It was like military or marathon training.
The amount of focused mental and physical preparation I underwent ahead of my six-month paternity leave, which began Monday, could easily have been mistaken as boot camp-like readying for a battlefield or Iron-Man competition.
It’s no doubt a privilege to get a lengthy, state subsidized period of time away from work to care for your child in its first years. But it also scared the hell out of me.
Sure, some fathers approach the period unfazed by the rigors of childcare. They view it as a prime opportunity for more sports watching, for renovating the kitchen, or for finally writing that novel they always meant to get to. Tending to the child is a minor side note on an otherwise packed agenda for these guys.
My experiences put me into a different mindset. Even though our eight-month-old daughter has taken it easy on her parents so far, I have on plenty of occasions found myself utterly worn out by the constant demands of caring for an infant.
This is to be expected when you have kids. But these times have usually come when my wife was also around and helping out.
When I’m on paternity leave, my wife goes to work. This means I’m on my own on workdays in trying to handle childcare duties for someone who has already beaten me down badly when I had good help. What will happen to me when I don’t have that help nearby?
It was this question, or the obvious answer rather, that weighed on me as my at-home time approached and that got me looking for any and all ways to limit the impending damage.
So I geared up. I took two weeks of vacation to learn and then drill as many daytime baby-care strategies and tactics as possible. I worked out and rested up. I sought counsel from other fathers who have survived to tell their tales. (The novel usually goes unfinished, they say).
The night before my first day on the new job, I inventoried the diaper bag and then packed it for the next day’s outing. Such pre-game planning was crucial in my mind, in case things got too chaotic during game time.
On the big first day, Monday, I took every precaution and absolutely no chances when it came to summoning and storing up baby-care energy. I had vats of coffee. I wore sweatpants and running shoes to maximize baby care-taking maneuverability. I may have stretched. I trimmed the number of activities for the day down to a bare minimum, making sure no unnecessary effort was expended on non-vital functions. I never strayed further than a twenty minute walk from home. Anything beyond was too risky.
Midday, I bought a bulle. I told myself it was better to be on the safe side and partake of this warm gooey cinnamon bun in the name of good parenting than to not and risk running out of energy to adequately care for my child.
The first day turned out eerily fine, as have the other days so far this week. I’ve been no more or less tired than most days before the paternity leave started.
This can mean one of two things: beginners luck; or my daughter is still in the process of sizing me up, learning my solo daycare weaknesses and waiting for the perfect time to take me down properly.
Either way, it’s clear that I am no match for my child these coming months. I can only hope for mercy.