Bad Dad: All in the name of a little sleep

Everyone tells me I'm a good dad. They are all wrong.

I never took a test to become a father, I never cracked a book about parenting nor did I take any classes on what to expect on raising kids. I knew I wanted to be a dad, but really didn't anticipate what it takes to be a good one.

So when people mention to me how good I am doing as a parent, I just smile and say thank you. Little do they know I'm making it all up as I go along.

I got married later than many of my friends, I was about 30. We had been together for four years when we decided to take the "goalie off the ice." Several months later, we were on our way toward baby bliss.

My wife is a remarkable woman, which was once again verified when our daughter was born. Her maternal instincts kicked in and she took to mothering very easily, now that her world view had shifted drastically.

I was excited about being a dad, but my world view didn't really change as much as my wife's. That is, until she went back to work. That's when I started to sweat.

Like many couples these days, we are a two-income family. That fact was completely foreign to me because I came from a family where my mom stayed home to raise the kids while my dad worked. Sharing the bills allows us to live a comfortable lifestyle, but that also means we share raising the kids.

I work nights at the newspaper, and my wife works days. When we first started our journey as parents, we worked in the same building. She would get off work about the time I would start, and we'd pass our daughter off in the parking lot. That meant I had a lot of time during the day to spend with my baby girl.

When she was little, it was a breeze. I could set her someplace and she wouldn't move. I never really had a problem changing diapers either, so I thought this parenting stuff was a breeze. Then she learned how to crawl, and messed that all up.

When she became mobile, I had to be mobile, too. Gone were the days of playing video games while she slept. She required interaction, and not of the killing zombies kind. So we took walks, lots of walks. We took our dog for walks. We walked to the store. We walked around the park. When I got tired of the same scenery, we drove to different malls in the area to walk. Bottom line, we walked. A lot. People saw us around, and commented what I good dad I was. Little did they know my motivation. The benefit of walking so much was she'd fall asleep, which meant I could sneak off and kill more zombies.

But then walking wasn't working like it used to. She was more and more curious about the world, and required even more interaction. So I set down the video game controller and picked up some books. I dug out my old ones and started reading to her until she fell asleep. Once she was snoozing, the zombie apocalypse could resume.

I quickly realized that I'd need more books because we only had a few age-appropriate tomes. So we started going to the library, and I borrowed 10 picture books at a time, which would last us a week. It became part of our routine. People saw us repeatedly at the library, and told me what a good dad I was. Again, it was all smoke and mirrors. Two books each day would usually be all it took to send my daughter off to dreamland. Then I could scurry off to dispatch the undead.

Basically, my earliest motivation at being a parent was to do what needed to be done so I could be left alone. Not the most noble of parental traits, I'll admit, but then I didn't know any better.

I don't remember my dad being around that much when I was little because he worked during the day. And when he was home, he was off doing Dad stuff, like mowing the lawn, washing the car and putzing around in the garage. He took his child-rearing cues from my mom, and played the heavy when it was time to dole out punishment. I'm positive it was instilled in him from his parents. That's why I really had no basis for what to do or how to act as a parent during the day.

It wasn't until I realized that, as a father, I was doing more than my dad had done, from a caregiver standpoint. Sure, I long for the old days when the man could provide for his family, leaving his wife to raise the young'uns. And though there were days when I wished I was going off to work like my old man did, I wouldn't trade my situation for the world.

I would have missed the time I have spent with a little one snoozing on my shoulder, shallow breaths in my ear. I'd have missed pointing out ducks at the park, then being chased by swans. Or discovering my talent of reading with multiple accents.

I may not be a good dad, but maybe I'm getting better at it.

MATT MURRAY is a designer-copy editor at the Daily Pilot, as well as an established blogger-videographer-podcaster. Pile on him at matthew.murray@latimes.com.

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