Have you ever watched "How I Met Your Mother"? If you have, you might have noticed one thing – the character Ted Mosby is an ideal dad even before he has children. He is kind, sensitive, patient, and well-read. Well, someone once told me that I was similar to him in those aspects. And that was even before I met my wife. I was only 18 then!
Since then, I have tried to develop my personality to reflect that of an ideal dad. I started reading books on wide range of topics, developed more patience and commenced driving even more carefully. In a way, Atticus Finch, the father from To Kill A Mockingbird ended up being my role model as a dad.
So, in 2015 when I found out that I was finally going to be a dad, I was ready. I thought to myself, "This is the moment that you have been preparing for. You have been called a boring person, a person who likes to read rather than party. But, now is your time. You are ready."
The pregnancy was a bliss, the delivery went as planned. I held my boy for the first time. They take the baby to the nursery to weigh him and then if needed, keep him in an incubator. The nurse gently picked up the baby and asked me to tag along. The nursery in NUH has a small window separating the room from the passageway. If you are on this side, you can see your own reflection in the window while watching people pass by. I saw pride and relief in my eyes.
The first lesson learnt
The nurse weighed my son, gave him his Vitamin K shot, and then she left. I was alone in that room with the baby. He was covered in vernix. His right eye was open, watching me. He was struggling to open his left one which was closed due to the vernix. I was told not to interfere. He would open it on his own. I was supposed to watch him struggle for his own good.
I cannot tell you how difficult it is to watch your baby struggle helplessly and not interfere. Before I had him, I had imagined that I would not let my boy suffer in any way. But here, within less than an hour of his birth was my first lesson: don't remove obstacles from your child's path. Let him learn. And sure enough, the next day, he was wide awake, trying to absorb the world through his bright eyes.
Dealing with insomnia
Up until that point, everyone had told us to catch as much sleep as we could as we were not going to get any. The first day, the baby slept the whole day. My wife and I had a secret celebration – "Our kid is different. He is going to sleep peacefully." Little did we know what was in store for us! Not only is our baby an alert sleeper, he is also very active. So, in less than three seconds after waking up, he is on his feet!
Then he proceeds to poke us in our eyes while mouthing "toi toi". That is his way of saying, "get up lazy bums and play with me!" This happens every day, without fail, at 5:45 am. Yesterday, he decided to give up on sleep at 2:45 am! I rocked him for two hours while he was tried to hold a meaningful conversation with me in babyese, before he finally went back to sleep! My wife and I have forgotten how even three-hour-stretch of sleep feels like!
My wife and I have forgotten how even three-hour-stretch of sleep feels like! But you know what? Seeing the baby asleep after all the efforts makes it worth all the sleepless nights!
Lesson#2 - Your kid is not different in any way than the rest of the children. So don't expect them to behave any differently than what your friends tell you. Apparently, they go through the same training modules before they are born. So just get some sleep while you can!
A few years back, we hosted my friend. Her daughter was seven-months-old at that time. She was (and is still) adorable! They were in Singapore for a few weeks. My wife and I planned their trip in excitement. In the five days that they were with us, they went out just once. That too, to a place nearby and were back in 2 hours.
To be fair, they had flown in from LA, 15 hours ahead of the timezone they were used to. However, they settled in quite nicely in just a day. Their plans though largely revolved around the angel. And we discussed interesting things like burp and poop at the dinner table!
So when we became parents, we decided to do things differently. We had read a lot of articles about travelling with the baby early on, while he was still breastfeeding. We had an amazing trip to Krabi, only two hours away by flight from Changi. Well, in the 5 days that we were there, we went out just once – to go back to the airport to catch our flight back.
Lesson #3 - Things do not always go as you plan them. Rather, your kid humbles you in more ways than you can imagine!
My wife and I are doctors. We have studied the milestones, red flags, reflexes from a very clinical point of view. But when the baby smiles for the first time, turns over or even utters something totally nonsensical, you forget everything that you have ever learnt and are left in awe of the miracle of life!
Sure, it is all science. Cells grow, cells multiply. The child grows up. He becomes ready step-by-step to face the world. There is a reason why he cries for a couple of months. There is a scientific explanation behind every achieved milestone, every step taken whether small or big. But when you become a parent for the first time, this is just amazing! It leaves you speechless. And then it makes you squeal in excitement! Science explains it, but the true feelings are ineffable.
Lesson#4 - Life and your child will continue to surprise you. Be a sport and open your heart. And document the growth in any way that you can.
My first year as a father was nothing like I expected. And I am glad it was so! Now, I am looking forward to the terrible twos!
Also, read 12 moments I did not know were HUGE before I became a dad if you have not already done it.