Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
Dumb as a Doorknob: Becoming a Dad*
Long before Jesus was a baby or things like epidurals or stay-at-home dads were invented, having babies was a much simpler process.
When it came time to give birth the women folk would all huddle together and root on the soon-to-be mom, as she swore like a trucker and learned a new meaning for the word “discomfort.”
Meanwhile, the men folk would huddle together and smoke cigars and talk about fishing. Occasionally, the soon-to-be granddad would be holding a shotgun in his cigar-free hand and pointing it towards the region of the soon-to-be dad that caused all the excitement in the first place.
While many folks may argue that the French have given much to America (i.e.: the Statue of Liberty, the baguette, and the Ménage-a-Trois), it’s also easy to argue, especially for dads-to-be, that it would be nice if we could return a few of their gifts to them (i.e. over-priced champagne, the baguette and Lamaze).
Dr. Lamaze is the French obstetrician who passed along the theory that supervised breathing and relaxation techniques, ideally assisted by the father, were the best way for a mother to give birth. The popularity of this technique spread across America like an STD around a frat house. And before you knew it, dads became the supervisors and were forced away from that dreamy world of smoky, fishy do-nothingness and stuck smack dab in the middle of the action. As my birth into daddyhood, a few years ago proves.
“I’m sorry, Pal,” I kept having nightmares that I’d hear from one of the nurses as the big moment came near, “but you can’t smoke a stogie in the operating room and none of us care about the monster trout you landed last fall!”
Naturally, it should come as no surprise that rumor has it the late Dr. Lamaze was beaten to death with a baguette.
At least he should have been, because what Lamaze really did was take away the last few precious moments of peace, quiet and sanity a dad will ever have. Once that screaming, slimy, bundle of squirming love arrives and you realize it’s not an alien but actually your own kid, the game is changed forever. For it’s at the exact moment that the child’s life begins, that the dad’s confusion truly starts.
“Okay,” the Doctor explained, as the big moment arrived and I looked like a deer caught in headlights and mom started to bear a striking resemblance to Linda Blair from The Exorcist. “Once your child arrives and we make sure he’s breathing and ready to go, we’ll call you over.”
Why, exactly, they need to call dad over was never specified. So first time dads like myself are left to wonder: Maybe they need me to join in with medical staff as they all do a “Fun Bunch” leaping high-five like the old Washington Redskins.
Then, right at the exact moment it seemed like mom was about to rip my hand she was holding right off my wrist and make me eat it for doing this to her, the softest cough I’ve ever heard made me forget about my crushed hand. After a few moments of staring into one another’s blood shot eyes, we brand new parents were torn apart when dad was called into action.
“all the other dads will make fun of you.”
“Come on over here and hold this," the Doctor ordered, handing over a pair of scissors. Prompting this spanking new dad’s boggled mind to think things like: This is cool, I’m helping out, but it does seem kind of odd that they need me to hold the scissors since there are about 147 other people in the room.
Before I could get a handle on the sheer number of scrub-clad people in the room, roughly the population of Stanley in mid-Summer, the Doctor gave the order.
“Okay, cut it.”
“The umbilical cord.”
“I’m not cutting that. I’m not cutting anything,” this stogie-deprived, first time dad replied; realizing that for all her formal education the Doctor obviously doesn’t know that putting a pair of scissors in a new dad’s hand and pointing him at his three-minute old baby can cause some men to suddenly start feeling like Edward Scissorhands’ drunk twin brother.
“If you don’t cut the cord,” the Doctor explained, “all the other dads will make fun of you.”
Seeing as how peer pressure is the kryptonite to any man’s sense of logic, something immediately got cut, and us luck would have it, it turned out to be the umbilical cord.
The real magic is that at that moment, as is the case for most dads, it just seems to somehow inherently become crystal clear that life will never feel or smell the same again, but that it’ll be okay so long as no one tries to make us dads eat any baguettes. The best part is that even though the new dad feels foggy, overwhelmed and about as dumb as a doorknob, at least there’s now one person in his life who doesn’t care—or appear—to know the difference.
Well, that pretty much sums up in a few confusing moments what the first year of daddyhood is like, except there’s far less sleeping or cigar smoking, you always seem to be misplacing stuff like your car keys, camera or frontal lobe, you usually smell like a wet diaper and you regularly find Cheerios in places in you didn’t previously know you had places. But none of that matters the first time your child smiles at you or calls you dad or you realize that before long you’ll be able to have him fetch you a much needed beer as you prepare to sit down and watch his favorite Elmo video for the 31st time that day.
“In childbirth classes, they showed us actual pictures of a fetus developing inside a uterus. They didn’t tell us how these pictures were taken, but I suspect it involved a great deal of drinking.” –Dave Barry
[Having now been blessed with a second child, this article now has double the meaning—and I’m technically twice as dumb (if that’s even possible) as I was before.]
*This article was originally published in The Sheet March 21, 2009.