Hi there – I’m Uncle L, your guest blogger for today. You may remember me from the “No more dead babies” post and “I Had to Threaten to Take Her Child Away To Get Her to Shower” or such comment threads as “Newborns Can Fart Louder Than They Can Cry.” With no children of my own, I have enjoyed vicariously participating in OLM’s pregnancy, birth, and parenting, but this was to be a different experience. I was recently my privileged to be a full-time loaner dad for 12 days.
Fatherhood means stopping once every three hours to nurse, even if the van does not need fuel.
One Lucky Mommy and I went to a week-long medieval re-enactment with her eight-month-old daughter, sans support units. To whit: her spouses and mine stayed home. We traveled over 700 miles with a partially weaned infant, stopping once every three hours to nurse. Overall, it added only about two hours to the voyage, making it about a 14 hour drive. No screaming.
The no screaming part was actually not a surprise, as WCB and I have also done an 11 hour drive before, and OLM and I have learned that WCB is a Travelin’ Baby. She will cheerfully amuse herself for hours, strapped into a car seat. And she’s taught her mother to play “fetch.” She tosses her toys off of the car seat and under the bench seat of the van, and her mother fetches them for her. Is she bored or upset? Move her stroller 2 feet and she’ll settle right down. As long as she’s moving to someplace new, she’s happy. But when they’re setting up camp, there’s not much moving around your grown-ups can do for you.
Fatherhood means erecting the 15’ by 25’ medieval pavilion by yourself, because Mommy has more important things to deal with.
If you’ve never pitched a medieval pavilion, it’s a little hard to appreciate the experience. It’s kind of like wrestling with a giant intelligent bedspread that goes from ignoring you to obstinately fleeing you with no warning, while trying to make horseshoes without an anvil. Take a large piece of canvas. Put it on a pole. Spread it out. Have you got a tent? NO! You’ve got a sail. Nevermind. It wasn’t really that hard, but I hadn’t realized how much help I was getting with that project until I got NONE.
Fatherhood means intimate knowledge of pathogens.
WCB is one of the cutest disease vectors I’ve ever seen. She slobbers on everything and insists on cramming her gooey fingers in your mouth. And she’d brought along something exotic on vacation. A little something I call the “daycare special.” I have no idea what it was, but it involved a sore throat, sneezing, and enough congestion to choke a whale. Oh, and staying power. It’s been 21 days and I’m STILL trying to get rid of the last of it.
Fatherhood means that the ENTIRE world is sharp, hot, unstable, caustic, or toxic.
No kidding. Toddlerhood is a continual voyage of discovery. The entire world is made up of dangerous stuff to put in your mouth. (Although I don’t understand OLM’s problem with prairie grass. Prairie grass isn’t toxic.) Two things I don’t understand: how toddlers survive to teen-hood, and why parents don’t drop dead from exhaustion. It’s not the work, it’s the stress.
[OLM really felt that this post ended on too much of a downer note, and bugged me for days to revisit it. She asked: “Are there no upsides to fatherhood?”
I responded with – “Well, remember that my experience with full-time fatherhood was only 12 days long, and I suspect that most of the rewards are long term.” But I can add the following…]
Fatherhood means having the entire room light up and become Technicolor when she smiles.
Fatherhood means seeing the unbelievable coolness of life, when you see it through the eyes of someone discovering it for the first time.
Fatherhood means watching her toddle around, pick stuff up, fall down, look up, smile at you, and then getting the impulse to pick up a spear and check the neighborhood for cave bears and saber tooth tigers. Just in case we missed any the first time. ‘Cause that’s not the sort of thing you leave to chance.
To sum up, then, fatherhood means a giant pile of responsibility.
A knowledge that someone who cannot “do” for themselves is depending on you utterly. There’s no tangible reward; she’s too young to understand that her needs are being met, and won’t remember anyway. You meet the responsibility because it’s necessary and you’re the guy that’s there.
[Which made you a very fine father-substitute, thank you! OLM]