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Listener Essay - Becoming Fatherhood

How do you prepare for something like this? My wife and I are expecting our first baby this fall. It's a mayhem of tiny socks and booties, bottle warmers and YouTube live births. 

I can't compel myself toward anything more noble, I don't think, than to prepare myself for fatherhood. Things are going to change, and I've had to make changes.

My drinking is slower now. My choices more arranged than before. I was never the planner. My wife plans weddings and events. Now she's playing it more by ear. Her pregnancy has taken the urgency out of daily dinner plans, and other things of considerably trivial and passing natures.

I was never one to bother with these things, but now I'm Mister Food Network. A recipe collector with a bookmark file in my browser labeled FOOD FOR MOM. She's got more important things to think about, and I've got more brain cells at my disposal that I'm not disposing of...

Her plans involve more penetrating issues, like what tax breaks to expect, or when to write our will. Pain management was her foremost concern before feeling these mid-term body changes for herself. The baby's kicking with percussive fortitude now.

She waylaid some of her apprehensions by watching YouTube women birth internet babies. I watch them with her and just witness the openness and resolve these mothers show that I admire.

The bodily nature of our endeavor has raised concern over activity and health. Our lifestyle is more artistic than athletic, which may sound anachronistic to today's demanding society. Half of you are listening mid-activity right now. I am a sitter. I love to sit. Stacy loves to paint. I bought her masks and opened our windows wide to keep her painting.

We painted the nursery first. It had been an office that we split. It was all different colors, and the sky was on the ceiling to make the ceiling lamp a moon surrounded by clouds. That's all gone. We started over. Stacy was up and down the ladder, and later down on her knees on the floor. She was all over, and sometimes not wearing the masks as I'd asked her to.

We tend to the gardens and yard. One afternoon when she weeded, her body ached the next day and then some. So she took a maternity yoga and fitness class, which suits her. She thought it'd be more stretching and posing, though it seems they breathe and count while flexing and keeping a group of muscles flexed. It's meditative, I think. She comes home and we do some of the exercises together. I try and keep up with her endless Kegels.

Meanwhile, I am meditating for my mental health. It's part of my get-clean-and-clear-for-the-kid regimen. Another thing I did was get myself on a systematic antidepressant medicine. You may have heard of it.

I had to admit that waking up angry and hateful for no reason, anger misplaced in my wife's direction, no patience with the dog or the cat—I had to admit that I didn't want to wake up that way. That admission was a long time coming from me. I'd undergone the same rigmarole we all endure, the loss and disappointment that life hands us in the decades of one's life before thirty. I'd also undergone some special sufferings that many of us require a little extra tenderness for.

Life is unfair, but it's unfair in different ways for each of us. And in some ways life can be very good to me. I have to recognize it. For a long time I refused to believe that anything good in this life made up for the terrible things it can do to anyone. What I saw was the world devouring itself at every turn. I wasn't giving myself a chance to appreciate good things I had. I took what comfort I had for granted.

But I am changing my mindset, and I think I needed to regulate certain brain functions by getting medicine. I'm sure you can relate in one way or another.

How do I properly worry about this sort of thing? How can I explain all of the things my son is going to want to know? What if he doesn't want to know? How will I handle his capabilities later in life when he outpaces his old man, as I did one day, so long ago, not long ago. We all experience these magnifications and limitations with whatever zeal we can muster, but it's how I interact with him that I'm so worried about.

How do we spend what time we have? How do I prepare for that?

Bart McIlduff is a novelist and essayist living in Loudonville, New York.

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