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My Most Terrifying Day

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Posted: May 24, 2021 12:01 AM
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As with most men who were once teenage boys and then twentysomethings, I’ve been in a lot of situations where I was lucky to make it through them. Situations where had things gone just a little differently, I wouldn’t be here to type these words. Stupid things, done to myself or of my own free will that, upon reflection, I was lucky to live through. But nothing, not a single thing I’ve done, was as terrifying to me as what my wife and I celebrated this past week – the 4th birthday of our first child.

I never wanted children, or so I told myself. Very few boys do when they’re young. Whether we actually mean it or not is up for debate, it may well be one of those things we say thinking it will somehow magically empower the universe to prevent an unplanned pregnancy. We might have really believed it, we also might have believed it only because we repeated it so many times. And we lived our lives accordingly like there was no tomorrow. 

All of my friends in high school, myself included, expressed their belief that they’d never live past 24 or 27, depending on whether they liked James Dean or any of a number of musicians. No one I knew had a plan for, or even accepted the concept of, living past 30. I don’t know if women go through the same rite of passage, or if the “popular” kids in school have the same conversations, but the weirdos sure did. 

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you; as the old joke goes – if you want to make God laugh, make a plan.

I wasn’t the first person in my old group of friends to get married and have a kid, but I was one of the first. And, to my knowledge, I was one of the last. Most, to the extent I can verify through Facebook (since time has faded a lot of those bonds), stuck to their word and remained childless. They’re not too old to have kids, but they’re not seemingly interested, and many are in no position to take care of one.

I never thought I’d be either. That was my issue. I didn’t really like kids, only saw them as an obstacle to going out with my friends. They were a concept with which I was unfamiliar. I was an uncle, but I didn’t have any say in that and, frankly, wasn’t very good at it (to the extent any uncle is “good” or “bad” at it). I babysat, occasionally, and the kids had fun. But I did once spray one of their pajama butts with Lysol because I could smell what had happened in there and my sister was only about 15 minutes away from getting home. 

I’d never changed a diaper in my first three decades of life, thanks largely to that spray and an unwillingness to do it, and considered that some kind of personal victory. So when it came time for my wife and me to start a family, once we’d begun to have those talks, that was something I had to consider. If I wouldn’t do that, what kind of father would I be?

I didn’t know because I’d never wanted to know before. My wife always wanted to have kids, and my opposition (fear, really) to the concept had shrunk significantly because I knew she’d be excellent at it. 

Ultimately, my fear wasn’t that having kids would cramp my lifestyle, my lifestyle changed as a grew up (even if my rhetoric about having kids didn’t), it was a fear that I would suck at it. That I wouldn’t like it, which would make me suck at it, if that makes sense.

On faith, both in my wife and my ability to do something I’d lived in fear of my whole life, we went forward. I remember the day my wife came running to the car to give me the news. We had one car and I’d have to drive her to work as soon as I got home from my job (we both work in radio and have odd hours). She came running out, hopped in the car, and had an odd smile on her face without saying anything. She handed me a home pregnancy test. Confused, I looked at the thing without really understanding what it was, since it was so out of context. We agreed to try, but hadn’t changed anything, as far as I’d noticed; and it wasn’t but a couple of months. 

It finally registered, and my first thought was, “You handed me something you peed on.” I didn’t say that, as evidenced by the fact that I’m still alive, and then it hit me, “Holy sh*t, this is happening.” 

She was ecstatic, I was terrified. Happy, but terrified. In months, I would find out if all that fear was justified. 

On the day our first daughter was born, the fear hadn’t gone anywhere. I’ll spare you the details of the delivery, as I spared myself them by staying at the head of my wife’s bed, staring at the wall while applying an oxygen mask.

Then I was handed this creature – cleaned and wrapped in a blanket, at my insistence – this bean-shaped being. What was I supposed to do with this, I wondered?

There are no instruction manuals, and parents really seem to enjoy watching their kids figure it out – laughing, knowingly, when you tell them about the first time a poop defied gravity and smeared up the back. 

You figure it out. 

Then, at some point, the baby becomes more real, it becomes real. For my wife, it was immediate. For me, this pooping paperweight hit me as a realized person when she started reacting to things; laughing. I’d love her from the start, I’d stopped fearing her at that point and loved her even more. 

The fear I have now is for her, and her sister, who came 17 months later. Can I be enough? Can I do enough? What kind of world will they grow up in? How can I do more to help them be better people than I was, have more fun than I had, have a better life than mine? 

I don’t know if I can live up to that, but it’s what drives me. 

I’d always wanted to make my parents proud. That used to be exclusively done through my career, now it's through being a father. As I look back on how I was before, how terrifying all this seemed, I kind of wish I could talk to my younger self and smack me across the face. Parenthood is scary, yes, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. I can’t say I don’t know what I was afraid of, because I very specifically do. I was just wrong. 

Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!), host of a daily radio show on WCBM in Maryland, and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.