The transformation from dude to dad is one of the remarkable metamorphoses in nature.
It certainly rivals the caterpillar, which essentially takes a month-long nap and then wakes up with wings. Or the tadpole, which goes on summer break in the pond and comes out in the fall with some legs.
Picture a human male in his pre-fatherhood state. Can you imagine ever giving him care of a child? Can you imagine him ever willingly taking care of a child?
But it happens, and it happens all at once. While nine months of pregnancy dramatically alters an expectant mother’s life and she wisely takes the time to understand what is coming, the expectant father is still somehow caught by surprise when the child arrives. Cut what? Change who? Burp how?
The path to parenthood unfolds in many ways, but no matter the means there is an undeniable moment where a guy becomes a father.
For me the moment came in a hospital room. Suddenly, a new person was in the room with us, a little girl, and I was in charge of naming her and cleaning her and watching her obsessively all hours of day and night. That was six years ago this month, we added a son three years later, and I’m still awestruck by both of them most days.
But there was a clear moment. Before, I was a guy with my own interests, preferences, goals and aspirations. After, I was a guy with those same interests, preferences, goals and aspirations, but they all moved a notch down my to-do list.
It may sound like a small change, to shift priorities to accommodate a new human being’s presence in this world. I am not saying the transformation is heroic. I am only saying it is dramatic.
Out of this metamorphosis come all kinds of fathers who alter the men they were before to fit into a new frame. There are studious conveyors of information, sages of wit and wisdom, buddies up for a good time, mentors guiding in the ways of the world. We all have pieces of these characters in our own fatherhood as we try to impress important values into our children.
And of course we’re all hilarious at all times, and will be for all time. It’s part of the change.
Father’s Day is a good time to recognize that dude your dad used to be. If he’s been doing it right — downgrading his own priorities to meet your needs — you may find it hard to believe the stories he has to tell about the days before you came along. But you’ll probably still recognize his character and personality in those tales.
And that’s the remarkable part. He has grown no wings, no appendages, but he has become a new person, and that change happened the day he first laid eyes on you.
Fatherhood is far more experience than expertise. He had to stumble along, using the lessons from his life before to try to cobble together a foundation from which you could build your life. He probably messed it up a time or two, and maybe much more often.
But if he was there, building and guiding and trying, give him some credit. Try to connect to the man he was before. If nothing else, it will help you understand the man he became after you arrived.
And for goodness sakes, laugh at one of his jokes.
Daniel Wattenburger is the managing editor of the East Oregonian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.