One of my favorite things about Growing Sideways has been the opportunity to share other people’s stories. There’s the ongoing Parent Interview series, a post from Chris Huntington about taking his son to Hong Kong Disney, and an essay from Jay’s cousin, Mara, called “What means remembering?“
Today I’m happy to bring you this essay from Nat Hoopes. He and his wife, Anika Binnendijk (who went to high school with Caroline), welcomed their first child, a son, Malcolm, just before Christmas. I asked Nat if he’d be willing to write something reflecting on his first three months as a father. I’m glad I did.
Out in public—in the grocery store line, the office, or our neighborhood coffee shop—becoming a parent has thrust me into a whole new world of spoken and unspoken conversation. It’s a world that’s full of warm, knowing glances from total strangers, and old, worn-out clichés and questions (some of them contradictory) from friends and colleagues. Below is a sampling of the most frequent comments:
- “Are you sleeping yet? Don’t worry – it will get better.”
- “This is really the best time – just strap him in a car-seat and bring him anywhere. Just wait until he’s a toddler – then you’re really in trouble.”
- “Enjoy it – it goes by so fast – we just woke up one day and our daughter was in high school.”
- “How’s it feel to be a dad?”
And of course, I do a lot of sharing of my IPhone pictures of Malcolm. My friends have noted with dry humor that I didn’t text photos to them very often before Malcolm’s arrival. It’s all a part of a constructed narrative that breaks our time into a sort of Christian parenting calendar: Before Baby., After Baby.,
But inside our little co-op on 17th street near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., the transition from “young married couple” to “young married parents” has felt more seamless. “Nat, Anika and Malcolm” feels just as right, just as natural and comfortable, as “Nat and Anika” ever did.
I maybe expected that Malcolm’s arrival would be exciting and joyful but also constraining. Maybe the years my wife and I spent together before becoming parents has made it easier; although we’re only 32, my wife and I have been together for more than 12 years (dating for 4, engaged for 1, married for 7). But I’m not so sure that time matters much. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of new dads look at their wives now holding on to newborns and feel that things are alright, that life has somehow always been this way, even though it hasn’t.
But that feeling isn’t an easy thing to articulate in a sentence or two, and it doesn’t solve my parenting conversation problems in the coffee shop. I want to have something intelligent, creative and wonderful to say to other people about becoming a dad, about my newborn son, my wife who is now a mother, and the lives we’re living together.
In the end, I’ve surprised myself a bit with my parental conversation. Unconsciously, I’ve started saying something that I heard my first cousin say to me a year ago, when his own son was three-months-old. He was looking like a new dad — wearing an old torn t shirt, he still hadn’t showered at two o’clock in the afternoon, shaggy hair months overdue for a haircut, dark circles under his eyes. All smiles, he looked at Angus, bounced him on his knee, then turned to me with his eyes glowing and simply said:
“He’s such a good boy.”
I remember thinking at the time: “At three months, how does he know if a child is good or bad!?” But it was the way that my cousin said it that really struck me at the time, and it stuck in my mind. It was so clear that he wasn’t talking about his son’s behavior, his talent with a bottle, how much he cried at night, or how easy it was to take him out to a restaurant. And he wasn’t bragging about his cute smiles or his red hair. It was just the way he felt about Angus, a pure expression of a father’s unique love for his son.
So now, when I’m carrying Malcolm on my chest into our coffee shop, and people ask me about becoming a Dad or how it’s all going, I almost always find myself finishing the conversation by looking down at Malcolm, fast asleep, and say the exact same thing: “He’s just such a good boy.”
It’s truly the way I feel. And I hope I always will.