What’s It Like Being a Dad? The Fake Answer and the Real One

Recently, people have started asking me the same question over and over again, “What’s it like being a dad?”

It’s annoying.

And it’s 100 percent Zac’s fault. Before he was born, nobody ever bothered me with the question. 

This is how I’ve been answering it:

If I don’t want to talk to that person, I say being a dad is “great,” “life-changing,” or “even better than I imagined.” Then I grab Zac’s hand and say in a squeaky baby voice, “I love it too.” That’s usually the end of that nonsense.

But if I’m feeling loquacious, or if I suspect that person is considering becoming a parent themselves one day and I’m feeling charitable, I’ll admit the truth:

“Being a dad,” I’ll say, “is objectively worse.”

This, of course, is just my perspective. Let me explain.

Independence Drainer

“The highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, ‘I can do whatever I want today.’”

Morgan Housel, The Psychology of Money

One of my favorite finance writers, Morgan Housel, wrote that the ultimate form of wealth is independence. 

If he’s right, I was Scrooge McDuck-level loaded before Zac. I dove into my independence pool every day, working for myself, living wherever I wanted, enjoying a flexible schedule, playing sports for as long as I wanted, and sleeping when I was tired.

But then Zac popped out.

He drained my independence pool and pooped and peed in the sad, empty shell left behind. And now he’s crying about it, so I have to give him a bottle to shut him up.

Me carrying Zac and another dad carrying his daughter

Joining the Zombies

One of Zac’s go-to independence-stealing moves is requiring me to take him for walks.

Since we live five blocks from Vancouver’s Kits Beach and I’m a masochist, I take him down to there to torture myself with the FOMO of watching my friends enjoy their freedom playing basketball and beach volleyball.

Along the way, I regularly cross paths with other parents whose kids are taking them out for walks, too, just like the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus.

Have you heard of it? It’s a parasite that penetrates into ants’ skulls and takes over their zombie bodies and minds, as this video gruesomely explains:

This is what being a parent is really like.

I used to think, “Good thing I’m not an ant.”

But now I’m a dad and can empathize.

The funny thing is, before I became a parent, I never noticed how many zombie parents are out there with their parasitical progeny. I suppose it’s like dead people from The Sixth Sense: You don’t see them until A) you become one or B) you’re a little kid.

And, apparently, once you start seeing babies, you can’t stop. If anything, it gets worse because veteran parents—grandparents mostly—tend to react the strongest to seeing me hauling my little fun-guy around. On every walk Zac takes me on, they’ll stop me with things like, “She‘s soooo cute! How many months?” Then they’ll lie about how much he looks like me.

It gets tiresome fast. And I’m tired enough as it is. So even though I stopped listening to so many podcasts, I usually wear headphones and pretend not to hear them so I can be a zombie in peace.

(PS “Dad strength” is a myth. The only physical changes I’ve experienced are sore knees from hauling Zac around so much.)

Beyond Compare

The standard protocol when you pass a fellow newly-minted baby mule and their master seems to be to avert eye contact. But if you mistakenly meet the other’s gaze, you quickly exchange the world’s fakest, saddest smiles. Then, when you’re confident they’re not looking at you, you quickly check out their kid to compare it to yours.

Because comparisons, you see, are a big deal for parents. 

We all want to know what “percentile” our kid is in regarding weight, height, and development. And we’re all keenly aware of at what number of weeks in age, on average, kids are supposed to be doing XYZ.

So then, when freaking Langston rolls over two weeks ahead of the curve, his parents beam and boast as if they have a future Olympic gymnast on their hands.

Lucky for Kim and me, Zac’s been mostly behind the curve. And, since I hate losing, I’ve given up on playing in this asinine comparison and future forecasting game.

This has served as a helpful remember for my own life. Rather than waste precious energy comparing myself to others, I should focus on my own intertemporal competition:

  • How do I compare to my past self?
  • And how can I make my future self even better?

On this, Zac’s a master.

Having a front-row seat to Zac’s development from outdoor fetus into regular human has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s well worth the cost of being so close I get vomited and peed on all the time.

More than major milestones like baby’s first step or first word, there’s a new inch-pebble nearly every day:

  • A novel sound.
  • A different colored poop.
  • A new body part he can stick in his mouth.

Before becoming a father, I didn’t realize how much awe, pleasure, and inspiration I’d get from such simple spectacles.

Constant Paranoia

Here’s another part of being a new parent I hadn’t fully understood until I got my dad card in the delivery room:

The constant undercurrent of fear.

The Voldemort of newborn parenthood—i.e., the one who should not be named—is a certain 4-letter acronym that rhymes with “kids.”

Even though it’s real, I wish I’d never heard of it because I don’t think it makes me any better of a baby-minder. Babies aren’t that complicated, anyway. Like Tamagotchis, all they need is regular food, cleaning, sleep, and play.

But, unlike Tamagotchis, babies can be glitchy, so it’s impossible to avoid hearing horror stories of babies who, ahem, “turn off” for no apparent reason. And it’s been impossible not to worry about it nonstop.

For instance, I’ve too often paranoiacally and counterproductively got so close to him to check that he’s breathing in his crib that I’ve accidentally wakened him up.

I hoped this anxiety would fade as he got a bit bigger and stronger. But no. It seems the more time, money, and emotion I sink into the little guy, the worse it gets.

Me being a dad to zac giving him a soother

Nobody Knows

Making matters more complicated is there is no user manual for human Tamagotchis. So everyone has a different opinion on how to be a good parent:

  • “Sanitize everything.” “No, let him French kiss his grandparents’ Boston terrier. “
  • “Don’t even dare to doze on the couch with him.” “No, if that’s what gets him to sleep, do it.”
  • “Let him cry it out.” “No, if you let him suffer, he’ll have attachment issues.”
  • “Take tons of photos.” “No, don’t throw him in the air and try to snap a shot so it looks like he’s an astronaut.”

And the absolute worst, the WORST, has been breastfeeding.

You’d think after thousands of years of evolution and billions of opportunities to fine-tune techniques, we humans would have best practices nailed.

But no.

The nurses at the postnatal ward told us one thing. The breastfeeding consultant we hired said the opposite. And then the doctor we saw managed to defy physics by finding a third opposite to the previous two. Somehow, none of those strategies seemed to get Zac enough breast milk, so we had to devise our own approach.

At the end of the day, that’s been the parenting approach that’s worked best for us: Rather than tie our brains in knots trying to make sense of conflicting advice from experts, gurus, books, and blogs, we’re trying to use what little common sense our sleep-deprived brains have left.

So far, knock on wood, our little Tamogatchi/parasite/independence-thief/master-at-personal-development is doing ok.

Joining In Battle

During Kim’s pregnancy, one worry I had was what effects he’d have on our relationship.

I counted on him destroying our sex life as the world’s cutest cock block. And he’s executed that role even better than I expected. But I knew I could handle that.

My more serious worry was on the emotional side: Would I slide down to number two on Kim’s pecking order? And would the burden of baby-raising drive us apart?

Now that we’re a handful of months into parenthood, I can see that my worries were well-founded. Being tag-teaming caregivers is like walking the streets of Paris in the early 1800s—there’s a precarious risk of stepping in deep shit if you don’t watch your step:

  • It’s easy to keep score. “I change his diaper three times as often as you do.”
  • It’s easy to blame the other. “You a**hole! Why did you leave him on the couch? Of course, he’d roll over and fall off.”
  • And it’s easy to take your frustrations out on the only other fully-functional human in your vicinity. “What the f*ck are you laughing at? Grab a rag and clean this puke and piss off me.”

But, just as the World Wars brought France and Britain together to combat the Nazis, Zac’s uprising united Kim and me more than ever. We—and by “we,” I mean 90% Kim—have selflessly stepped up to fight for the cause without worrying about who’s turn it is or what’s fair or not. We’ve come together to strategize our next moves. And we’ve bonded by exchanging war stories over wine in the evenings.

So far, so good, but we’re still in the early days. Who knows what the future holds. The baby-raising battle rages on.

More Connecting

Speaking of bringing people closer together, the first week after Zac’s arrival was pretty much my idea of a perfect wedding:

  • You’re allowed to wear pajamas the whole time.
  • There are no corny speeches.
  • You don’t have to do any organizing.
  • The guests come one-by-one rather than in a single overwhelming mass
  • They provide the food.

It was heartwarming to have all of our friends and family members in the area come by to greet the new baby. And it reminds you of how many people have your back.

Even social media’s a great place to be for a day. It’s one of the rare events, like a wedding, that Facebook’s algorithms puts atop everyone’s feed. I was delighted to hear from old friends from all over the world. 

If only we could keep this sense of connection going all the time. But that’s another topic for another blog post. Let me finish this one first:

A Different Answer

Up until April 28, 2021, I 100-percent agreed with Morgan Housel’s philosophy that the ultimate measure of wealth is independence.

But, now that I’m a dad, I’ve changed my perspective. Here’s what I think the ultimate form of wealth is:

The self-perceived value of the story of your life.

This brings me to the two dare-I-say epiphanies that came to me the night of Zac’s 0th birthday:

  • He expanded the scope of my story. I thought my life’s story was pretty awesome prior to parenthood. I loved everything about it: the cities I lived in, the adventures I was having, my health, my “job” (this blog), my wife, my family and friends. But Zac opened up a whole new dimension to the script I didn’t know existed. My story feels more complete than ever.
  • He gave me a new role. In addition to seeing myself the star of the story of my life, as we all do, looking at Zac the night he was born made me realize I have a new part to play: as role model. I now look at my life’s decisions through this new lens of “Is this a path I’d want Zac to follow?”I think this will make me better at life—and make a better life for Zac, too.

For these reasons, even though my day-to-day life as a dad is objectively worse, I feel richer now than ever.

And that completes my honest answer to the annoying “What’s it like being a dad?” question.

Phew.

Now I can give anyone who asks me again the link to this post.

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Zac’s First Starring Role

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The 5 Timeless Strategies for Success at Life

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