22 Unexpected Side-Effects of Becoming a Dad
So there’s a bun in the oven and you’re ready to get your dad on. Congrats, dude! You’ve heard you’ll be sleep deprived. You’re prepared to be peed on while changing diapers. And you’ve come to terms with the fact that your life (and your sex life) will never be the same, right? New fatherhood cliches don’t tell the full story so here are 22 things that caught me off-guard.
Once you’re a dad you’ll inevitably be thinking a lot more about your own father. This reflection can be awesome. You may realize how great your dad actually is and appreciate him even more. It can also be bittersweet. If he’s no longer around, you’ll probably be sad that you can’t communicate your news to him, or that he isn’t around to meet your pride and joy and pat you on the back. You’ll be reminded of your father’s good (and bad) traits as they flow through you in your new role. And if your dad is someone you didn’t have a good relationship with, this new phase in your life may bring up a bunch of emotions that are tough to navigate while you’re getting your butt kicked by a new baby. (This one I know from experience.) It can be scary to go into fatherhood from a place of knowing mostly how not to be a dad. But the good news is that none of us know what the hell we’re doing in the early phases anyway. Talk to your partner about it, talk to a professional. Dude, you’re going to get to experience an amazing father/child relationship after all – it will just be from a different perspective.
2.Dog Gone Wild
I’m a dog lover. Throughout my life there’s only been a few years where I didn’t have a dog. When my firstborn arrived on the scene our dog realized we were off our game. The boundaries she had previously respected were no longer in effect. With our attention elsewhere we couldn’t keep up with policing her. It wasn’t until chatting with another dad at a playground who said, “Our dog doesn’t listen to us anymore!” that I had an epiphany: our dog doesn’t listen to us anymore! Your patience also gets completely tapped out by your child. So those quirky things your pooch does, like bark for no reason during baby’s naps, or whine non-stop in the car during baby’s naps, become infuriating. When junior gets older and constantly sees you getting frustrated with Fido, you can expect they’ll follow in your footsteps (see “Focker Syndrome” below). Thankfully our pooch has always been amazing with kids so the baby’s minor bullying hasn’t led to any biting incidents… so far.
When our first was still an “inside baby” I suddenly went on a safety spree. It started with an infant CPR course. That was a gateway to buying: detectors off all kinds, fire extinguishers and fire blankets, first aid kits, flashlights, and emergency water provisions. I made sure everything was safe around the house, whether it was anchoring the TV to the wall, or taking a hammer to those little nail heads protruding from the hardwood floor for a decade. Some say this is the dad form of “nesting.” But now I experience occasional “have have I done enough?” anxiety. Let’s just say if you begin considering building a fall-out shelter, you’ve gone too far. Times sure have changed for a guy who spent his youth bouncing off the walls in abandoned warehouses situated in sketchy parts of town while listening to rave music at eardrum-blowing levels.
Once you have kids you want nothing more than to see them grow up. Obviously. Yet it wasn’t until I had kids that the idea of having life cut short started crossing my mind more often. My advice: don’t dwell on it. Channel those thoughts into safety and use it as motivation for a healthier lifestyle.
I’m not talking about the baby. You can fully expect your little bundle will cry plenty enough in your future. I’m talking about you, big guy. You’ll probably cry when you first meet your new baby. (If you don’t, you may be a robot and you may want to get yourself checked out. Heck, even the replicants in Blade Runner were capable of conjuring up tears!) You should cry, it’s liberating. I cried when both of my boys arrived. But I have also been surprised by further tears since then during special, scary and stressful moments. When my son ran to help a girl who took a tumble in a bouncy castle, asking her, “Are you Ok?” while patting her on the back? Boom, tears. But, unfortunately, they’re not always tears of joy. During his terrible twos, that same sweet boy protested every possible thing he could for five months. I was so drained at the tail-end of his toddler terrorism that waterworks were all I had left in those moments. And if/when serious health scares rear their ugly heads (knock on wood) I’m sure I’ll have a tough time keeping it together then too.
5.Netflix and Chill
Don’t get excited, it isn’t a euphemism for sex. My wife and I once had an active movie-going life. In the last three years, we’ve only gone to see one movie together. Given how sapped our energy is, neither of us often make it to movies with friends either. The hour or so we have to escape into TV Land each night is sacred time. Up your home entertainment game. Get a bigger TV, bolder sound, multiple streaming subscriptions – it’s money well spent. The good news is that kid’s movies have been kick-ass forever now, so I’m looking forward to experiencing them all for the first time with my sons on our totally badass entertainment setup. The bad news is that you’ll end up experiencing the same movie over and over as your wee one repeatedly demands that you, “Rewind, selectah!”
We should stand-up for ourselves. But prior to being a dad I went about it in a far less diplomatic way by countering smack-talk with more of my own. That habit came to a grinding halt one day while walking along an off-leash dog trail with my wife and boy. My wife pointed out some common dog park etiquette to another woman who was with her husband and child. This woman immediately went on the offensive and started screaming at my wife. She was super aggressive and didn’t appear to have an end to her tirade. When I told her we’d heard enough, that’s when things turned high school and her husband suddenly said, “Hey pal, you told my wife to shut-up?!” (I didn’t.) The smart decision here was the one I made: I said nothing, motioned to my wife, and we walked away. Of course my inaction wasn’t adequate for the other husband and he kept yelling. He continued to beat his chest while taunting me until I was out of sight. Even though I knew the decision to de-escalate the situation was absolutely right for a number of reasons, I still felt as though I was walking away with my tail between my legs – a feeling I wasn’t used to. It rattled me for the rest of the day as my inner 1980s action heroes died.
7.Poppa Bear Syndrome
Liam Neeson now occupies the space your 1980s action idols used to. Amber alerts will now rattle you to the core, as will news of any crimes against children. You’ll shake your fist at passing motorists who dare break the law anywhere near your wee ones. And there will be times that someone puts your kids in harm’s way and triggers your poppa bear rage. It happened to us with some knucklehead who almost backed his car into us while my wife and two boys were on the sidewalk. To make matters worse, there was no apology and HE started yelling at US from inside his car. I instantly lost my cool. Nothing came of it, my wife reminded me that I made my point and everyone was safe. Once again, it was best to just move on. Both of these points circle back to safety for everyone, including you. Also remember your little ones are always watching you and learning from your behaviour…
Your kids are watching you, Focker. The first time I noticed my son imitating me was such a sweet moment. Sometimes while in his room, I would stand with my arms folded behind my back while looking out the window. Once he was able to walk, I watched as my son cruised up to the window, put his arms behind his back, and looked outside. Super cute. But then when he started shouting at our dog with the same tone and emphasis I use, I realized how terrifying his constant surveillance of me can be. I often find myself examining how I behaved in front of him during stressful situations and wonder if it was a bad example. They see everything.
9.Thoughts of Old Friends
When my wife went back to work and I watched my first son full-time I started thinking about the friendships I had growing up. Pals from the past started making cameos in my dreams and that would translate into thinking about them while I was awake. Maybe examining my own history gave me insight on the future and the experiences my son would have with his friends. Or maybe it’s because I now had an overwhelming amount of responsibility and my mind was trying to revert back to simpler times. Whatever the case may be, I thought a lot about my old friendships. Mostly awesome memories, some not so great. I tried to make sense of why some friendships ended. Sometimes it was just the logistics of life. Sometimes they were goofs, sometimes I was. I ended up reaching out and apologizing to a few people from days past who, upon reflection, deserved to be treated better. On the flip side, I also recalled a memory of getting friend-dumped by one of my best pals. It made me realize how traumatic it was for me at the time and how I never discussed it with anyone. I have no explanation for this brief sojourn of friendship time travel but it was a great reminder as to the variety of relationships my sons will soon discover.
Sadly, you won’t be able to keep up with all the friends you rolled with pre-baby. Some will drift away simply because you’re unable to make a lot of appearances. Some just aren’t feeling that new kid vibe. I had a pal of 30 years un-friend me on Facebook, explaining that I “didn’t seem interested” because I missed the past couple of guys’ nights. Both outings happened to fall on days when I was super sick – but that didn’t matter to him (see “Poor Health” below). That cliche about people who want to exit your life makes complete sense now.
Still, you’ll miss the fun times you spent with your pre-baby pals. Though he may never admit it, your best friend will be a little sad too. I remember feeling that way when my best buddy had his kids – not because I wasn’t happy for him, but because I went from seeing him daily to rarely seeing him at all. It was a massive adjustment. But I understood why and your good friends will too. You aim to keep in touch and gladly get together whenever possible. You’ll also know how to be a better friend to your pals as they become fathers because you’ve been there.
While you may drift away from some old friends, you’ll also make lots of new ones. Some will just be neighborhood regulars – people on the street or employees at the grocery store who take an interest in your wee one. The elderly love babies and toddlers and it’s very sweet. I love listening to their stories about their own kids. “They’ll be leaving the house in the blink of an eye!” they often warn. “Don’t worry, it gets better!” is the type of encouragement we hear a lot from other parents with older kids.
You’ll also probably gravitate toward new pals who have kids around the same age as yours. It may end up being people already in your circle, but it doesn’t always work out that way. My best buddy has kids ages 9 and 12 so he’s got his own set of parenting issues that are far removed from diaper changes and tantrums. And I have no idea what he’s going through. It’s worth seeking new friends with similar kid situations. It helps to chat, complain and joke with people experiencing the same stuff you are. Connecting new dads is one of the goals of this site so get in there and remember to fill out your profile.
Expect that you’ll be ill a lot more than you were pre-baby. Once they start hitting playgrounds or daycare on the regular, you’ll catch more colds and flus than you’ve had in years. It totally sucks because parenting duties are way more killer when you’re under the weather. I’ve likely become more of a germaphobe in recent years as a result.
If you’re a gym-goer, runner or partake in other regular physical activity, it ain’t gonna be easy. Expect your exercise time to decrease dramatically. You may gain weight, you may even lose weight. At first I lost weight – partly due to stress, partly due to the fact that I couldn’t maintain the gym schedule and muscles I once had, despite remaining active. Eventually it came back thanks to a little emotional eating (see “Bad Diet” below).
Stepping on Lego is the least of your worries. Being a dad is killer on your back. If you already have low-back issues, expect them to get much worse. For a couple of years prior to the arrival of my first kid, I was on a mission to solve my back problems. Part of my motivation was being able to keep up with my kids because I entered fatherhood at age 40. I managed to pull it off by using a few programs that incorporate posture and posterior chain strengthening. But in the year following my son’s arrival – between picking him up and putting him down in a crib, or awkwardly lugging a car seat around – carrying him got harder as he got heavier. Then comes the dreadful chore of strapping them into the fixed car seat. My back took a beating and the pain returned. I’m going through another round of these strains with my second kid now on the scene, but with practice I’ve managed to keep things mostly pain-free. We’ll talk strategy on baby-proofing your back in future posts. (And to any moms reading this post: we know this stage doesn’t compare to what you went through in those nine months and beyond! Respect!)
Your diet is also likely to take a hit. You’ll be eating a lot more take-out and fast-food, so if your current level of physical activity keeps your weight in-check, then prepare for a lot more high calorie meals and a lot less time to burn it off. And also beware of emotional eating – it was never really something I did before the kids arrived. Particularly long and hard days now result in my wife and I indulging in both sweet and salty snacks after the kids are finally asleep. “I need this treat. I deserve it,” I repeat in my mind while scarfing down a large bag of jalapeño Cheetos in my robe and slippers while listening to My Heart Will Go On by Céline Dion. Ok, that’s not exactly true. I don’t own a pair of slippers.
15.Dinners Are a Downer
Pre-babies, my wife and I really enjoyed going to new restaurants. We both liked cooking dinner, too. But these days dinner time ain’t what it used to be. Most days, dinner happens as you shove anything edible in your face so you don’t starve while wrangling babies. Forget about those relaxing, elaborate creations you whipped up in the past. Now dinner is whatever is ready quickly, with frozen meals on heavy rotation. There was a brief period of time when our toddler made us swear off restaurants entirely. Then he switched it up and dinners at home became a nightmare and dinners out were easier. Currently he’s determined to make most meals unpleasant. And this goal is usually amplified by the fact that everyone is already Level 10 hangry during his hijinks. Now imagine trying to socialize during these meals too. Good luck catching up with your pals while junior is chucking his food all over the floor/table/other people and testing your patience. The process of dining out can become one big clusterfu*k. When the time comes, schedule a sitter and enjoy kid-free meals. Keep your inner food-lover alive!
Aside from potential weight gain/loss, your fashion sense will take a hit. Suddenly, looking cool will take a back seat to just having a clean shirt not covered in baby vomit/drool/crumbs. Admittedly, I haven’t been keeping up with current trends since my twenties, but I did have a decent style of my own… until kids. Most of my new clothes now come from my shopaholic mother-in-law. For real. My wife recently used the term, “hot dad sweater” to describe one such gift from her mom. And somehow I always seem to need new underwear ASAP. Although, according to my calculations, the elastics in the waist still have a few months left. I’ve also never been as poorly groomed in my life as I’ve been in the past three years. Haircuts are fewer and farther between. And shaving? I run my own businesses from home (when possible, which is not as much as I’d like) so shaving was never high on the priority list. But these days, trimming facial hair isn’t even on the priority list. As long as I hit my shower goals, I’m happy.
You’ll never have so many songs stuck in your head as you do when your kid arrives. Nursery sound machines, playgroup sing-a-long jams, and theme songs to children’s shows will play on repeat in your mind. You’ll wake up singing them. You’ll whistle them in the shower. These invasive species are devouring the good music that was once the soundtrack to your life and replacing it with the theme to Paw Patrol.
Fatherhood will change your relationship with booze. While your lady is pregnant or breastfeeding, she may rarely drink or cut out drinking completely. You may decide to join her and accept life as a teetotaler. (Man, someone has to come up with a cooler term for non-drinkers, stat.) Once the bundle arrives you’re going to be stressed – and that might translate into drinking more. It’s something to keep an eye on. But it can also be self-regulating as you’ll quickly learn the odd hangover is exponentially more painful when your baby is screaming at 4am and there’s zero chance of sleeping in either. Oh, and you’ll also be hitting a lot of parties where they don’t serve booze… mainly because it’s 10 a.m. and the birthday girl is only two years old. Coffee is the new alcohol. So what’s the “new coffee,” you ask? More coffee. You’ll be drinking a lot of coffee.
You will develop the patience of a Jedi. You have no choice. One day your child will insist on going down the stairs at home without your help and it will take 15 minutes to do so. Once they’re fully walking, expect to move everywhere at a snail’s pace for the next several years. Getting them to willingly leave a playground in a short period of time? Mission impossible. Perhaps it’s a good thing to help us experience life at a slower pace for a bit and live in the moment. Or pull out your cell and check your fantasy baseball scores.
I used to be punctual. I managed a staff for many years and it was important to be on time if I wanted others to be. But kids pretty much ensure you’ll never arrive on time for anything. One infant is manageable, although the extra prep involved in making any ventures to the outside world will throw off your timing at first. Then they become toddlers. My son went through a fun phase where he regularly shut down and threw a tantrum whenever we had to be anywhere on a schedule. Strategies to counter the lateness are usually futile. Do your best, try not to stress – because now you actually have a bulletproof excuse.
Many men experience their first episode with depression during baby’s first year. Yes, we get Postpartum Depression too, or Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND). It’s been labelled by doctors as a significant health concern. Remember: your life gets turned upside-down, parenting puts a lot of stress on your relationships and you can often feel as though you are failing as a parent (thanks, internet!). So a big heads-ups if you’re going into fatherhood having suffered from depression before. I was caught off-guard by anxiety. Since our second son arrived it seems as though I’m operating from this state more often than not. You’ll have a lot more to worry about when kids are in the picture – it comes with the parental territory. But start to take notice if you constantly feel really anxious with no obvious explanation for it. Talk to your partner about how you’re both feeling, and come up with a game-plan on how to best cope and support each other.
22.Fountain of Youth
You’ll frequently make funny faces, have totally whack nonsensical conversations, giggle a lot, and un-ironically stick your tongue out – all without having a single drop of booze. You’ll rediscover your ability to make cool sound effects and come up with an impressive array of characters you can voice. I like… reading a lot of stories… to my son… doing the voice of… Christoper… Walken. Your imagination will be rejuvenated for the sake of playtime. And now birthdays, Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus – suddenly routine holidays become much more fun. Seeing your little creation getting excited for and enjoying these occasions is awesome and you’ll get way more into the spirit of the seasons.
23.More of the Unexpected
I know the title says this post is a list of 22 items. Well, be prepared to be caught off-guard. Parenting is a game of adjustments. Once you have a handle on a particular phase, your kid will flip the script and you’ll feel like you have no idea what you’re doing all over again. We hit a sweet spot with our first when he was around one year old. “We’ve pretty much got this parenting thing under control” we said. “Let’s have another!” we said. Little did we know…
Current dads: how many of these items rang true with you? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below…