In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
The most significant days in our lives usually represent something bigger than the day itself. Some major life events compel us to look back in time. A graduation day ceremony, for example, commemorates four years of academic progress and marks the end of a certain period in our life. Other major life events function rather as a new beginning representing lifestyle changes that will continue to impact us every day thereafter. A wedding, for example, marks the beginning of a couple’s life together with each spouse vowing to love the other for all the days of their life. When asked to name the most significant events that happened in their life, many people put the birth of their child(ren) at or near the top of the list. After only 30 days of being a dad, I am already starting to understand why. Having and raising a child simultaneously forces us to reflect on our past and contemplate our future, perhaps more so than any other life event.
I am amazed at how much I have learned during my short time as a parent, so much so that I felt called to write about it. Without further ado, here is my list of things I’ve learned in my first 30 days as a dad:
30. Pregnancy is a marathon/birth is a blur (for the father)
Tom Petty sang “the waiting is the hardest part” and that was certainly true of my experience throughout Jessie’s pregnancy. It was unfair for me to complain about anything since she was the one dealing with physical and hormonal changes; she was literally growing a human inside of her. Meanwhile, very little changed in my day-to-day life other than spending a little more time than usual thinking about my future as a father. Then, after spending so many months, weeks, and days contemplating, wondering, and waiting, Ben was born on Friday, November, 13th, and just like that, the wait was over. Our son arrived and we were parents. I’ll save the detailed telling of Ben’s birth because I think Jessie deserves to be the primary narrator of that story.
29. Naming a child is an awesome responsibility
One of the first important parental decisions happens to also last a lifetime…unless he grows up and decides to become Metta World Peace (no pressure!) Jessie and I spent months talking about our top choices. We even organized a bracket competition for family and friends to try to guess the name. By the time we went to the hospital, we felt confident in the name we had picked out for a boy or a girl. Finally, when our son was born and we were asked what his name was, it was a powerful, emotional moment. Announcing “Benjamin Gregory” to the world was such a cool, humanizing moment. Suddenly this little person who we had dreamed of, created, and talked so much about had an identity all his own.
28. There’s no place like home
The medical staff treated us well, and it was a great psychological comfort to know that a nurse was only a quick button press away if we needed any assistance during those first few nights in the hospital. Nonetheless it felt so great to leave the hospital and take Ben home. The familiar comforts of home helped ease the nerves of suddenly being responsible for the care of a newborn baby. Sleeping on a real mattress also made the limited hours of sleep feel significantly more restful.
27. Babies communicate
Even though they can’t talk, babies definitely can communicate. I might argue that my one-month-old son communicates better than some adults I know. When Benjamin cries, it usually means “I’m hungry” or “change my diaper” or “I have gas.” Admittedly, I don’t always know which cry means which, but I’m getting better at deciphering the different cries.
26. Priorities/some things can wait
I am, by nature, a structured, organized person. Those traits generally come in handy in my professional life as a teacher. However, becoming a dad has taught me that some things can wait. I pride myself on being a teacher that gets assignments and tests graded and returned to my students in an efficient, reasonable time frame. I appreciate their patience as I have had to extend that traditional timeframe for assignments and tests taken immediately before, during, and after Ben’s birth.
Patience is a virtue. Patience in the middle of the night with an inconsolable crying baby is virtually impossible. Yet it is essential. All things considered, I have been pretty fortunate. So far my patience has really only been tested once since leaving the hospital. It was the first night after I returned to work. I was slightly more tired and slightly more irritable than normal and Ben cried almost non-stop from 9 p.m. until nearly 2 a.m.
24. Sometimes you just have to laugh
Whether it’s the first time your baby boy catches you off guard and unleashes a pee stream mid-diaper change or when he stares off into the distance with a wide-eyed look that silently conveys “I’m pooping” it’s hard not to laugh. When he cries so loud for so long and you have seemingly exhausted all possible remedies, it can be hard to laugh, but I’ve found that if I take a moment to break away from the cryclone (crynado?) and watch as his tiny body performs during his fit of baby rage, a little laughter can be just enough medicine to get through to the other side of the crying episode.
23. Sleep is both overrated and underrated
Sleep is overrated because I have been able to function despite sleeping less than 6 hours per night since Ben was born. On the flip side, sleep is underrated because it will never be the same as it was before the baby was morn. Special recognition to all of the breastfeeding moms out there who shift their sleep schedule to meet the feeding patterns of their child. You are the real heroes.
22. I am capable of the day-to-day child-rearing tasks
From changing diapers to burping to giving baths, I’ve added a lot to my dad résumé since I started on the job 30 days ago. I was admittedly a little nervous about how well I would adapt to day-to-day dad duties, so I am pleased to report that I’m growing more capable and comfortable in my dadliness every day.
21. Reading is fun again
During the school year I read a lot, but my reading consists of student essays and texts that I am teaching in class. Now that I have a newborn son, reading is fun again. We have a bookshelf in his room that is filled with children’s literature classics like Guess How Much I Love You, Love You Forever, Goodnight Moon, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? I have very fond memories of my dad reading to me and telling me stories when I was young, and I’m already enjoying carrying on that tradition for Ben.
20. Hope comes in small packages
A glance at the newspaper headlines these days is scary. A scroll through my social media feed is sometimes even more disheartening as some “friends” share articles and opinions that come across as insensitive, intolerant, and occasionally inhumane. Benjamin’s birthday, November 13, 2015, was the same day of the attacks in Paris, France. Halfway across the world we were oblivious, caught up in admiring our brand new bundle of joy. In his innocence I see so much hope for the future, and I hope that Jessie and I can raise him to inspire hope in others as well.
19. An appreciation for the importance of breastfeeding
I think I speak for a lot of people, especially dads, when I admit that I did not know much about breastfeeding prior to my wife becoming pregnant. While my knowledge admittedly still pales in comparison to my wife’s, I have learned a lot. When I was a teen and twentysomething, I had misconceptions about breastfeeding. I wondered why some women “insisted” upon breastfeeding in public. “Couldn’t they do that in private so that I didn’t have to see it?” I thought to myself. Whatever personal discomfort I felt about breastfeeding in public had nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with me and the way society and popular culture had influenced my brain to associate breasts with sex. From the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to the divas on Monday Night Raw during the Attitude Era to a take-your-pick of print and television advertisements, the message that breasts were objects of sexual attraction was being reinforced daily.
The notion that breasts had a biological function as a source of nourishment for infants was not on my radar. It wasn’t until I witnessed firsthand the many challenging and intimate moments of breastfeeding that my wife and son shared that I had a humbling realization: women breastfeed in public because their baby needs to eat. It is not done for attention. It is not done to make a political statement. And it is not sexual; if you can’t make that distinction, that is a personal issue. Also, breastfeeding isn’t always easy. There is a learning curve that is different for every mother and child. Experienced mothers might be at ease feeding and covering themselves to give added comfort to themselves or their child. But for others, especially first-time moms it takes complete focus to have a successful feeding. If the mother has to spend time and energy on physically or emotionally shielding herself or her child from the outside world while feeding, it makes things even more challenging. If we want to support the new moms (and we should), our focus should be on facilitating a successful feeding. When our focus shifts to covering, we further stigmatize breastfeeding, ensuring that others will grow up ignorant and uncomfortable like me. When we try to protect children by shielding them from breastfeeding, we prevent them from witnessing a natural act and eliminate a potentially teachable moment, one that could serve as an important alternative experience to counter the cultural portrayal of breasts as sex symbols.
While wiping my son’s butt one day, I had a humbling thought: thirty-one years ago, my dad (and mom) were wiping my butt and changing my dirty diapers. From Beyoncé to Kobe Bryant and Pope Francis to President Obama, everyone was once a helpless infant depending upon some adult who humbled themselves by wiping their child’s butt.
17. Everyone has an opinion
When Jessie was pregnant, she regularly received advice—both solicited and unsolicited—from other mothers. As the father-to-be I was mostly in the background as a supporting player throughout the pregnancy. After Ben was born though, I became able to help out much more concretely, which also opened me up to words of wisdom from other fathers. Honestly, I appreciate anyone who cares enough to try to give me advice. As long as they can respect that I won’t also agree or abide by what they suggest, I’m open to well-intentioned suggestions.
16. Children do not come with instructions
The corollary to the previous item is that not all children are created the same nor are all parents. In a short time, I’ve already learned some things that don’t work for me and have figured out some other things that do work on my own without any input from the outside world.
15. Paid paternity leave should be a thing
There are a lot of reasons why I am proud to be an American. Our country’s maternity/paternity leave policies are not among the reasons. Out of 185 countries, the United States is one of just three that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, and it’s even worse when it comes to paternity leave. Fortunately, my wife’s employer does offer some paid time off for her, and I was allowed to take a couple weeks of sick time. Nonetheless I strongly endorse a more progressive maternity/paternity leave policy in the U.S. While some forward-thinking companies seem to get it, it’s frustrating to me that paid leave not the national norm. In 2015, there is no legal requirement for employers in the U.S. to offer paid parental leave even though research suggests better leave for parents means better outcomes for kids.
14. It is important to take time to reflect, but quiet downtime is hard to come by
As an introvert, I crave quiet downtime to recharge my battery. This is especially true on work days as my work as a teacher forces me to come out of my shell between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to interact, instruct, and inspire. Finding that quiet downtime is much more challenging these days with a demanding new tenant sharing my living space. I don’t have the same free time that I used to rely on. However, I’ve learned that sometimes the best quiet downtime I can get these days is time shared with my son sleeping sleeping on my chest. Speaking of my sleeping son…
13. Peaceful father/son snuggles are a treasure
When he is fidgety and fussy, squirmy worm Ben can test my patience, but peaceful, snuggly Ben more than makes up for it. The best times are typically right after he’s had a satisfying feeding. Curled in a ball, he will collapse in my arms or on my chest and we’ll zonk out together in my favorite black leather recliner.
12. It won’t always be easy
I mean, I thought I knew this all along, but I also didn’t. The fact that parenting is not easy is also why it’s so rewarding though. I wouldn’t change a thing.
11. Single parents are superheroes
This realization came during our second night in the hospital. I was taking a shift holding a crying Benjamin in the middle of the night and had to pass him off to Jessie because I just needed a little reprieve. But what if I didn’t have Jessie or she didn’t have me? I immediately had a newfound respect and appreciation for all of the single moms and single dads out there. Tag teaming this parenting thing has been challenging enough; I cannot imagine the past 30 days without Jessie’s help. Likewise I cannot imagine the added challenges faced by single parents, yet somehow many people find a way. I will never look at single parents the same again. They are amazing individuals.
10. All of my photos now feature my son
Since having a son I have been snapping more selfies than a middle schooler. Digital photos and smartphones make it unbelievably easy to capture every moment and every movement. I’ve already had to transfer photos from my phone onto my computer more than once because I was running low on memory space and sifting through photos for a first 30 days of life slideshow took hours of my time.
9. To marvel at the little things
One of the reasons I’m suddenly taking so many photos is that babies allow us to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. He opened his eyes? Amazing! He yawned/sneezed/coughed? Wow! Wait, did he just give a little smile there?! How precious! Things that I wouldn’t even notice let alone care about if they were done by anyone else feel like monumental events when Ben does them.
8. Some clichés are true
“They grow up so fast” is not just a thing that people say. Right now, one day in Ben’s life constitutes more than three percent of his entire life on this planet. As a comparison, 342 days constitutes three percent of my life. Ben hadn’t even been conceived 342 days ago! Looking at a photo from the day Ben was born and then looking at him now, I am amazed at how much he has grown already. Time flies as a parent.
7. My son is the coolest
I don’t think this one needs an explanation. Case closed.
6. So many people care
I am blown away by the generosity of others. Although I’ve felt it before—when Jessie and I got engaged, when we became married, when we announced the pregnancy—the outpouring of love and joy from people in our life who are happy for us and the arrival of Benjamin is truly remarkable. The list of people to thank is much too great, but trust me when I say that all of your thoughts, prayers, and love means more than you could ever know.
5. An increased appreciation for my parents
With each step I take in adulthood, I gain a deeper appreciation for my parents. It was true when I started paying bills, when I got married, when I moved out, and when I became a homeowner. Now, as a parent, I feel more connected to my parents than ever before. I’m only 30 days into raising one child. They are 31 years and counting into raising a family of four children, and though I’m sure they had struggles of their own, they have never once let on about it to me. Now grandparents, they have a whole new generation to spoil with their love, and I’m already loving this new dimension of our relationship. Mom and Dad, you set the standard very high for what it means to be a parent, and I’m going to do everything I can to live up to that standard for Ben.
4. A new definition of family
Along those same lines, Benjamin’s birth forced me to change my frame of reference when I think of my family. Jessie and I have been married for more than four years now, so we were technically our own family unit branched off from our parents and siblings already. However, there’s a more definitive sense of a new primary family unit now that Ben has grown from the roots of our tree.
3. My identity has a new dimension
Prior to Ben’s birth, my Twitter bio read: “husband, brother, son, teacher, writer, sports fanatic, and more!” I cannot think of a word more life-changing than “father” to add to that list. Growing up, so much of my life was viewed through the lens of being a son and a brother. As I grew older, my primarily lens became boyfriend and then fiancé and eventually husband. Now, as a father, there is this brand new dimension that is inextricably linked to who I am and who I will be for the rest of my life. How cool is that?
2. What it means to live out my marriage vows
I have no regrets about my first four-plus years of married life. Jessie and I shared some amazing moments and created some memories that will last a lifetime. I’m thankful that our story played out the way it did and that we had some time together, just the two of us. Nevertheless, it was all a prelude to our ultimate marriage project, having and raising children. I mentioned it earlier in this list, but having Jessie as my tag team partner as a parent is a huge part of what makes me so excited and optimistic about it. We have always been better together; we are at our individual and collective best when we work together. In the first 30 days, I have already experienced several moments of feeling a spiritual kinship with her unlike anything I’ve felt before I became a parent. With Ben, our marriage looks different than it did four years ago or even last year, but I have no doubt that this next chapter of our lives together will enable our marriage to grow even stronger as we support each other in our care for Ben.
1. So much about love
Becoming a dad has taught me so much about my capacity to love and be loved. Love involves sacrifice and selflessness and those characteristics are hallmarks of parenting. Benjamin is dependent upon Jessie and I to care for him, and it is our love for him, for each other, and for our family that helps us get out of bed every morning (and in the middle of the night) to tend to his needs, to feed him, to hold him, to soothe him. Thirty days later, I love being a dad.