Fatherhood’s All Love and Sunshine Until You Screw Up the Car Seat

Chubby baby thighs: 1. Me: 0

Before I get into one of my funniest fatherhood moments, I have to set the unfunny scene.

Two years after we got married, my wife and I had our only son. I was 36 years old. As the oldest of a half-dozen children, I had little doubt that I could handle fatherhood. I had already changed hundreds of diapers, warmed bottles, potty-trained toddlers, and rocked babies to sleep. I was as confident of my ability to take care of my son as I was of anything. But he was born in 2008, the same year that the financial markets — and my real estate business — collapsed.

That disaster left me feeling uncertain about nearly everything. I thought my company would implode in 2008. Instead, it blew up.

And I was a little depressed, which is to say, a lot. My son was born in August, but I started having cash flow problems by February. As I’m sure you know, having a business that is losing money is significantly worse than having no business at all.

I spent the months before the baby’s due date day drinking and taking long aimless walks around the neighborhood. Luckily, my wife still had a job so we could keep the lights on.

Within a couple of months after my son’s birth, my wife went back to work. With our savings long gone, she had to return when her paid leave ran out. And I started drinking a little more. Not too much, but still too much.

I like to think I shared parenting duties with my wife when my son arrived. She breastfed him — I couldn’t help with that — but I changed, bathed, and soothed him. I got up at night to feed him from a bottle. And I damn near carved a groove into our hallway floor, walking him back and forth in the dark.

He’s thin as a rail now, but back then, he was the chubbiest little thing imaginable, with great rolls of fat on his thighs from all of that good breast milk. In the mornings, we had a routine. After his mother left for work, we’d hang out a little bit and shoot the breeze, then I’d dress him and drive him to his grandmother’s house. I’d spend a listless day, maintenance drinking and checking for responses on job applications, tapering down in time to pick him up in the evening. We usually had a great time.

I hadn’t been in a hurry. I had no place to be. Nothing to do. What job did I have other than to keep my son safe? To keep my family safe? But I wasn’t even doing that right.

One morning, when he was about five months old, I dressed him in a little velour onesie on his changing table and put him in his car seat to do the usual drop-off. As I buckled him into the harness before walking out to the car, he screamed. I looked down and was horrified to realize that I had snapped the buckle shut on one of the fat rolls of his inner thigh. So I screamed, too.

And I ran out of the room.

You have to understand: my ability to be a good father was all I had left. My business was gone, my wife looked at me funny, the bill collectors were at the door, and I was creeping towards 300 pounds, none of it muscle.

And now this.

A few seconds later, I ran back into the room and released the harness — which flew apart in an almost comic fashion — and scooped him up. I soothed him, apologized, and cooed at him while I checked for damage. I could barely find the mark, and he quickly settled down.

But I didn’t. I started pacing the room even though I hadn’t been in a hurry. I had no place to be. Nothing to do. What job did I have other than to keep my son safe? To keep my family safe? But I wasn’t even doing that right.

It was all too much. I headed for the kitchen; I needed a drink.

And that’s when it occurred to me: OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO DRUNK DRIVE MY PRECIOUS LITTLE SON AROUND AND WHO IN THE HELL LEFT ME ALONE WITH A BABY?!

Eventually, I calmed down and loaded him into the car while he stared at me like, “What in the hell has gotten into you today?”

By the end of the year, after I had developed an unhealthy interest in guns for “home protection,” my wife convinced me to go to counseling. I got a job, and life went on, as it does.

Today, I tell my son, now 11 years old, that even though his birth was the best thing that ever happened to me, the year he was born was still one of the worst of my life. We have a good laugh about it, and I think he gets it.

Still, my wife is not so sure.

I write about masculinity, fatherhood, family, and relationships.

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