My first emotions were fear, joy, terror, wonder, shock, excitement and panic when first I learned I was going to be a father.

The world as I had known it just ended. Yet a new, sure to be marvelous yet uncertain world awaits. Am I ready for this? How am I going to pull this one off? How am I going to be responsible for another human being? Ninety percent of the time, I’m an idiot at best. This isn’t something you just bumble your way through. Or so I thought.

The pregnancy was the slowest nine months of my life. As scared as I was, I just wanted to get started. I was like a racehorse, albeit a slow one, locked in the starting gate. My mind was in overdrive.

I never felt totally ready for my son’s arrival, but when he did finally arrive, I was amazed at how much I loved my son. I was amazed by the fact I had never felt love like that before. I also had a strong, more practical emotion—one of being overwhelmed and underprepared.

I can look back on the events humorously now, but then, it was anything but. I felt like a little league baseball player facing a Hall of Fame pitcher. I was vastly overmatched by my young son. I knew it and he knew it. He was small in stature, but I sensed big problems on the horizon.

Upon our arrival back home, I quickly realized he needed a lot of attention. I quickly realized that what I thought I had learned didn’t really help. I also realized I was the weak link in the parenting chain. I thought I knew what to do, my wife knew what to do. And she was good at it. She apparently ran in different circles than I did. Thank goodness. She was a natural. I was the anti-natural. But that was OK. I was desperate. I saw coattails that I could ride and I jumped on them. At this point, pride was out of the window.

Survival was all that mattered. Mine and his.

One of the most surprising things I realized was that I really didn’t feel a bond with my son. I loved him. I loved him more than anything, but I really didn’t know him nor did I feel very connected with him. He and his mother had been essentially one for nine months and had a nice little relationship formed. I felt like the third wheel. Oh sure, I was serviceable to a degree. I played much needed roles like towel boy and errand man. But I was on the outside looking in.

I really felt bad and guilty that I didn’t feel a connection to my son. I tried to connect with him every way I could. There were some good times those first few weeks, but mostly, the times were rocky. And what made it even worse was he wasn’t even trying. I thought relationships were supposed to be reciprocal. My son was very bad at reciprocating relationships.

He was angry a lot and I had no idea why. He never said thank you. Quite the opposite. He was demanding and rude. I was trying really hard, but I was being treated like a very bad waiter and he was a bad tipper. He never smiled and that disturbed me greatly. Have you ever been around someone who never smiles? It gets old. It’s not normal.

But he is my son and I love him, so we’ll work on the smiling thing.

What was more disturbing than the not smiling, was the keeping of odd hours. I had never met anyone up to that point that would sleep so much during the day and stay up so much at night. And if they did, at least they were happy about it. He wasn’t happy at all in the middle of the night. The last person who woke me up so much during the middle of the night was my college roommate, and we ended up fighting about it.

My son didn’t care I had to go to work the next day. Didn’t care. I don’t do well on little sleep. I hallucinated a little. I cried during commercials—even the funny ones. I stopped pronouncing vowels. Night after night after night. He must hate me I often thought. He must really hate me.

The nights, and days for that matter, were filled with screaming. Short screams, long screams, high screams, low screams, choppy screams, flowing screams, screams within screams. I didn’t know all of those screams were possible. Now I know.

I thought I had to learn tactics and information as a parent. And I did to a certain degree. I didn’t know I had to learn coping mechanisms. One of the coping mechanisms I learned at this point was to not have any expectations. Give everything and expect nothing.

I was in a dysfunctional relationship and that was just the way it was. Keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone and really embrace your six and a half minutes of free time a day. Your life is not your own, but that is OK. Your purpose is something bigger than you now, or in this case, smaller.

Then something miraculous happened along the way. He smiled. He smiled at me. True, he may have been planning something evil, but it was a smile nonetheless. I’ll never forget it. It was a marvelous, wry, crooked, sparkling-if-he-had-had teeth smile.

Over the next days and weeks, he smiled more. He even laughed some. With each smile and laugh my love for him grew. We were bonding! We were actually bonding! It was like he was rewarding me for making it through the darkness—literally because I went to his room a lot in the middle of the night. Or did he actually teach me the first of many lessons to come? It was the latter.

It wasn’t a reward because I bumbled my way through those first few months doing nothing spectacular. But what I did do is I learned to sacrifice.

I learned to focus on something more important than my own path. I learned I didn’t have to be an expert, rather I just had to keep trying and persevere and want to do the best thing for my son. I learned unconditional love. I learned that to be a good father is to give everything and to expect nothing. I learned the rewards of parenting weren’t things that were going to enhance me, but rather the reward was watching your child evolve and experience moments of happiness.

Our relationship has continued to grow and to prosper. We have been best friends ever since. My truest joy is still watching him grow, seeing him live his life and watching him experience whatever happiness life has to offer. He has taught me many lessons since, but those first lessons still stand true today and they have made me a better person.

I still bumble my way through most things, but I have learned to keep trying, to keep giving, and to keep loving.

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