I was excited when Gina first asked me about writing what it’s been like to become a dad, but I was quickly disoriented when I realized I’ll already be celebrating my third father’s day on Sunday, more than two years and three months after Tess was born March 3, 2016. The guy in her first weeks in the world has given way – instantly, it seems – to being the father of an increasingly independent, funny and all-around-awesome toddler.
We have a saying in our house: “What a time to be alive.” That’s certainly applicable to my experience of becoming a dad; looking back at that time, everything was a heightened experience. Things were intense, in good ways and bad, and I felt every bit of it more acutely than I had ever felt anything. Put simply and with dad-approved cheesiness: I felt truly alive.
Every experience is going to be completely different for every guy, but there are definite things that stand out about what it was like for me to become a dad. The first thing is in the word itself, which represented a complete identity shift. In an instant – as Tess took her first breath and cut loose her first scream in the world – I went from being Jordan the husband, son, brother, friend, writer, etc., to being a dad, first and foremost. That was suddenly the number one (and maybe two through five at some points) aspect others and I identified about me. The first weeks and months were all at once the mourning and celebration of that fact: Parts of what had made me who I was to that point had slid further and further down the list of how I identified myself. That’s a natural thing, of course (we’re biologically wired by evolution to prioritize our children) but it’s a complex situation with a boatload of complex emotions to manage with it. (It doesn’t necessarily help that emotional navigation to be consistently sleep deprived at the same time.)
The second aspect I remember so well is in my relationship with Gina. Going through the process of pregnancy and labor was the ultimate building of trust, intimacy, love and respect. I felt such a profound appreciation and thankfulness for this incredible gift she had done so much to bring us, and getting to share our lives, suddenly so much richer and fuller, was amazing. That reality has not faded over time and continues to be a defining aspect of what being a parent is to me: sharing it with Gina.
Thirdly, I remember being scared. Scared of somehow hurting Tess physically; scared of not doing the right things; scared of not being a good dad; scared of not being a good husband; and scared of the fact I was scared. It’s a difficult path to realizing how much you have, because of how much you’re scared of losing it. What a beautiful thing to know.
Beauty. That’s probably the last thing I would mention. Like a lot of other words, becoming a dad made me realize that for 26 years I had a completely inadequate sense of what beauty meant. Tess expanded my understanding of the world – and the words we use to describe it – onto a completely different plane. I loved Gina before I became a dad and she became Tess’ mom, but the boundaries of what that meant were so much smaller than they are now. Everything I loved about Gina is still there, and has kept growing, but it fits within the wider boundaries of life now. Tess made my world bigger. What a time to be alive.