Friday, February 29, 2008

The Big Dumb Smile

Since my daughter was born 2½ years ago, countless imaginary people have asked me for advice on becoming a father.

Gather around, young fellas.

Now, if you think you would like to plant your seed inside a lady, you need to know what to expect.

Are you truly ready to sacrifice nearly all your sleep, free time, and peace of mind for another human being – someone who cries incessantly, feeds at inconvenient times, and depends on you for every basic need?

No doubt about it, getting your wife through pregnancy can be very hard. Fortunately, it only lasts nine months. Once the baby's born, the mother takes over and does everything, and your duties are reduced to feeling guilty and left out.

It's not that we fathers don't try, generally speaking. We're just fabulously incompetent.

For example, when my daughter was just a few weeks old, I started trying to feed her with a bottle. My wife had pumped about 117 gallons of breast milk, which did not look to me like a very pleasant way to spend an evening.

Anyway, the baby rejected both me and the bottle. I tried everything -- holding the bottle at various angles, squirting the milk at her mouth from across the room, and whatnot -- and I eventually gave up after two or three laborious attempts.

Now maybe plenty of fathers out there have managed to feed their babies. But I guarantee they've screwed up any number of other things:

“Did you remember to pack the baby toys?”

“Uh, you put her diaper on backwards.”

“What are you doing? Those clothes don't even match! Didn't you see the outfit I laid out?”

“UGH! The baby's clothes don't match either!”

Now, please don't misinterpret this as some big effort on my part to portray my wife as a nag. Nothing could be further from the truth; in reality, portraying my wife as a nag takes no effort whatsoever.

Ha ha! No, seriously: in addition to having a great sense of humor about herself, my wife has very high standards when it comes to parenting. If there is one area in which I would want someone to have high standards, it would be parenting.

And the truth is, she has been exceptionally patient with my inability to notice subtle things, such as when the baby is or is not, technically speaking, rancid, and therefore in need of a new diaper. As a result, I am three thousand times a more capable parent than if I were married to some pushover.

As a result of this self-confidence, I am able to relax and enjoy my healthy, well-nurtured super-genius of a child. At the moment she is pounding mercilessly on a toy piano and singing what seems to be the second verse of “Deck the Halls” over and over and over again.

You might think this would give me a headache, but in reality, it gives me a face-ache.

A guy who helped us put up new sheet rock in our house called it the “Big Dumb Smile.” I'll never forget how he described coming home from work and flopping down on the couch to watch his kids play, and then noticing a raw, burning pain in his cheeks that made him realize he had been smiling uncontrollably for about 15 minutes.

So there's a perfect euphemism for being a dad:

Wearing The Big Dumb Smile.

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