Some men look forward to having kids all their life. Not me. The thought almost never crossed my mind for 35 years. At 25 I was married and content with life. The wife and I traveled a ton and went where we wanted when we wanted, spending ungodly amounts of money doing it, and answering to no one.
Then we had twins.
That’s not a plea for sympathy. Having twins saved my life.
They rescued me from the sort of shallow self-indulgent life that rocks for a while, but sooner or later fails to motivate one to even get out of bed in the morning.
As anyone with kids can testify the challenge of parenthood goes far beyond what anyone is truly prepared for; and on some fronts it is wholly resistant to any learning process, save firsthand experience.
What I will attempt to pass on here is nothing that will make parenting ‘easier.’ That would be criminal. It is the struggle that makes for good parents. Like the physical trainer who knows that his client must breakdown and tear through his old muscles in order to build stronger healthier muscles, I do not seek to shortcut the process of becoming a stronger healthier man through parenting. Instead, I want to offer an outlook that might make the process more enjoyable—pain and all.
Without further ado:
1. Allow sleep deprivation to ruin you, in a good way
The sort of sleep deprivation infants will accustom you to will make you tougher than a Navy Seal.
Honest to God, there is no way the military has a sleep deprivation program that remotely compares to the first 6 months of fatherhood. For me it was more like 10 months. My little girl was a great sleeper but my son was colicky. Between the two of them my wife and I did not sleep more than 2 hours straight for literally 10 months.
Obviously not everyone will experience this same thing. Many people I know had far less challenge in this area, but too bad for them. Here’s why this particular pain is a good thing: true sleep deprivation will reveal the true you—the deep down, ugly true you; the type of you where the border between sane and insane is blurred to scary proportions.
Why is that a good thing?
Because any opportunity to experience the real you is a good thing. A crying baby at 3AM will reveal more of your true self than months of psychotherapy, and it’s way cheaper.
In addition, it’s a good thing for the same reason it is a good thing for military training, and/or (if you are the mystic type) ascetic training. If one is able to endure life without sleep and remain sane—able to carry on with normal life—then life after sleep deprivation is a cinch. I didn’t sleep for almost a year and I was able to carry on a fulltime business, a fulltime masters program, and home life without a snag (well, without a serious snag). At this point, 2 years later, my confidence to endure almost any life struggle is greater than I could have ever imagined.
2. Become friends with repetition
Repetition will turn you mad just before it turns you saintly.
Life with kids is a constantly changing existence. This is one of the great things about parenthood: your kids will constantly remind you of the simple joys in life and push you to the outer limits of the unexpected. Those who have woken up to poop smeared walls or been shot in the face with urine while changing diapers will attest to the daily shock-and-awe of parenting.
However, the constantly changing environment of parenthood does not release one from endless repetition—the sort of repetition that could turn a 30-years-to-life prisoner crazy. There is really no getting around it: waking up, eating, showering, feeding, going to sleep and the thousand repetitive things in between, performed at the same time every day, day in and day out, will make the non-OCD, non-type-A person nuts.
But, in similar fashion to the first point, if you’re willing to come to terms with repetition it is a blessing in disguise. Look at the entire work of the cosmos. Everything in existence operates according to repetition. Without repetition there would simply be no life. Imagine if the earth ceased its infinitely repetitious rotation and orbit around the sun. If its work was interrupted for any amount of time life would cease to exist.
Repetition is a vital principle of life.
I love what Kierkegaard said on the subject: “The person who chose repetition—he lives. He does not run about like a boy chasing butterflies or stand on tiptoe to look for the glories of the world, for he knows them. Neither does he sit like an old woman turning the spinning wheel of recollection but calmly goes his way, happy in repetition. Indeed, what would life be if there were no repetition? Who could want to be a tablet on which time writes something new every instant or to be a memorial volume of the past?” (Repetition, 1843)
The person who is serious about his existence in the world and living in harmony with it is at home with repetition. Success as a parent is not measured so much in proportion to your skill in maneuvering through every new task—that stuff will come in time—but in how earnest you are in the repetitive things.
3. Intimacy at this stage is top priority, and it only requires one thing…
The first two points above combine to make intimacy exceptionally challenging for couples. For some odd reason, sleep deprivation and frustration with life’s repetitiveness tends to adversely affect one’s love life. I know, weird right?
Among all the challenges of parenthood this one, in my estimation, ranks at the very top of the trials of manhood in general. Prior to having kids I was in a groove. We were 10 years married before we had the twins and after a decade of uninterrupted practice intimacy was not exceptionally challenging (though I will have to give my wife veto power on this assertion). After having kids a whole new dynamic opened in our relationship.
Many will claim that this almost universal change in the marriage relationship after childbirth is inevitably damaging, but this is sheer BS. The difference is that it is different—not bad, just different. The temptation for a man in this situation is to refuse to let go of the way things worked prior to having kids. But it goes without saying that this sort of stubbornness is a losing battle.
Your wife has changed! She has experienced something so monumental that there is no going back. And why would you want her to? She has achieved something so noble and sacred that nothing you can do as a man in the world will ever remotely match it. Build all the businesses you will, master whatever craft, speak in tongues of angels, you will still never be able to grow a human being—the one thing in creation of infinite value.
However, there is one thing you can do as a man that borders on the miraculous: become a good man. Only a good man is willing to bridle his selfishness and love his wife by doing whatever it takes to connect.
And “whatever it takes” is exactly what it takes.
I found after having babies my wife desires a good man; not a sexy man, not a funny man, not a powerful man (though I am clearly all these things) what she is really after is someone who knows how to connect with her on a level far beyond what these superficial things are capable of. The question of how a man achieves this is something only he can discover through trial-and-error in this amazing process of being a dad.
Fail on this point and you fail big. No pressure.
Thanks for reading.