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ValueSpeak: Figuring out fatherhood

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Jason isn’t exactly a Father’s Day veteran. In fact, this Sunday will be his first.

And not just because he and his wife, Stacy, just had their first child a couple of months ago.

Jason doesn’t have much experience with fathers, period. He never knew his father, and his mother wasn’t much of a socializer, so there were never any boyfriends — much less step-fathers — to whom Jason could bond. His mother did a great job raising him and his two brothers. They all turned out to be terrific young men, the sort any parent would be proud of.

But she couldn’t teach her sons much about fatherhood, or what it means to be a dad.

So at this point Jason is pretty much winging it.

And that has resulted in some interesting moments. His first reaction to the news that Stacy was expecting was stunned silence. No smiles. No hugs. No joyful expressions of, well, joy. Just silence — long and profound. As you might expect, Stacy interpreted his silence as disappointment, displeasure or even anger. But Jason later explained that he didn’t say anything because he just didn’t know what to say.

It should come as no surprise, then, that he spent most of the past year trying to figure out fatherhood (what can I say? He’s an engineer — figuring out stuff is what he does). He spoke to noted experts on the subject (evidently the office intern, a single sophomore, was especially insightful). And he downloaded some books on fatherhood, including one by comedian Jim Gaffigan, who said, “You want to know what it’s like having five kids? Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.”

Still, as the Big Day approached, he was doubtful and uncertain about fatherhood — what it was, what it required and whether or not he had it within him to be a good one.

“I’m not afraid, exactly,” he told me during one conversation a few weeks before his son was born. “I just, you know, don’t know ….”

When Jason called to tell me that little Luke had been born safe and sound, there was something different about his voice. I asked him if he was OK.

“I’m great,” he said. “It was amazing!” He was silent for a moment, then he added: “It’s just … amazing!”

The miracle of childbirth can do that to a rookie.

With each passing day, the amazement has worn off and the routine of fatherhood has become part of Jason’s life. While Stacy is the primary caregiver (and is an absolutely adorable little mother), Jason is learning how to fulfill his role. When he’s not at work or at night school working on his master’s degree, he supervises feedings and changes the occasional dirty diaper. He has learned to study with Luke dozing on his chest, and he takes his turn watching late night (and early morning) TV while rocking a fussy baby.

And suddenly, Jason isn’t intimidated by fatherhood anymore.

Sure, he knows there are lots of challenges out there ahead of him and his little family, from potty training to adolescence to driver's ed. But it isn’t as scary as he once thought it was. Two months of being a father has taught him that fatherhood isn’t something you learn in a book, nor is it something you can glean from others. Fatherhood is something you learn by doing, and it has less to do with what you have in your head and more to do with what you have in your heart.

“I know I still have a lot to learn about what it takes to be a good dad,” he acknowledged during my most recent conversation with him. “But I think Luke and I can figure it out together.”

Spoken like a real veteran, don’t you think?

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr