It was the first Tuesday evening of 2017, January 3rd to be precise, when my wife broke the news to me: I was going to be a father. When I got home around 7:45 that evening, she surprised me with a gift that she had “forgotten” to give me Christmas morning. It was wrapped inside what I immediately recognized as a department store gift box; the kind they give out so a person can wrap a dress shirt or a sweater. I sat on the couch, a little confused, but excited nonetheless. Natalie sat on the floor, and after I gave our two dogs their obligatory pat on the head and a kiss, I opened it. Inside there was what looked like a medium-sized poster board, laying face-down, wrapped in white tissue paper. I pulled back the paper, I flipped it over, and saw a small chalk-board-like sign which read,
“COMING SOON, BABY Shinn. EXPECTED ARRIVAL DATE: September 2017. PROUD PARENTS: Joshua and Natalie.”
I was flabbergasted. This was evidenced by the first word that came, almost unconsciously, out of my mouth: “What?!” Make no mistake, however, this was not a disappointed “what,” nor was it the kind of “what” someone asks when they are uncertain of a sender’s message. This message was perfectly clear: I was going to be a daddy, and this was a “what” of ecstasy and anticipation.
After my initial, inquisitive shock, a string of other instantaneous questions and statements rushed from my mouth: “Are you serious?!”, “I’m going to be a daddy?!”, “Holy shitballs!”, and an excited, “Well, neither one of us were sterile!” (Which was one of those odd fears I always carried with me since I was already 34 years old and yet to have any children). I gleefully hugged and kissed my wife and then stared a little bewildered at the little chalkboard sign announcing my life’s new role: fatherhood. It is a mantle I have been waiting eagerly to take up and one that I’m glad my wife secretly recorded once the moment came (and that, by the way, is how I know all of these details so well). At one point in the video, I can be heard asking Natalie a rapid-fire string of questions: “What?! How?! Why?! When?!” What I wanted to know at the time was how she had gotten her little reveal together so quickly: the package, the chalkboard, and so on. What I realize now, however, is that these very same questions are going to be crucial if I am to be the man that both my wife and my soon-to-be baby boy are going to need me to be.
You see, my journey into fatherhood, like most journeys, started with a question. As soon as my wife broke the news to me, “What?!” was my immediate and inquisitive response. Granted it was a question rooted in shock and, as I said earlier, ecstasy, but it was a question nonetheless. And questions are all that I have now that my wife and I are six months into the pregnancy. Here’s a small sampling of the kind of questions that inundate my mind on any given day:
What do I need to purchase before he gets here? Is my sleep going to suffer that much? What do I need to correct in my own behavior before I infect my young son? Are there products in the house I need to get rid of? How do I teach him to be a good person? Which insurance plan will be the best for my growing family? Do we really need all these gadgets? Which hospital are we going to for the delivery? How old does he have to be to play with Legos? How do I best help my wife through all of the changes she is going through? How many diapers will he go through? Should I be reading to her belly so he can have a leg-up on his kindergarten class? When do I know it’s time? What if he isn’t healthy? What if I’m not healthy? Am I going to be good enough?
I imagine this is what parental worry feels like. I have, however, accepted it; in fact, I have embraced it. My questions far outnumber my answers (and this is especially true for my wife), but the educator in me knows the glowing potential in this, for the beauty and the value of the question is that it’s a humble admission of ignorance. Stripped of all its heavy social connotation, ignorance in its most simple denotative definition simply means a lack of knowledge. Hence the need for the question, for the question (that often rides the wave of parental worry) seeks to find answers, the right answers, the best answers. The ignorant place, then, is the seekers place. Author Vincent Ryan Ruggiero points this out in his book, Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking when he says, “The admission of ignorance is the essential first step toward knowledge.” Therefore, in the spirit of thinking critically, I will happily admit that I am largely ignorant of what it’s going to take to be not just a good father but a provider, an example, an inspiration, a stronghold, safety net, and more. Thus, I seek, I ask, I learn. Again, the educator in me knows that to properly learn, one must properly question, so I am a man with a lot of questions. I question how to bring a child both in to and successfully through this world. I question for the sake of a better understanding.
Thankfully, all the questioning that both my wife and I have done has led us to some great knowledge contained within some wonderful sources. The “Intermountain Mom” Youtube channel is a great resource for soon-to-be parents if they want to know what to expect when they are in the hospital pre- and post-delivery. The What to Expect book series and accompanying phone app is a classic go-to with a modern supplement. And, of course, speaking to the other dads is the best kind of source since it is a primary source. In fact, this fatherly question quest is what led me to meeting and writing for the Reno Dads. These sources, and others, have and will continue to be invaluable on this journey into fatherhood. But it’s not just the sources themselves that have helped; it’s the place of ignorance that I started from that bred in me a desire to know more. It would be foolish of me to approach this monumental task of raising my son by acting like I know what to do from the get-go. Yes, I’ve seen parenting done by my siblings; yes, I’ve babysat; yes, I’ve changed diapers and even worked in elementary schools with young children. But none of that is like raising one’s own child. “What” is where this journey began, and “what?”, “how?”‘ “why?” and “when?” will help carry me through it. Besides, it was the 19th century French politician and aphorist, Pierre-Marc-Gaston, in his Maxims and Reflections on Various Moral and Political Topics that wisely said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” I may currently be a man with a lot of questions about fatherhood, but ultimately, for the sake of my son, my family, and my self, I want to be a man with a lot of questions for a very long time.