I would like you to meet our daughter, Betsy Jane Carrane. She was born Saturday, July 2 at 2:51 p.m. CST in Evanston, a northern suburb outside of Chicago. She came out weighing 7 lbs. 10 oz., measuring 20 inches long and looking like an little angry old man. I was worried. Nobody wants an ugly baby, especially an ugly father. I wish someone would have told me to wait 48 hours until you judge her looks, because then you’ll have the most beautiful baby in the whole wide world. Which we do. As you can see she has a full of head of hair, which I take no responsibility for.
It has now been almost three weeks that I have been a father, and I have to say so far I have exceeded even my own expectations, and I’m actually enjoying it. (Please keep that between us.) Though I seemed to have reached a new level of “always being tired.” Before Betsy was born I complained that I “was always tired,” but this is the real thing – sleep-deprivation bordering on paranoia. And there are times when she is crying uncontrollably that I’ve thought, “What have I done? I am a first-time father at 52. Am I nuts?”
And yes, at the end of the night when both Lauren and I are so exhausted from the day, we lie in bed and come up with a list of names of people we could give her to. But those thoughts are fleeting. As I sing her to sleep with a lullaby version of Sinatra’s classic “One for My Baby,” I know I will love her forever.
And she is ours; we have created her together. It was pure collaboration between the mother, the father and the fertility doctors. It’s clear we did not do this alone.
She is joy.
She is love.
She is one hell of a little teacher.
In the short time we’ve had her in our possession, this way-too-old first-time dad has already learned some pretty cool stuff. Like the smell of baby poo actually has a buttery flavor to it, not that I’ve tasted it, though I’ve come close while changing a messy diaper. And that when people say they are going bring dinner over, expect to get rotisserie chicken (we have gotten four so far, and if you e-mail me I can tell you which supermarket makes my favorite).
And I’ve learned that just like in improv, when it comes to being a parent, there are no mistakes.
Other fathers told me before we had Betsy that you can read all the books, but once you have the baby your instincts will kick in. They were right, and so will your character flaws. One of my biggest character flaws, next to being judgmental, which I hope Betsy does not get from me, is perfectionism, and that’s definitely shown up since I’ve become a dad.
Last week I thought I screwed up. I thought I held her wrong or did something that I thought was not right and immediately I began beating myself up and thought that’s it, it’s over, let’s give her away to someone on the list. After I got over myself, I realized that this is improv working in my life. When I am on stage improvising and I’m in my head and I think I made a mistake, I can adjust and continue with the scene. I don’t have the option to quit right then while I am on stage because the audience and the other players on stage depend on me. Betsy is now all of them, and as her father, she depends on me. Yes, I will make mistakes along the way, because I am not a perfect improviser, father or person. And I am glad, because I cannot live up to those expectations.
The best advice a father/improviser gave me was this: “Know you’re going to screw them up.” Though he might have been half-kidding, and I certainly didn’t want to hear this, I felt liberated that I don’t have to do this perfectly.
Betsy is already teaching me the same lesson. And as long as I am present and parenting her with love, she and her way-too-old dad will be just fine.