I discovered very early on that obligations are an integral part of being a father.
And when I mean early, I mean literally minutes after becoming a father.
In the hospital when my daughter Shannon was born in 2001, they cleaned her up and brought her to the recovery room. I was basking in the joy of the birth of my first child, holding her and welcoming her into the world.
In the midst of my bonding, I felt Shannon let loose with a mighty bodily function in her tiny-tiny diaper. I was thinking what a cute moment, as I attempted to hand Shannon off to one of the nurses to get changed.
But instead of taking care of what felt like a massive deposit, the nurse looked at me and said. “Daddy gets the chance to change his first diaper.”
Now, I have nieces and nephews, along with quite a few friends who’ve had babies, and this wasn’t going to be my first poop roundup. So, I happily made my way to the changing table, eager to show that this new daddy could handle the situation.
However, when I opened Shannon’s diaper I was overwhelmed with a mess that looked like something from a horror movie. I don’t know what was worse, the look of the stuff or the smell of it. It was sticky, black goo that reminded me of something that is found the La Brea Tar Pits. And the smell almost knocked me over.
I had no idea that newborn infants store up waste in their systems and evacuate it shortly after birth. It’s called Meconium, and it is the most vile, gag-reflex-inducing stuff on earth.
Needless to say, I survived my first fatherly duty, which was only one of many to come. It was then that I realized that my obligations as a dad were just beginning.
Along with Shannon, who will be 9 next month, my wife and I also have a son, Grant, who is 6. Throughout my years as a father, they have provided me with more joy than I could have imagined.
In the sports realm, both seem to enjoy being active. Grant tried his hand at soccer recently, and has switched to tennis, a sport Shannon has played for years. In addition, both take swim lessons, and Shannon is a regular Aquawoman.
One of my obligations as a father is to try and attend as many as their sporting events as possible. That is one of what I call the “regular” obligations. But there are other responsibilities that I’ve discovered also come with being a father.
One is that I’m obligated to give up my food for the good of the kids. If we go out to a restaurant and my babyback ribs or barbecue-bacon-burger looks better than their chicken fingers or macaroni and cheese, they get dibs.
Some restaurants really do make good mac and cheese.
I’m also required to have the skill of Kobe Bryant, the luck of a leprechaun and the deep pockets of Donald Trump. Nowhere is that more evident than when we take the kids to a fair or carnival.
The youngsters have no idea that most of the games of skill that line the boardwalk are rigged. All they see is an oversized Tweedy Bird stuffed animal or pretty goldfish in plastic Baggies and they want one. That leaves their daddy to shoot basketballs, throw ping-pong balls, toss rings or heave baseballs at rag dolls — trying to win anything.
Most of the time it’s just an exercise in frustration and humiliation. However, every now and then good old dad gets lucky, and ultimately I’m the one who has to carry around SpongeBob SquarePants or a giant inflatable hammer the rest of the day.
While my wife and I share the duties with Shannon and Grant on family outings, I have to shoulder the biggest responsibility on the way home.
After a day at Disneyland, Sea World or the beach, the rest of the family settles into their seats, relaxes and ultimately fall asleep. While everyone else is snoring and drooling, I have to make sure we get back home safe and sound.
It can be rough sometimes, as I keep myself awake by listening to classic-rock radio. I never realized how many times Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” or Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” are played in a few-hour span.
Unfortunately, some times a father has to fulfill an obligation that saves his children from heartache or harm.
I had to deal with such a situation recently when our beloved dog, Simba, a 14-year-old Shih-Tzu-Lhasa Apso mix, who had to be rushed to the animal hospital emergency room in the middle of the night.
It was my obligation to take Simba myself, as not to worry the children. If fell on be to be one to hopelessly watch as the doctors tried to keep the little guy alive. They weren’t successful.
Ultimately, it was my duty to hurry back home, delicately tell Shannon and Grant that the dog they loved so dearly had passed away, and take them to the hospital to give Simba a final hug and a kiss goodbye.
It was also my obligation to tell them that Simba went on to a better place, and that they will be able to see him and play with him again some day.
There is much about being a father that is extremely difficult. But in retrospect, despite all the obligations, there are so many more rewards that ultimately far outweigh the bad.
Being a father is the hardest job I’ve ever lived.
Happy Father’s day to all the proud dads.