tough to blame the kids themselves. They’re all so stupid! But when some punk four-year-old shoves my son on the way up the slide, my first instinct is to push that kid, which I know is wrong (see above). So I suppress that instinct and instead seek out the real villain: his parents. More often than not, if I can even spot them, they are oblivious (don’t get me started on the nannies, who all sit on the benches in one big group of People Ignoring Children). But almost as often, parents have seen the whole thing and didn’t even make a peep to tell their son hey, maybe don’t push other kids, especially ones half your size, you stupid jerk. I really want to push those parents. They deserve it. But I stop myself.
Because among the valuable lessons my son has taught me, the most important may be to not push that person and, instead, to wave hi, maybe scream for no reason, then squeeze his face.
It’s like going from supercool to superdad to my grandmother. Like I said: impressive and soul-crushing.