The miracle of birth, the wonder of paternity leave

As a kid, I remember watching the old black-and-white movies in which a husband would be pacing in a smoke-filled waiting room while his wife gave birth to the couple’s baby. The man would then get his first glance at his offspring through a glass window, as a joyous nurse would weave her way through a maze of bassinets and point out his baby.

Overjoyed, my black-and-white character would hand out celebratory cigars to every man he passed, meet his friends for drinks at a bar and go back to work, accepting handshakes in return for those cigars, while his wife would grab the baby, walk the nine miles back home from the hospital — uphill and in a driving blizzard, nonetheless — so she could make a hot meal to have ready on the table when her husband would come in the front door, flicking his cigarette ashes on his baby’s forehead as he leaned in for a smooch.

Now that I think about it, I don’t really think I ever saw a movie like that. To be honest, those old movies usually put me to sleep fairly quickly, so I might have simply dreamt a scenario where...

But I digress.

Now that I’m done bashing the movies that our dear friend Bob Bertram still clings to as he mumbles about those “crazy kids” walking across his lawn, let me fill you in on what I’ve been doing for the past week. Paternity leave.

I admit that this is a concept that I didn’t have much experience with over the years. I’ve known a few people who have received it and kind of rolled my eyes about it when I first started knowing it existed. Even when our publisher, Susan Lyons, asked me if I was interested in it a few months ago, I wasn’t real sure.

I like working. I love my job. And I know that I get dangerous when I don’t have a specific task to keep me occupied. Paternity leave sounded like an interesting concept to me, but I envisioned several days of reorganizing my sock drawers and putting together an Excel spreadsheet tracking how many times I saw Flo in a Progressive commercial.

I looked into it a little bit, spoke with a few recent parents I’m fortunate enough to consider friends and decided I’d give it a chance — do a little bonding with the daughter, knock out a few tasks I’ve been wanting to get done around the house; heck, maybe catch up on a little sleep.

Ooh, that reminds me. Did I tell you I’m a moron?

You see, dear readers (Hi, Mom!), I had no clue. Not an inkling. No shred of what to expect when this young lady entered our home and hearts. Oh, there has been plenty of warning about dirty diapers, sleepless nights and crying fits that make one feel as helpless as someone with bad depth perception trying to catch cooked spaghetti falling from the sky in the midst of a hail storm...

Sorry. Second digression. Sleep has not been my friend.

But while all those things have indeed come true, there were other things I was not quite prepared for — even if my parenting mentors told me about them beforehand, I guess it just never really took. And I’m not sure it could have until I met my daughter.

The one that has hit me the most is the constant daydreaming. Every time I’m feeding her, I’m imagining the adult she will one day become. When I’m watching her sleep, I’m thinking about playing with her at a campground as she asks me questions about our surroundings and I make up answers because I want to appear smarter than I really am. I think of her one day with her own child, feeling every bit as excited as I feel with her. And I think about her taking her first step. Or saying her first word.

And that makes me a little sad already.

I know that by the time she gets to those things, I will be back at work, and I will most likely miss many of those moments because I work during the day, and that’s probably when she will be awake the most. But I have had some amazing moments this first week.

I watched her find her ears for the first time the other morning; then I giggled each time she grabbed at them throughout the course of the day — which was about a zillion times. The next day, it was her nose, and the repulsion I had originally about my daughter picking her nose with such fervor quickly turned into more laughter after she could not keep her hands away from her nose. The next morning, she was lifting her head much more frequently, and with far better success.

So, yes, paternity leave has been absolutely amazing, and I’ve been grateful for every second of it. I’m able to enjoy those experiences I would have otherwise missed, and it’s been a true pleasure just having the chance to get to know this person.

And I’ve been able to enjoy it because I haven’t had to worry about the paper because of the remarkable people who work there, and who have sacrificed for me. For that, I am grateful. Forever.