Gay Fatherhood, Step 3: Just Survive
After our twin girls first arrived, at 5 months old, I took a week off to stay home. People at work would hear I was leaving and reflexively ask where I was going. I'd say nowhere; I'll be playing with toys, going for walks, watching Baby Einstein, and prepping formula. Sure, to some it could sound like a vacation. But by the end of the first day, I was exhausted.
During the first few weeks since the twins arrived, a third pair of hands had always been nearby. First we had my best friend, Jami, a stand-up comedian by trade. We quickly learned that comedians adapt to any audience. Jami has an arsenal at her disposal of stupid faces and sounds. It's what we call "talent."
Jami served her time, and it was a win-win: My husband and I got much needed help making the twins laugh, and Jami headed back to New York City with new poop jokes for her act.
Then Super Grammy arrived. She raised three of her own kids, one in each of her three arms. Somehow she can just smile at our girls and they are thrilled. No matter the threat level of the meltdown of the moment, Grammy is even-keeled, rocking and whispering back to safe temperatures.
A few weeks later, Grammy departed for Florida, where all of the world's Grammys live. Then began the first real test for Team Daddy.
Would we crack? I hoped not. I didn't want to suddenly understand what compelled that wacko in the news to put her adopted son on a plane with a one-way ticket back to Russia, wearing a note that said something akin to, "Return to Sender." In all of the adoption classes we took, whether in Washington or California, that woman was eventually mentioned — as the entire room uniformly shook their heads in dismay and disapproval.
I'm guessing my mom never wanted to send me back to where I came from — mainly because it's biologically very difficult, but also because during her visit it was obvious I lucked out in the mommy department.
While she was here, as the three of us walked with our double stroller through the streets of Brentwood, passers-by would stop to congratulate my mom — on her twins. That's what really gets me. Grammy can sweep into town and people on the street think she's in such good shape that she actually bore two children at the age of whatever.
By comparison, I remember Team Daddy was about to leave the house for the first and only time in 24 hours, heading out for our daily walk. As Nathan strapped the babies into the stroller, I decided to change clothes and fix my hair. The thought crossed my mind that this was looking like one of those good hair days. So I thought I'd done a decent job of hiding spit-up and food stains — until a neighbor crossed our path on the way back home.
"Wow, you look tired," she said to me.
I didn't have the energy for a comeback.
Still, the Team Daddy challenge ended in a successful first week. One key piece of advice I took from the many others who've come before me — parents should nap whenever their kids nap; otherwise, parents get cranky, and that makes parents want to quit Team Daddy.
That first week taught me a lot about being a father. For example, I learned what it feels like to say I taught my daughter a skill. It may not be long division or even a first word, but I still proudly called Nathan over to watch — as Annabel made a spitting sound with her lips.
And on the last day she started biting our noses. So that might be two things I'd taught her.
Now if I could teach Audrey to pee only when her diaper is on. Twice she caught me at the exact window when the first diaper had been removed, the urine cleaned off, and the second diaper still being prepped. It's actually three times if you count that moment from the week before, when she pooped.
I knew that if I wasn't careful, I would teach Audrey curse words.
I also learned in that first week that I am now, more than ever, a forgetful dad. I sound like my own father: "Have you seen my wallet?" And "You found it? Hmm, I looked in there."
I also learned that I'm a sentimental dad. In Nathan's words, "You're a hot mess." I started shooting little videos with my iPhone. And I wrote these damn sappy emails to friends and family, and I took pictures and texted them to people with disclaimers like "Adorable!" and "Too cute!"
Nathan noticed that I was a mess about the same time I did. During that first week alone with the girls, my extended family celebrated my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. I was supposed to fly up to Massachusetts for the big party, but then the twins arrived and I had to cancel. My mom suggested I record a video message with my phone and text it to her. But I had all those cute kid videos to pick from, and suddenly I found myself editing them together with an iMovie app I downloaded. Then I needed an establishing shot with a graphic and background music and a voiceover. I got a little carried away.
Still, I didn't realize how deep I was into fatherhood sentimentality until I output the video and watched it for the first time.
Because I teared up. And not just once. I watched it again and teared up again. Then when I played it for Nathan he caught me getting all weepy. I tried to watch it just now as research for this column and got choked up. I realized in that first week: Maybe I'm not the only one doing the teaching around here. My daughters know one thing really well. They're experts. And maybe they've taught me how to cry.