How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Fatherhood

06/15/2013 07:01 EDT | Updated 04/08/2014 11:59 EDT

This Sunday is my third-ever Father's Day -- and if I'd initially gotten my way, I might not have had any yet. When my wife and I first started discussing trying to get pregnant -- or, as I put it then, "not actively preventing it" -- my argument amounted to: "of course, but later."

I eventually agreed, despite not being ready. At the time I didn't realize that nobody is ready, not until that tiny life form arrives and then you've got no choice but to be.

There are admittedly many things lost with the arrival of my son Emile that I still miss: going out to four or five concerts a week; dancing to techno or psy-trance all night without entertaining a toddler in the morning; playing videogames for entire gloriously lazy Sundays; spontaneous date nights; sleeping in. (Oh God, do I miss sleeping in.)

And I would have thought little of the gains back then, the notion that parental pleasures -- Daft Punk dance parties, blowing bubbles in the backyard, teaching your kid to use chopsticks, rolling around together on a bed covered in clean laundry, music and swimming classes -- might be comparable.

But somehow they are. More so even. If writing about music is infamously the equivalent of dancing about architecture, then trying to explain parenthood is even more abstract. Anyone can press play and listen to the song, but nobody will ever quite understand another person's experience of becoming a mom or dad.

Nonetheless, I'll try. Consider it like, I dunno, a '60s acid trip -- it's instantly surreal, indescribably unique and could easily go south at any moment. But it's also mind-blowing, instilling fierce and euphoric emotions that were previously inconceivable and irrevocably altering your perception of the world around you.

Suddenly your every decision and every priority is subtexted by how it will impact the wee bairn you brought forth. You notice the prevalence of firearms in superhero cartoons and cigarette smoking in Muppets Take Manhattan. You watch street protests and think not only of the current struggle against austerity but how bad it could get, if left unchecked, by the time your own kid grows up. You think ahead, not by a week or a year, but beyond even your lifetime.

And you realize, as your child cheerfully tells adventure stories to himself while drifting off to sleep at night, of the unparalleled responsibility of parenthood. It's not crushing, but it is all-encompassing. I've found a great intensity in fatherhood that I did not expect.

You know how people always say you'll blink and then your kid is off to college? Well, it does seem shocking that he'll be attending junior kindergarten in the fall but this has also been the longest three-and-a-half years of my life. Not in a bad way. It's just that time flies when you're doing the same thing over and over, and each unprecedented day with Emile is startlingly epic.

Initially, it was from lack of sleep, but then it became due to watching a person take form before your eyes. That first laugh and crawl giving way to singing, and dancing, and then a bright explosion of language followed by the expression of an utterly unique personality. But it is a person that requires constant guidance, and if we fuck it up, it's our fault.

Back when I was a full-time freelancer, my wife planned to buy me a turtle to keep me company in the home office. That is, until we discovered they live, like, 40 years and if they don't, it's because you did something wrong. We couldn't bear that pressure, and yet here I now find myself a father of a preschooler whose entire life is in my hands.

When E was littler, my primary goal was just to show him cool stuff for the first time, be it sprinklers or avocado or concerts. ("Weird Al" at Massey Hall, if you were wondering.) Now I have to teach him to become a man, a diverse lesson plan that has ranged from schooling him on sharing and apologizing and problem-solving to buying the doll and stroller he wanted to dressing him up as Superman and taking him to meet Darth Vader. We encourage him to be kind and to be brave and to be cuddly. (He manages to be rather adorable all on his own.)

I once worried that I would lose myself in fatherhood, that my world would shrink. Instead, it has rapidly expanded outward as if Emile's birth was the Big Bang. It redefined me at a time when I thought my definition was permanently set.

And so where once I feared a future Father's Day, I now look forward to all those to come -- and more importantly, to each and every day in between.

A version of this previously appeared in The Grid

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