Imposter Father

I’ve been a father for almost 11 years, but I haven’t felt like one for nearly that long.

“Imposter syndrome” refers to the feelings of doubt one has about their abilities and accomplishments, and brings with it the fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s usually mentioned in regards to one’s professional life (which: YES), but I actually feel it more frequently as a parent.

Every morning when I wake up – often forcefully, thanks to my toddler – I’m starting from zero. I live in perpetual fear that my kids are suddenly going to realize I have no idea what I’m doing.

I know I’m not alone. Being a father isn’t something you study for or get certified in, and it’s not something you list on your resume – although maybe it should be. Getting a toddler to eat dinner and use the potty and brush his teeth is a hell of a lot more challenging than selling widgets!

Fatherhood isn’t so easily quantifiable. I have two children, so I’m a dad by dint of biology and genetics, and that fact won’t change. But feeling like I’m one? That changes constantly.

I first felt like a father on September 15, 2010, approximately 15 minutes past 8 pm, when I cut my son’s umbilical cord. One step forward.

Of course, that sense of accomplishment was nowhere to be found at 8:15 yesterday morning, after the third time I yelled at my 10-year-old to find his damn shoes so we wouldn’t be late for school. Two steps back.

Any progress I make is usually erased quickly thereafter – sometimes mere moments later.

I finally felt like a father again this afternoon, when I walked in and my 5yo ran over to give me a hug. The feeling was ripped away a few hours later when I retrieved my fifth grader from school and he refused to tell me a single thing about his day. So close, and yet, so far.

Every day there are a thousand tiny moments that make me question whether I’m cut out to be dad, and a thousand more that make me feel like it’s the only thing I’m good at. It’s a constant roller-coaster ride, but I actually prefer it that way.

It stops me from becoming complacent. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a dad (and from Star Wars), it’s that overconfidence is your weakness.

Parenting is unpredictable. You weather one phase only to drown in the next. You survive teething then blow the sex talk. You master potty-training only to flail at helping with fractions.

It’s spontaneous and scary and exhilarating and overwhelming and life-defining and completely disorienting all at once. I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable with it.

When did I first feel like a father? It’s been over a decade and I still don’t.

But ask me again tomorrow.

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