Those of you who have followed this column know that Lydia’s and my son, Finn Scott Lax, was born on 1.11.11 (in Labor Delivery Room 11). And you know it was, and remains the greatest event of my life, one that gets more profound every day.
And yet, I have, as have most of you, learned that there is another, and somewhat less…shall we say idealistic?…side to fathering an infant. So without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of the signs that you just might have postpartum father exhaustion. Ready? Okay… wait… wake up! You just nodded off. (Or was that me?)
…After seven weeks of instantly understanding when your son needs to be fed at night, and bounding out of bed to help (well, sometimes), tonight you wake up and wonder, “Why is there a baby crying?” You actually have no idea. You begin to fall back asleep, and then wake up while your beloved is getting a bottle ready, and say, “Let me feed him.” Then you immediately fall back to sleep.
…You drive to Babies R Us during the weekday because you have a sudden obsession that kicked in last night while on the store’s Web site, an obsession about a particular bouncy seat that plays classical music, vibrates, rocks, has a mobile and possibly an anti-gravity device and GPS navigation system. While you are obsessing about this seat the next day in your car, you get utterly lost while trying to find your way out of the village you live in – and in which you grew up. This frightens you…did you have a stroke? Are you entering early Alzheimer’s? Then you realize you are now inside Babies R Us and navigating the previously confusing aisles with the precision of Charlie Sheen in his F-18…before his morning coffee.
…You silently apologize to all your father-friends who said things to you like, “Get some sleep while you can,” when your mate was pregnant. You are sorry because, as a former professional musician and current writer who has pulled his share of all-nighters, you arrogantly believed that you “know all about lack of sleep and can handle it easily, thank you.” Now you realize that “lack of sleep” is nothing like the sleep deprivation dimension zone that you now inhabit, which is like a constant, low-grade fever, peppered with occasional bouts of the giggles.
…You understand, fully and with great sympathy, how prisoners of war and other torture victims can succumb to sleep deprivation tactics. And, by the way, for an extra hour of sleep, if you did know the F-18 scramble codes, you’d happily give them up to Charlie Sheen so he could strafe his L.A. neighborhood.
…You recall that you used to say of your future child, “Family beds are fine for some, but not for us; our child should sleep in his own bassinet or crib.” And then you learn to enjoy waking up after a fussy night to your actual real-life son’s face. You don’t mind partly because his face is that of an angel…and what was that about not ever having a family bed? What could you have been thinking?
…You turn off the car in the parking lot of your future stepson’s school, while waiting for intermediate school to let out. You close your eyes while listening to Jim Rome talk about the NFL Combine, only to wake up with a start when a baseball-capped, North Face wearing mother-from-hell behind you lays on the horn of her SUV that’s roughly the size of a bulldozer.
…You pick up your future step-daughter from high school and are too mentally fatigued to think of one thing to say to her, so you actually mutter random retorts to the host of whatever NPR show is on until your voice trails off and you just give up on conversation altogether and hum a tuneless song.
…You gouge a gash the size of a caterpillar on your face while shaving. The part of your face you cut is above your whiskers, and you have no idea what your razor was doing up there. You try to explain the bloody bandage on your face to your future step-kids and realize they think you may have gone completely mad.
…You see a guy that looks somehow familiar, though much older and burned out than you remember, and you begin to say, “I think we’ve met,” until you realize you’re looking in the mirror.
…Through your mind-numbed haze of exhaustion at the grocery store, the hardware store and on line at the drug store, where no one wants to talk with anyone, owing to the high probability of at least one embarrassing thing in his basket, such as lubricants or medications that strongly indicate a condition he does not want you to know about, you nonetheless force him, as if at gunpoint, to look at your BlackBerry photos of your son, to the extent where you sense he would kill you with one swift martial arts move, if he weren’t holding a giant package of toilet paper in his other hand.
…You don’t care whether said guy has time to look at the photos of your son or not. You don’t care if you’re keeping him from delivering desperately needed pain medication to an elderly parent. Seeing photos of your son is the most important thing he will ever do, even if he doesn’t realize it.
…You have a vague memory of having had insomnia for a good part of your life, and ponder this as you fall asleep before your head even hits the pillow.
…You remember sleeping until noon on weekends and it seems like it happened a long time ago, in a distant galaxy, far, far away…
…You realize that, as tired as you are, your son’s mother is somewhere between five and ten million times more tired than you, and you are utterly convinced that women are, indeed, the superior sex. And that your exhaustion is a gift for which you are eternally grateful. Because your son Finn – the light of your temporarily exhausted life – is in the world.
Scott Lax is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and film maker. He and his fiancé, Lydia, had Scott’s first child – and Lydia’s third – in January 2011 and call Cleveland, OH, home. Learn more at Scott’s blog.