I didn’t think much about being a father when I was young. I grew up an only child, so you can see how this is going to go. I liked playing with kids and I held babies, but parenting takes a lot more than the ability to be a jungle gym or a baby sitter.
When I was single, I was idealistic. Ok fine, I was naïve. I was used to getting things my own way, thought that I was pretty smart about people, and would pretty much do what I wanted. When I got married, again I was idealistic about marriage, and we had a rocky first year. As Christians, we had both committed to each other that divorce would not be in our vocabulary, nor an option. We had to find a way to make it work, make the changes we needed to, and we did. We both learned a lot about ourselves, and each other.
If you’ve seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, that’s our story, except my wife isn’t Greek. Me the only child from a quiet home, and she the youngest of six sisters and a very large family that gets loud when we all get together. They had to break me in one family at a time in the beginning because it was so overwhelming to me. Having been an only child, I wanted lots of kids. I just didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
My first child was a daughter. I was finally a father. It took 30 minutes before I gained enough courage to hold my baby girl because I was scared I was going to drop her. Don’t get me wrong, I had held babies many times and enjoyed them. But this was my child. Responsibility was landing squarely on my shoulders in a way it never had before.
My wife had read somewhere that having the responsibility of a child is what fully matures a person into an adult, and I get it. We had a lot of fun taking our only child with us out to dinner, shopping, even to a movie. With only one child, that kind of stuff is easy. Our lifestyle was not greatly compromised and we were enjoying it.
It took about 5 months for me to really engage on a personal level instead of just a protective and caretaking level. To me, that’s when their little personality comes out (my wife would say less). The interaction was more than just me feeding, or looking, or changing a diaper. There’s a little relationship beginning to blossom, and it goes both ways.
Then came number 2. This time we had an ultrasound so we knew it was going to be a girl. The day after she was born was our first child’s birthday, which was celebrated in the hospital. When we brought our second child home from the hospital, the fun began. Number one plopped herself right down next to number two and stared at her. She didn’t say anything, but something was being communicated. A hierarchy was being formed and the parents had nothing to do with it. Number one had been used to having us all to herself, and she was not fond of this new addition taking up so much of her attention. There were even times when it appeared she was trying to get rid of her sister by sitting on her, rolling her away, etc.
Two kids were easy because we could tag team them. One for each. Isn’t that the way the song goes… A girl for me, a boy for you, glad we’re through. We knew we weren’t through, but this was easy and we considered it. For about 5 minutes. We didn’t have a boy yet, so there was no way we were through.
It was three years later when number 3 joined us, another girl, and I was ready to be done. I figured I was not going to get my boy. I had met many people who said, “Give up dude.” And yet, there were others encouraging me not to give up. And she was different from the first two. She was calm, quiet, and relaxed. She would watch her sisters with such intent in her eyes, like she was learning by watching. At night, she was a night owl. I was the one to stay up with her while my wife went to bed. We would watch ESPN until she fell asleep, but only football. She would not fall asleep to any other sport.
My wife says something changed in me with number three. If she were to describe the change, she would say that I learned to love deeper, which benefited my other children, and that number three had me wrapped around her little finger. She was right, and I knew I wanted more.
And number 4 was a boy. Finally, a boy! My wife said she was in love, I was in awe. And he was all boy. Everything was different. We thought we had this parenting thing figured out with our three girls. Boy were we in for an education. Eating, sleeping, playing… everything changed. And it was a whole new pace of life too. Four children make things interesting. There is more packing just to go somewhere, more bedtime routines, more food, more diapers, more loudness.
Number four being a boy changed me as well. I had my boy, and my perspective was changing on what it meant to be a father. I don’t know why it hadn’t before, but now it was. Having girls and a boy also changed my perspective on parenting, and the flexibility it takes to parent both at the same time but differently.
Number 5 was another boy. Brothers. I didn’t have a brother (or sister). So now, not just teaching my son(s) how to be a man, but to be brothers. This is new territory for me, and it has changed my relationships with other guys as well.
One of number four’s nicknames includes the word ‘destroyer’ (because it rhymes). Adding number five into the equation brings about exponentially more destruction. They go everywhere together; outside, in the dirt, in the water, in the mud, in trouble. It’s like they bring out the worst in each other (the best is brought out in other ways). I know they’re just having fun, but when its silent, its time to worry. When I come home from work, they both are usually outside playing in the dirt and they run up to the car or meet me at the door chanting, “Da, da, da, da…” It’s a great welcome home, and it makes you just want to join in sometimes and be wild with them.
Six! What?! Another girl. Every seat in the Suburban is now taken. Getting ready to go places is like barely managed chaos. It often sounds like this: “Where’s the baby?” and “Who has the diaper bag?” or “Did you get the blankies and pappies?” And on time… forget it!
Number six’s personality is huge, a real go getter. Even a broken leg with a big pink cast doesn’t stop her. She wakes up happy and doesn’t know a stranger. Her smile is infectious, and she lights up when I walk in the room. And if that doesn’t make your day I don’t know what will. She is all girl, yet she follows her brothers around like a puppy dog. We may just have a tom boy on our hands.
Lessons learned from being a father to 6 children…
- it’s not all about me
- it’s not all about the kids
- parenting is not about others, it’s about your kids
- there is no room for selfishness in parenting
- excessive amounts of patience is a requirement
- mistakes will happen on both sides, forgiveness is the key
- hearing the screaming cries of a baby as a melody is purely a mommy thing
- what I see as loud and out of control might just be fun and normal to children
- saying something 1000 times before it sinks in is common
- words are powerful, what is said is just as important as how it is said
- don’t take the things your children do personally
- boys are easier than girls (for certain reasons)
- girls are easier than boys (for certain reasons)
- yes, there is enough love for each new child
- you can’t parent every child the same
- it’s all about the relationship and their heart
I am still amazed that babies make it to a year old. They are so fragile and it seems like anything could take them down. I sometimes lay awake at night, when we have an infant sleeping in the room, listening to them breathe afraid that they’ll just stop, or choke, or something. When they finally reach a year, I begin to breathe and marvel at their resilience.
Number 7 was born yesterday. Yes, you read that right, number seven. Another girl, although we both thought it would be a boy. This one has been different from the very beginning. While in the womb, there were record numbers of twists and turns, punches and kicks, and the constant renovation of her domicile was ridiculous compared to the others.
The males are now massively outnumbered in our house (animals too). And with 7 children, so are the parents. Being a father is a never-ending adventure. Time to go look for a 12 or 15 passenger van.