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The nature of fatherhood—at least in my world, the educated, middle-ish class West—has changed so much in the last 50 years, I almost feel like they should give it a different name, like Modern Father's Day. Or maybe just blend Mother's Day and Father's Day into Parent Day.
My role as a father and my wife's as a mother are so fluid: I make some of the money, do some of the housework and almost all of the cooking and shopping, mostly because I enjoy these activities and my wife, Pam, demonstrably does not. But it changes and evolves and adapts on an ad hoc basis. If I get busy (recently, on top of writing, I was doing three hours of radio each night), she will get in there and do the lioness's share of the cooking and cleaning, old-time-wife-style. If she gets busy or has to go away on business, I'm the guy in the apron.
Most dads I know are more involved fathers than our fathers were—to the point where many of us, myself included, don't even like the term "involved father." Just say "dad" and we hope that'll cover it. And within the context of each father's experience, there are various stages of fatherhood, all dramatically different. Time has passed. I can now speak from experience to share this with you.
It begins, of course, with the proverbial gleam in a father's eye. Gazing at his partner's growing belly, the man starts to ponder what sort of father he will be and to imagine the reality of fatherhood. To this day, my wife mocks me for having said, "I just don't know how I could love a kid more than [our cat] Squirly." I may have even thought that I might allow my child to watch a very limited amount of television, but he or she will never play a video game. When I think back on that, I laugh until I want to lay my head down and weep.
The first year
The child arrives. Reality hits. It's like being at the wheel of a car that has hit a patch of ice and, out of control, is spinning toward a brick wall. The kid doesn't sleep! It's crying all the time and I don't know what it wants! This is where a lot of men make serious missteps. The key, gentlemen, is to be as useful and helpful as possible. The problem is, thanks to Hollywood, society believes that men can pilot a flaming jet to the ground but they don't know how to change a diaper. Learn to change diapers. Learn to cook. They say, "Happy wife, happy life." True. And this part of your relationship is a friggin' minefield so tread carefully. Remember that you are both exhausted. One thing you learn when kids are little: They can't be fully happy when tired or thirsty or hungry. Same with you. It's like they tell you in planes: Put the oxygen mask over your face first, then attend to those around you.
The school-age years
I would peg ages between four and 10 as the sweet spot. On weekend mornings, your kids wake you at some unholy hour. You think, Ugh, we have to get up and deal with them. But then you realize you don't: They can get themselves a bowl of cereal and watch cartoons! And you roll over and go to sleep. It's a magical moment.
The tween/teen years
The stage I'm in now is the teen/tween years. I'm the first to admit: They can be challenging. Cellphones, bikes and backpacks fly in all different directions, getting lost in the chaos and entropy. You try to impose order, but the universe and your teenager resist. Time is passing. If you have boys, you go to wake him for school and notice the first faint fuzz of a moustache. If you have a girl… Well, I have all boys, so I'll stick to my area of expertise.
The adult years
I think I have handled all the stages fairly well. What I am in no way emotionally or psychologically prepared for is the next phase of fatherhood: when they leave the nest. People joke about turning kids' rooms into billiard rooms, etc. And that's fine for them. They can joke all they like, but I will be so sad. My boys, my beautiful boys, don't leave me! I've defined myself as a father for 17 years. What will I be then? I'm not ready on any level to say goodbye. Fortunately, about 40 percent of 20-somethings continue to live with their parents. Maybe my boys will fall into that demographic. I certainly hope so.
Celebrate dad with a Father's Day BBQ!