His unfocused eyes darted around from one blotch of color to the next just trying to make sense of the strange new world around him. We waited nine months for him to arrive and begin his journey through life and now Devin Riley was seeing the world for the first time.
I stared at him—so small, so frail. It was as if my wife had given birth to a China doll whose porcelain skin could crack with the slightest breeze. He needed to be held by the dexterous hands of a surgeon or the gentle hands of his mother, not my brutish and clumsy mitts. Yet here he was, content in hands calloused by hours of endless typing.
You would think after raising two children, I would be used to this moment. It is the strange mix of fear and exhilaration that comes with meeting a brand new part of you. Exhilarated at meeting him, knowing he has 10 fingers and 10 toes, thinking of all the possibilities that he has in life and the wonders he will behold. Fearful of the world he will be growing up in, his first broken heart and the endless barrage of temptations he must be prepared for.
Parenting is a daunting task. This little amalgam of my wife and me is like an empty DVD ready to be imprinted with the skills needed to create a successful life. He will love and adore me like Superman, saving the day with pizza breakfasts and candy dinners when mom’s not looking.
I will make him cry. It is inevitable. The day will come when he will be punished for something, and he will look up at me with those big eyes and tears running down his face. Inside, my heart will be breaking, but I must stand stern and stalwart like an immutable force of nature.
His body stirred in my arms and Devin began rooting around for his next meal, so I handed him off to mom because her drive-thru is open 24 hours. I admit to feeling a small bit of relief as I passed him to her. Despite being in this same position twice before, it all felt like the first time again.
I still didn’t know if I was holding him right, and I was scared the first time I changed his diaper. What happened to the confident father who could balance his checkbook while playing Star Wars with one child and putting Elmo in the DVD player for the other?
Where was Superdad? In his place was this bungling newbie, tripping over his own fingers and worried that number 1 might start shooting out while in the process of cleaning number 2.
My wife just stared and laughed at me in that beautiful way she does as I bumbled my way through the first few days. While I looked awkward, she appeared to have sprouted wings and a halo. She was changing diapers and feeding the baby with the regimented expertise of a four-star general field stripping an M-16.
Fatherhood and parenting are adventures far more harrowing and exciting than anything Hollywood could ever dream up. The illnesses, sleepless nights, gray hairs and furrowed brows are all monikers of parenthood that are as recognizable as Indiana Jones’ fedora.
While my wife caught a few zzz’s in her hospital room, I rocked my newest little boy and pondered all that lay ahead. I thought of all the firsts, the triumphs, the heartbreaks, the challenges and suddenly felt much older than my 32 years.
I asked myself who was I to prepare this boy for the future, when I hardly knew what was going on myself. The answer was simple. I am dad. Father, pop, papa, dada, old man or whatever he wanted to call me, that’s who I am.
Brock Cooper is a former journalist. He lives in Peru with his wife, Jessica, and three sons, Kyan, Jaxon and Devin.