A Bedtime Story
A faint knock and a yellowish light dimly register as my consciousness slowly drags itself out of its dormant, sleeping state. “What do they want? They were just here a minute ago…” The squeak of a heavy wheeled object simultaneously pierces through the comforting drone of a small plastic fan and the hazy fog of sleep. The squeaking stops at the foot of my wife’s hospital bed and I pick out a new noise. The noise is a recent addition to my list of important sounds. My son, born earlier that day (or is it yesterday at this point?) is exercising his lungs, clearly announcing his need for food. Apparently this means that 3 hours have passed since this routine last happened, but that doesn’t line up in my mind. The exhausted sleep I fell into couldn’t have lasted that long. “This might be tougher than I expected.”
The first day with my son was quite certainly the most emotional day of my life. So much hope, so much worry, so much joy, so much helplessness, so much excitement, so much exhaustion, and that was just me! I’ve never been more proud of my wife. Anybody who has had a child knows it’s impossible to express the experience adequately. Words can’t capture it, photos can’t capture it, and video can’t capture it. It is, in every way, a life altering experience. If it’s impossible to express, what am I trying to do here? First of all, I want to brag on my wife, but I also want to reflect on a few of the measurable changes that have happened in my life since my son joined our family.
I’ve always been terrible at focusing on things other than myself. Maybe that’s why I have a personal blog? In this area of my life, having a kid was much like getting married. It required that my focus move away from myself and onto another person. That’s really an understatement. My wife is fully capable of taking care of herself. That’s not a huge required shift. After I married I could still do some things with a self-focused or selfish attitude while still having a positive affect on our marriage because our needs and goals often line up and we operate at the same level of function. If we both need food, we figure out where our desires meet and plan a time and meal. With my son things are different. He understands nothing that doesn’t fulfill his needs. When he wants to eat, he fusses, or cries, or gives you heart breaking whimpers until you address his need. Our desires don’t fit well into that framework. We can’t explain to him that we’re on a road trip and he’s going to have to wait for a rest area or even the next exit to get some food, or that we’re out of clean bottles and need to wash one and thaw the milk before we can feed him. This requires a focus shift at a greater level. I’m now responsible for the basic daily needs of someone else, and there’s not much room for selfishness. Am I still selfish? Absolutely, just ask my wife, but having a child has at least given me an area of my life where my focus is not and cannot be on myself. If I can take what I learn from this area of my life and apply it to others, I’ll be a better and more mature person.
Life fills up with activities that exercise our critical thinking skills: formulating the contents of the diaper bag, planning trips around feeding times, projecting optimal child happiness for social events. This provides me with an opportunity to be intentional with time, take a look at what I’m doing and what I need to do. This is generally an area of my life that I do well with, but without time constraints. Quite often the diaper bag needs to be rearranged in the next half hour while the baby is unhappy and my wife is getting herself ready. This is the kind of thoughtfulness I need to work on. The under pressure thinking on your feet kind of forward planning. Certainly it’s a skill I learned and honed in the military, but like many skills, it is perishable. I’m very happy to have a reason to work on my real-time thoughtfulness.
I’ve played PC games since the mid 80’s. I learned to spell and type with “Kings Quest” and “Space Quest“. Gaming sucked me in even more with “Lode Runner”, the Gold Box D&D games by SSI and classics like “Civilization” and “Wing Commander“. I’ve spent a lifetime in front of a screen and have enjoyed it immensely. It led me down my career path as a software developer which has helped me provide for my family. When our son was born I took a few weeks off from gaming. Mostly because I was completely exhausted, but also because I want my kid to grow up away from the flickering lights of easy entertainment. Obviously this is a personal choice, but I want my kid to understand that life can be experienced “first-person” not just through a console or PC. The point is, if he enjoys football, I want him to reach for a football, not “Madden”. If he enjoys music, I want him to pick up a guitar, not “Guitar Hero”. If he does enjoy games, like I do, then I have no problem with him playing them, but I want him to understand first that life can be experienced without a controller or a keyboard.
From the time I heard his heartbeat at the doctor’s office I was smitten. It’s amazing to watch an amazingly engineered process take its course guiding a child through the stages of its prenatal development. At first I experienced utter, complete, and giddy amazement which eventually was tinged by a pressing, heavy weight as the realization of the implications of being responsible for a child took hold. This kid will primarily develop their knowledge from us. We’re responsible for making sure he knows right from wrong, good from bad, and giving a good example to him. We have to show him what love is, what fidelity is, what responsibility is, what compassion is, what generosity is, and show him how to think critically. That’s a heavy load. I remember as a kid seeing my parents live out these things. Especially imprinted in my mind is my dad reading his Bible and spending time on his knees praying in the morning. All of the men of supreme character I have known, to include my grandfather, Curtis Dowd, my father, Lawrence Forester, and my step-father Les Heeringa, and my father-in-law Tim Sneller, have been men who have made time to live their convictions and have taken the time to share them with their family. I want my child to know the benefits of good character and see them in me.
There are so many more ways that my son has changed me in the first two months of his life. I can’t list them all in a post, but these are a few that stand out to me. The key here is that while I’ve been changed, these are also areas that will continue to change. I can’t take a naïve approach that says I have changed, I must keep in mind that these are ongoing changes. Ongoing changes are the toughest since they require maintenance and continued action.