Earlier this month, I offered a handful of ways in which fatherhood has been hilariously, rewardingly emasculating. The caveat was, and is, that typical divisions of labor (no prenatal pun intended) in most child-rearing partnerships have been blurred and blended over the past couple generations. But as I explored in said column, notions of manhood and womanhood still resonate, even if they’re deeply personal and less culturally predetermined. I don’t assess my manliness based on how much MLB Network I watch (a lot) or beer I drink (also plenty) any more than I associate my love of vintage Madonna and E!’s Total Divas as being particularly girly. (OK, Total Divas is pretty girly.) For me, manhood, manliness or whatever extension of simply being a “man” you prefer is still useful shorthand for feeling self-possessed.
With those semantics covered and kept in mind, I’d like to encourage new, expecting or future patriarchs with this companion-cum-counterpoint to that aforementioned op-ed, one that proudly boasts of the ways in which new dad-dom has emboldened, wizened and strengthened me. Or, if you will, made me more of a man.
Babies are deceptively dense and remarkably tenacious. They’re basically dead weight, but with gnashing claws, writhing midsections and heads they can somehow manipulate like lamb on a gyro spit.
5. Me Man, Me Build Fire
My dad’s no Bob Vila, but when I was growing up, it seemed like he spent all his free time on a ladder cleaning gutters, out back planting assorted green and red things or preparing tools for some odd household task. I admired, but didn’t envy, his workmanlike weekend dedication. And since my ineptitude with hammers and drills was rivaled only by my cluelessness around the opposite sex, I approached being handy similar to sequential math: staunchly in denial that I’d ever have a practical application for it.
What I didn’t realize then, but know now, is that figuring out how to fix things on the homestead—whether it’s stemming ceiling leaks, replacing screen-door stoppers, salting driveways, unclogging toilets or assembling baby furniture and accessories—accomplishes multiple goals: providing an excuse to get some time away from hands-on parenting duties (i.e. to yourself); saving money on swindling professionals (which, in my case helps me feel like I’m contributing more in a household where my spouse is the primary breadwinner); and realizing that, like most of your youthful fears about becoming a self-sufficient adult, this one is quite conquerable.
4. Me Tarzan, You Baby
Babies are deceptively dense and remarkably tenacious. They’re basically dead weight, but with gnashing claws, writhing midsections and heads they can somehow manipulate like lamb on a gyro spit. In essence, when riled, they transform into John Carpenter’s titular monster from The Thing. But apart from one unfortunate incident involving mid-air hijinks and a ceiling fan, I’ve managed to contain my son’s all-body fits, narrowly evading many a near-fall from the changing table, harrowing escape from my arms and furious convulsion at the doctor’s office. I may not be able to leap tall buildings or effectively defend myself in a bar fight, but I straight overpower frustrated, ineloquent 25-pound toddlers. Now if only he’d never outgrow his current weight class.
3. Me Mushy, Me Sexy
Sexy might be a strong word. But there does seem to be a curious, counterintuitive relationship wherein the more I demonstrate embarrassing, unapologetic levels of preciousness toward my son, the more robust I become to my wife. Apparently, the only thing that drives women wilder than seeing their pursuers rescue a wounded animal or perform giftedly at sports is witnessing them coo and cuddle with tiny creatures they spent nine months nurturing in the womb. (And I know, I know, it’s technically 10.) So when my son and I act out “Sleeping Beauty”−a game where I play dead, he crawls across my chest, hovers over my face and plants a disgusting open-mouthed kiss on my face that “awakens” me−it probably makes other dudes wanna vomit, but my wife simply swoons.
2. Me Like You, Me Good Dad Too
Not too long ago, I’d waxed reflective about fatherhood as a kind of torch being passed. And I’m honored to inherit it. And if there still exists some cultish place where manhood’s more than a blanket term or vague idea, it’s in that exchange, whether you’re paying tribute to the dad who raised you or channeling his mistakes instructively. I haven’t been at this for too long. However, I’ve already picked up on the tricky wisdom that there is no parenting manual, but if you go about being a father whole-hearted, it can also make you a better man and son.
1. Me Wear Many Hats, Me Feel Proud
The most masculinizing aspect of modern dadness is how unpredictable and inclusive it is. Like most 2014 fathers (at least excluding the shitty ones), my life is a juggling act of work, daycare drop-offs, grocery runs, diaper changes, temper tantrums (mine and his), more work and the occasional quiet evening with my beloved (by which I mean Total Divas). The responsibilities are myriad and exhilarating. They’re also exhausting and humbling. But I’ve never felt more fulfilled or needed. If we look at the arc of manliness, I think we can all agree that a lot of our gender’s historically clichéd chest-beating and ego stroking has all been a cry for attention. And never in my life have I been more in demand.