Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Advice to a New Dad

My dearest brother,

Congratulations on becoming a father. As your elder brother, I have preceded you in this endeavor and, while you will no doubt surpass me (as you have in almost everything else) I can at least give you some advice. I know you don’t take my advice on most things seriously (nor does anyone else) but as this has never stopped me before, it won’t stop me now.

Years ago, when I drove cross-country a friend and I went on a hike in Colorado. My friend’s cousin advised us that this was an easy hike that ended in a spectacular view. My friend’s cousin had moved to Colorado to hike and his definition of easy did not apply to us. (I know you are already zoning out as I indulge in my habit of telling a long-winded story that is only tangential to the topic.)

The hike was basically a mile and a half of steep switchbacks going right up a mountain. Within a few minutes our chests were heaving. People coming down the path assured us it was really a short hike to the top. It wasn’t, but people coming down kept telling us it was just out of sight. We did finally reach the top, where the views were absolutely spectacular. And, as we made out way down, we echoed those who went before us, lying to panting hikers that it was only a short way to the top.

Parenthood is like that.

However, unlike pretty much every instant of our past, I will not lie to you here. I am giving you the straight dope about parenthood. This is my Father’s Day gift to you as a new dad. (And, like a stopped clock, I am bound to be right eventually.)

Babies are sleep sprinters and crying marathoners. There is in fact nothing you can do about this, although you will try any number of things in an effort to feel as though you have control over the situation. This is an illusion. The “interpretation” of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” you sang that seemed to pacify the baby last night is not an incantation that will lull the child into drowsiness. (Assuming your musical talent is on a par with mine – it is only desperation that would lead you to believe that your “vocal stylings” could possibly improve any situation.)

You will wonder about invoking the Geneva Convention since it defines sleep deprivation as torture. (Yes, much of what I did to you when we were children could also be defined as torture – forgive and forget?)

As this stage continues, a cloud will descend over your thought processes, which will become sluggish and erratic. This cloud does not lift – it is the baby sucking your brains out. (You will be tempted to reciprocate.)

There will be nice moments of holding the baby quietly. These moments are are intended to lull you into a false sense of security. The baby is using this time to generate bodily fluids that it will expel in enormous quantities at awkward times. You will not be able to predict the orifice of exit.

People will tell you it is just a few weeks of this and then the baby settles into a pattern and sleeps through the night. They are lying. This period is endless. While it may chronologically last around three months, newborns create eddies in the space-time continuum that cause time to expand so that those several months take about a decade.

Some parents insist that their children sleep through the night from birth. There are several explanations for this. One is that parents become very competitive about their children and their parenting skills and that this claim is method of establishing that they are better parents and have better children then you. It is common behavior, like dogs sniffing each other and establishing dominance.

Our father on the other hand insists we slept through the night from the birth. Mom points out that our father slept through the night from our birth. Envy our father’s generation - they had it good.

When facing parents who insist their wonderful infants sleep through the night, you can regain alpha parent status by observing that babies that wake up regularly are getting more sensory stimulation, which contributes to cerebral cortex growth. Babies that sleep for hours solid are probably undergoing cognitive decay. Such children will be lucky to get through a state school’s accounting program and will never make it to medical school.

This is a lie, but it will make you feel better. Lying is central to parenthood: lies to your self, lies to your children, and lies to other people about your children.

There is a peak with a wonderful view. After months and months children will, more-or-less, sleep through the night. Life gets better. In fact, at this stage the children are pretty great. You are rested, the kids are little and cuddly. They are fairly quiet, soaking in everything around them. They are portable, easy to carry, but not mobile. This is a golden age. Dip into your savings, mortgage the house – whatever – and take a big trip somewhere wonderful like Italy. Because this is your last chance to be grown-up for a long-time. (I missed my moment for this – don’t miss yours!)

This wonderful stage lasts for about six months. Then babies become mobile. A mobile baby is a deadly baby – mostly to itself, but also to others. Then they become verbal. A verbal child is capable of emotional warfare. These stages show no signs of ending. Although others tell me that when they do, the view is spectacular.

I expect that they are probably lying.

Happy Father’s Day,
Your elder brother

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