The irony is not lost on me that I am an improv teacher, which is about teaching people how to play and have fun, which is what I have the hardest time doing in my own life. (This is a classic case where the teacher teaches what he most needs to learn himself).
Since I was a little kid I have never experienced much joy. My mom would keep reminding me, “You were such a happy baby. What happened to you?”
Even the things that are supposed to bring most people joy, like going on vacation, don’t make me happy. I don’t really start enjoying myself on vacation until the last day when I know I am going home.
I had pretty much given up the idea of every feeling any sort of happiness in my life when someone in my group therapy was like, “You know, if you and Lauren have a baby, it will bring a lot more joy into your life.”
The idea of being a dad didn’t interest me that much, but I was interested in finding more joy.
So on July 2, 2016, we had Betsy, and I thought it was going to be an immediate joy-fest, but it wasn’t. In fact, the first three months were hell, and the months after that were sort of like purgatory.
When people would say, “How is Betsy?” or “How do you like being a dad?,” I had a stock answer: “It’s hard and I am tired.”
Then one day recently, I was taking care of Betsy, and we were in the living room rolling the green rubber ball on the brown coffee table. She was laughing and having a good time hiding the ball under the table and shrugging her shoulders like, “I don’t know where it went?”
My wife, Lauren, comes downstairs and she looks at both of us playing on the floor. And she says: “She brings you joy.”
“What are you talking about?” I say.
“Betsy. She brings you joy. I can see it on your face,” Lauren says, like she caught me in lie. “This whole ‘It’s hard-d-d, I am tired-d-d.’ (Lauren’s imitation of me). It’s your schtick. You tell people you are miserable, but you aren’t. You really enjoy her.”
I hated hearing that because it was true. My wife left out another part, and that is that sometimes when I am enjoying myself I don’t even know it until someone like her points it out to me.
It’s like when I’m at party and someone throws out the idea of playing a board game, and I say, “No, I hate board games.” Then I force myself to play Scrabble and when it’s over, I am like, “That was fun. Really fun, like, I am surprised.” Like a child might say.
Before having a child of my own, I wouldn’t say I hated kids, but it was close. I would say I tolerated them, which is pretty much how I feel about myself. Now, when I hear a screaming kid in a restaurant it reminds me of Betsy. I love watching her get excited on Thursday mornings when the garbage truck pulls into the alley and she starts to point and scream with excitement. She sits on my lap riveted until it picks up everyone’s garbage and then she waves goodbye to the truck like she’s the Pope with one stiff hand as it leaves. We repeat the whole cycle again the next morning with the recycling truck.
And I love at night when I’m holding her in my arms and rocking her thinking, “How safe and secure you must feel right now,” as she closes her tiny little eyes and goes to sleep.
In these moments I feel pure joy, and I feel happy and sad that this will not last, that she will outgrow these simple things, that there will be a time when she will not fit in my arms or like playing with the empty La Criox can for half an hour.
Since having a kid the world seems a lot more scary to me, but it also seems a lot more fun and I have a lot more gratitude.
When Lauren was pregnant with Betsy, some people loved to give me unsolicited advice. The one thing that they would say was, “You are going to learn more from them than they will from you.” And even though I did not like to hear it at the time, they were right.
And yes, it is hard, and yes, I am still tired, but Betsy has given me permission to have more joy in my life, which can only make me a better person, father and improv teacher.