I try to look back on "The Moment" I felt like a mom and, honestly, I don't know that I could pinpoint it. Maybe it was when I heard my son cry from the other side of the curtain during my C-section. Maybe it was when I introduced him to my cat. Perhaps it was at the precise moment I gazed into the abyss after breastfeeding him every 20 minutes for two days. Maybe it's less "one moment" so much as a slow culmination of moments over time. I asked some dads to share the moment being a father felt real, because I wanted to know if they were similarly mystified or if they, like many moms I know, had "The Moment."
Look, I've been a mom, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year (more or less) for just about seven years now. It's not that I haven't had time to get used to the idea that, yep, I'm a parent responsible for two little children. Nevertheless, some days I'm completely blown away by the fact that I am a parent. Remember that video "David After Dentist," where a wide-eyed and out of it child slurs "Is this real life?! That me. I'll try to retrace my steps to figure out when it all happened, and while I can account for that time on a practical level, emotionally it all blurs.
So where did the dads fall on this question of parenthood? Were they like a lot of moms I know who could highlight a particular moment when their reality suddenly came into view? Or were they more like me? It turns out, just like moms, it completely depended on the father in question. Here's what they had to say:
"When the baby was crying in a parking lot (at maybe 2 months or so) and [I thought] she needed her pacifier and reached into my pocket and had one."
Brian (Via His Widow, Terri)
"[My late husband] always said it was moment he heard our daughter's heartbeat. That whoosh-whoosh-whoosh came out of the doppler and his face transformed. I've never seen anyone that astoundingly and absolutely happy, before or since."
"The first time I changed a diaper without my wife's help."
"When my wife and I rushed to the hospital in her second trimester because she was bleeding. I didn't know how attached I was until it looked like we might lose our daughter. It was my first rush of paternal protection and love."
[Writer's note: I know Jonathan and the baby was fine!]
"When my daughter grasped onto my finger."
[Writer's note: After we had continued our conversation, Rob had a realization.]
"Wait a minute, that's right out of The Simpsons! I'm Homer f*cking Simpson."
"Our son was a preemie, so the first few years of his life we were struggling just to get his weight up. I didn't have time to reflect on fatherhood. But then came his first day of Kindergarten. Our little boy was a student. That's when it hit me that I was a father."
"When I first saw [my son], after he was born, was when it really hit him that I had this little guy to take care of."
"A couple of points: changing his diaper for the first time (no one's coming to help), taking him so my wife could sleep (fatherhood as partnership and sacrifice), and taking him home (yep, he's your responsibility now)."
[Writer's note: I agree with this. Parenthood is nothing if not an ongoing and deepening series of revelations.]
"Before my wife got pregnant, which is why we started trying. We didn't hear the biological clock ticking, but we woke up one morning to the alarm going nuts. It was different than when people just expected us or we'd talk about having kids 'one day.' All of a sudden, seven years into our marriage we realized we were ready yesterday."
"When we got home from the hospital. Before then it felt like I was just visiting my wife while she stayed there and they had some kind of emotional support baby program to help her while she recovered."
[Writer's note: Yeah, that's the thing with the emotional support baby program — you bring the baby home with you. No backsies. Also they're not very emotionally supportive. They, on the other hand, require a lot of emotional support. It's a kind of bait and switch.]
"It hit me when [my daughter] sneezed in the delivery room. That made her real ... like, 'Oh wow, that’s an actual person not just some vague concept.'”
"One time my wife's grandparents took him to give me a few minutes break and he tripped on the rug and cut his gums open. Here two old pros had no idea what to do, so I calmly come in, calm him down, clean him up, and make him feel safe again."
"A lot of days it still doesn't feel real. I'll let you know."
[Writer's note: Honestly it feels good to know it's not just me, you guys.]