Editor’s Note: Less than 48 hours ago, our dear friend Seth Fein — publisher of Smile Politely (remember when we bought Smile Politely with cookies?) — became a new dad. We are excited to print his reactions to being a first-time father. Oh, and this is Seth. Expect some salty language.
By Seth Fein
Well, Fein, you really did it to yourself this time. Look to the left. That’s your wife, and the nurse, who is helping her to calm your goddamned child so we can get some fucking sleep. To the right of you, there is a grape soda: great choice, idiot. So, this is where you are at. Fine, for the moment. And while there are so many changes ahead — from your diet to your attitude towards other parents — please refer to what is below as you plod along as yet another in a long line of reluctant parents.
A small list of things to remember:
1. Put Justine first. Seriously, do that. Even before your son, Ellis. See, that’s the whole thing. You watched her today; she gave birth naturally — no drugs, no pain meds, like a boss — and that’s precisely why you fell in love with her. A no bullshit, straight shooter from Chicago with really gorgeous eyes and an even better and more cynical disposition towards people and life in general. Perfect. A real tough cookie. Loves Italian beef. Loves you more. So, just listen to me: put her first, Fein. Because if she doesn’t come first, the very unit that created this little guy will be jeopardized. After all, what good are you without her? Certainly, not good enough to be the father that you ought to be. So, put her first. Trust me.
2. Be grateful for the chance. Honestly, be grateful. You had it easy. Two tries — or something like that, whatever — two pregnancies. One miscarriage, one baby boy. Pretty damned Easy. Like, way too easy. But it’s not that way for everyone. Millions of people around the world want nothing more to be parents of their own children, and simply cannot. So, be grateful. It’s the least you can do.
3. And with relation to the gratefulness: Be sensitive. Because people aren’t so lucky, it’s not your place to go around bragging to everyone, all the time, about your child. Everything they do, everything they say, every move they make — that’s their life, and not your own to relate to your friends in what seems to come off as a mild form of self-aggrandizing exploitation. After all, you don’t know who might be listening. So, in close quarters, say what you need to say and share what you need to share. Those are your best friends, your family — your core. But out in the world, and especially within the structure of social media, keep it to yourself. His life is not yours to share. It’s yours to live alongside, and help him grow into a decent man, nothing more and nothing less. Unless, of course, there is something really, really impressive or important to share that’s worth sharing. Like, if he wins some sort of big, amazing award at an early age that is simply incredible.
4. Speaking of which, on that last tip: think about the difference between encouraging your son and instilling in him a false sense of entitlement. Please? Just, man… please. Don’t be afraid to tell him the truth about when he’s just average, or worse, flat out not very good. You can be honest and kind all at the same time, you know? Did your son come in sixth place in some sporting event or contest? Was he awarded some purple ribbon? Yet another color in a rainbow of prizes awarded to literally everyone that participated? That’s nice, but there’s a better lesson within and it’s more valuable than that BS ribbon. Make sure he understands that he simply didn’t win. In fact, he actually lost. And that’s totally OK. Life is filled with disappointment and as such, he doesn’t and shouldn’t get to come in sixth place. There is no sixth place in life outside of it being totally adequate. OK, maybe in a marathon, or like, something with lots of opponents — but seriously: sixth place? That’s not worthy of commendation. That’s worthy of a question: “Did you enjoy yourself, win or lose?” He gets to learn to accept the loss, then let it sting, and perhaps either get better, or move on to something else. Did he try hard? Good. That’s the only thing that counts. Winning will come at some point. Everyone who tries hard eventually succeeds at something.
5. Here’s a tough one, but try your best: please, let him get hurt. Seriously, from a scraped knee to a broken heart. Let the pain seep through every last crack in his soul. Ugh. That was some super dramatic hyperbole. Sorry about that. But for real: don’t neglect it. Embrace it. That is the only way that he will ever appreciate joy. Think Khalil Gibran “On Joy and Sorrow”. Remember what effect it had on you when you read it and you started to understand your first broken heart. Think about how much you grew. It was a game changer. You know it to be true. So do your best to prop him up when the pain comes. And it will come. Often.
6. Give him the chance to be himself. Of course you want him to cheer for Purdue, and stand up for what you believe to be correct politically, and look at the idea of God as a concept rather than a set of killjoy rules, and eat great food like pan-fried frog’s legs or fresh oysters steamed in their own liquor or lamb’s brain sandwiches or just a simple kale salad with pistachios and fresh grapefruit. Naturally, you want for him to be influenced by all that you are. But remember, you are not him and he is not you. You can’t force that. Just give him the chance to be himself. If he ends up not being your friend, you can cross that bridge when you get there. But I’ll put a sawbuck and more on the idea that he’ll respect you for allowing him to be himself. That’s where friendships are born: through respect.
7. Cherish this first year. Try to hold on to these memories. It will go by so fast, you know? And it will fade, quickly. But this is the only year of your life where you get to be a father for the first time. And frankly, there’s likely nothing more important than that, with the confines of YOUR life. Not everyone’s life, but yours.
8. Put Justine first. Partners are partners for a reason. You have the benefit of having one. So, put her first. Despite whatever missteps and mistakes that have shaped the first ten years of your relationship, now is the time to learn from it, and put it behind you. Kiss her often. Remember to be playful. Joke around all the time, whenever you can. Together. Always, together. That way, your son will know what it means to be in love, no matter who he loves, and treat it as though it were the only thing that mattered. Because, in the end, it is.