In every phase of my life, there’s someone I could probably point to as an important teacher or mentor – parents, friends, college professors. However, as a father-to-be, there’s another person I’m learning from – my wife.
Normally, when people discuss mentors, they think of an older, wiser adult handing down life lessons to impressionable youth. But, I think anyone can fill that role, especially peers, at any age.
For my wife and me, it’s been a whole new world these last few months. She is in the beginning of her third trimester, with a due date in mid-October. For some reason, the impending child wasn’t enough for us (or me), so last month we welcomed a puppy into our home.
So, just to recap: When the baby arrives, we’ll also have a 5-month-old puppy, and I’ll still be working a full-time job. The lessons I’m learning? The cliche?-sounding attributes of patience, understanding and resolve apply.
I suppose the puppy has provided some practice. I’m now tiptoeing around once he’s in his crate, constantly worried about his potty habits, and desperately trying to teach him. It’s no longer about me, or even my wife and me. It’s now all of us, and the writhing child in her stomach and the furry guy who’s still learning not to pee indoors come first.
I think that’s the most prescient lesson here – it’s no longer about us.
In perhaps the most traditional of roles, my wife has been keeping me organized. Things that I may try to push into the back of my mind, such as bills, and new bills for dogs and impending kids, aren’t forgotten. There’s now another person who needs health insurance, a dog that just received pet insurance, and, oh yeah – a new car for daddy that can fit both monsters. It’s everyone’s favorite lesson of responsibility.
However, I still think there’s a lot to learn. I’m still waiting for some big moment that makes me feel completely unprepared for being a father. I already feel that way at times about the dog.
A recent column in the New York Times, headlined “Millennial men aren’t the dads they thought they’d be,” argues that while most men hope to be the ultimate hands-on father and the primary breadwinner, their role tends to change, or be different from what they planned once their child arrives. Most, the study says, find that once the baby is born, it’s difficult to do both, and many couples end up in more traditional gender roles of mom as caregiver and dad as breadwinner.
I was talking recently with my wife’s cousin, who has a 2-year-old now, and she affirmed the argument of the column (without having read the column herself). Her husband, she said, began “working like crazy” once their child was born – perhaps a natural reaction to having a baby and filling the role as provider.
Part of me, I feel, is already doing that now. The summer is the busiest time of the year for both of us, and adding a dog into the mix with a pregnant woman, and both of us working around the clock means a lot of deep breaths. (She works full time at an inn in midcoast Maine, and I tend to help out on the weekends).
For me, the top job is calming the worries of an emotional, hormonal woman. Perhaps those lessons learned will also help with a baby that can’t quite deal with its own emotions. Let’s hope.
I suppose the ultimate lesson here is the idea that a life-changing mentor or teacher can come from where you least expect, and can deeply change who you are as a person for the better. If you think you need a little guidance, you don’t necessarily need to seek it out. Sometimes, it’s right in front of your nose.