The Voyage of a Quarter-Century Father
In the May of 2016, I was riding a wave of excitement and a feeling of ultimate triumph – I had just wrapped up my time as an undergraduate and was walking across the stage to receive my diploma. What a series of events my college experience was… all culminated in one day, topped with a few graduation parties with friends and family. For the last five years I had been figuring out who I was, who I wanted to be, and ultimately doing whatever I wanted. So many moments turned to beautiful memories right in front of my eyes, and those moments were paired with just as many (if not more) late nights spent studying for exams or drinking cheap beer with friends. Fast forward three months, and my wife and I were walking out of the hospital with our newborn daughter – who I’ll refer to as “Kay.” All of our plans for the future have had Kay’s well-being as a top priority ever since we knew we were expecting. Admittedly, we didn’t plan to have a child at the time we did, but we’ve completely reveled in the beauty it is to shape and mold a family from scratch. Not to mention, I have absolutely LOVED being a father. I get to help someone discover their interests, watch them develop their quirks, and try to explain the workings of the world we live in. But, I’ll admit that I had some concerns with my newfound role fairly early on.
“Will I be able to provide the life that I want for my family?”
“Will McKenna (my wife) and I have nearly as much freedom as we used to?”
“Am I too young for this?”
These questions slowly crept in as I noticed the world had continued to keep spinning while McKenna and I were trudging through sleepless, almost endless nights, never ending feedings, and countless diaper changings. As we were starting to raise this beautiful, little one I couldn’t help but notice that my friends were either refurbishing VW buses to drive across the nation, training with multi-national companies for promising careers, continuing their educations in graduate or law school, or somewhere in between it all. I couldn’t get too down on myself, though. After all, out of the dozens of jobs I had applied for I had landed THE one I had my sights set on the most. So, we packed up our apartment, loaded up our U-Haul, and took off for the Oregon Coast to start my career as an Economist. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like we were missing out on a part of our youth… Sure, McKenna and I weren’t traveling around like our friends, we weren’t able to go out on spontaneous date nights like we used to, and yes, we felt like we had our daughter at such a young age. But, all of this was a façade and ultimately short sighted on our part. Let me explain why:
It took us a while to be comfortable having someone babysit our daughter. Long story short, the first year is demanding, and we later realized that we needed to prioritize date nights and time for ourselves. Moving half way across the nation doesn’t lend itself to convenient family drop-offs, so we knew we had to find ourselves a good babysitter. It took some time, but I can’t stress enough the benefits of occasionally escaping the demands of parenthood.
McKenna and I were 23 and 24, respectively, when we had Kay – Just below the average age when parents have their firstborn. And that metric has been steadily rising over the decades! While we may have felt really young, the data shows we weren’t very far off the average (and if you’ve read my other articles, you know I’m all about that data).
According to the CDC, the average age for U.S. women to have their first born in the 1970’s was only 21 years old. Ever since then that number has been steadily rising. For the first time in history, the CDC noted in 2016 that the number of women over the age of 30 having their firstborn child was greater than women under 30 years old. An improving set of socioeconomic and cultural factors over time were more than likely the key influencers of pushing that metric upward, thus enabling women to pursue other ventures outside of the household and ultimately raise, if not shatter, the “glass ceiling.” Coincidentally, this just might offer an explanation as to why my wife and I weren’t joined by more of our peers in our voyage into parenthood.
Despite our initial struggles in getting acquainted with the new demands of parenthood, we realized there were incredible benefits in starting a family at this point in our lives. By starting young, we get to offer Kay (and her eventual and hopeful sibling) some of our most youthful years. If there’s any time where we can run, jump, and ultimately keep up with a spry, little one it’s now. Not to mention, we effectively get more time in our lives to watch our kids grow, and they get more time with us, as well. Knowing I might have five or ten years more with my family is one of the most valuable and intangible perks of starting our family in our early-to-mid-twenties. Also, one of my favorite “pros to procreating” before my peers is that we get to be a positive reassurance to those who may be considering starting a family. It can be daunting! Offering an insight in to the journey of raising a kid has already made some of our friends and family a little more willing to take the plunge. It also just so happens that spending time with a cute, little human can bring on the very real condition of “baby fever.” Interested in starting a family? Or rather, just curious what it’s like to have children? Contact me for some hilarious, yet candid anecdotes and advice.
On another note, there’s something to be said about straying from the societal norms of how one’s life should go. You know – high school to college, college to career, purchasing a car by the age of 25, a home by the age of 30, retiring by 65, etc. In fact, I stumbled upon an interesting read that points out the benefits of not following that “normal” course of actions. So many more individuals are pushing off retirement and working full or part-time positions in to their 70’s or even 80’s. That being said, taking that year or two to traverse the lands unseen by you isn’t the career-killing move that many may portray it to be. Following a course other than the “square wave” (in the hyperlink above) could very well be the new norm. I’ve broken from that norm (relatively), and our very own Sunday Shakedown creator, Stephen, has too. We’re only two people in a growing sea of individuals who aren’t following the “Western template” for what your life path should look like, and I’d recommend more folks join us. We’re kind of a fun crew!
At the end of the day, having a kid is so much easier and yet, ironically, more difficult than many anecdotes and Hollywood references might imply. What I mean is that it isn’t complicated to include someone else in your priorities, and it’s definitely not hard to have a cute, little ball of chub nap on your chest. It’s also really easy to find joy in watching your child discover pieces of the world that you once took for granted. That being said, it can be difficult to be your best self when you’re focusing so much of your efforts on someone else who is so helpless (and can’t really communicate anything besides hunger and discomfort). There are also times when it’s far too easy to lose your patience, and times when you wish you could just come home after work and plant yourself on the couch. It’s those moments that build you up as a person – when you push through your selfish wants for the needs of those around you. Despite the ups and downs, I would highly recommend parenthood to my skeptical peers since it’s not only highly rewarding, but incredibly humbling – something we could all use a little more of throughout the years.
I’m so incredibly thankful that my life took a new direction the moment Kay was born. Every day is a new adventure – a new discovery of the world through my daughter’s eyes. Without her, how would I have an excuse to have afternoon tea parties, or weekend mornings filled with Disney songs and dancing with tutus? Life as a parent definitely isn’t the end of the world as some might fear, but rather a beautiful beginning of untapped potential. Not only the potential that you yourself have to grow as a parent, but the boundless potential that your child has – with just a little help from Mom and Dad.