Guest Post: Lessons on Being Dads

June 1, 2012

By: David DeGiralamo

The proudest daddy day of my life began at LabCorp.

It was summertime last year. Dominic – my then-one-and-a-half-year old – and I made the five-minute trek from our suburban home to the local blood-draw facility for his first-ever routine lab test. We arrived in matching outfits (completely not surprisingly) – rubber-soled sandals, multi-pocketed khaki shorts and orange shirts (one, a collared, short-sleeve polo…the other, an unabashed walking billboard T-shirt of his most-favored Thomas the Tank Engine).

He had no idea why we were there or what was coming.

I raced through the required paperwork using my one free hand, and we made our way in to the partitioned nurse’s station. Pleasantries were exchanged with the nurse tech (who just loved his “gorgeous blue eyes”), and we readied ourselves for the coming battle.

I positioned my son squarely on my lap and rested his elbow comfortably on the flat, mobile wooden extension arm. The nurse tech and I took turns distracting him, pointing frenetically at the colorful, partially-ripped-off stickers on the sterile white cabinetry to occupy his thoughts. It took her about five minutes to line up what she thought would be the ideal puncture spot in the bend of Dommy’s right arm, patting the area down compulsively with the alcohol swab before preparing herself to make the first stab.

And that’s when my son showed himself to me.

The needle punctured Dommy’s skin, on its way down to the vein wall. Staring down at the undertaking nervously, I held onto my son’s torso a little tighter with my right arm as the needle plunged deeper, his hand a little tighter with my left. He wouldn’t realize, of course, that any recoiling from this acute, unexpected injury would make the whole experience even worse. The pain even more unbearable.

But to my, and the tech’s, astonishment, he made no sudden, jerking movements.

Instead, within seconds of the needle’s entry below the surface, my son reclined backwards ever so slightly toward my chest, turned his head upwards toward my face and stared back up at me fixedly with tears in his eyes.

He made no sound. He gave no resistance. He just continued to look up at me – an immutable connection between the two of us, through increasingly watery eyes.

His bravery persisted – through the second and third needle stab. Through the calling in of the nurse supervisor. Through the two-minute break and the shifting of attention to his left arm. Through the whole ordeal, culminating thankfully with the successful backspray of his venous blood into each of the four multi-colored vials.

His courage struck me profoundly while I sat with him in that moment, in that light blue blood-draw chair. Inexplicably, it affected me even more on my car ride home, the relative solitude of the drive affording me the privacy of an unanticipated, prideful cry just before pulling in to our garage.

What an incredibly strong person this little dude is, I thought to myself. And already…at such a young age. It is obvious, I concluded, as I stared back at his blond head in the rear-view mirror.

He will be a better man than me.

If there’s one thing that my partner Dan and I have learned over these last two and a half years since we’ve become fathers to two beautiful children (one boy, one girl), it is simply this:

Our lives, at least as we knew them, are gone.

Gone are the days of spontaneous romantic excursions. Gone are the days of casual dinners with friends (what friends do we have left, anyway?). Of cars without car seats and sticky hand prints and solitary socks and pretzel pieces.

Gone. Just gone.

These days, our lives are all about sacrifice and the weeds.

They are about unprecedented displays of patience – patience I was certain I did not possess in my arsenal.

They are about spelling out words, “unified fronts” and catnaps when you can get them. They are about tag-teaming responsibilities and alternating early wake-up sessions. They are about collapsing into one another’s arms at the end of the night and falling asleep before nine.

Our lives are about well-thought-through decision making. About when and how to stagger immunizations. About coming to an agreement on the right amount of exposure to technology, like Toy Story and Angry Birds and New York Giants football. About striking the right balance between one-on-one, in-home nanny coverage and enrollment into contamination-rampant preschools and day cares. About nutrition. About apple juice.

Our lives are about mind-numbingly painful negotiations with obstinate toddlers and about searching desperately for compelling positive reinforcement “carrots” to break the meal-time détentes. They are about not losing your cool when your daughter’s ingested formula is regurgitated back (in its seeming entirety) onto your collared shirt and splattered across the arms of couches. And about not losing it completely when your son deems it necessary to hold his own sit-in amid the thoroughfare at the Short Hills Mall (the incident forever pegged by us as “Occupy Restoration Hardware”).

More than ever, our lives are about sticking to our guns and holding fast to what we believe to be right. That it’s OK to let them cry when we put them down at night. That we will drag their lifeless, limp bodies across the length of a red gymnastics mat if we have to, if it means they’ll learn that it’s time to do what we say or that it’s time to listen to the teacher. That it is important for them both to have female influences in their lives, and that our sisters, and aunts, and mothers and female friends will be ever present throughout their lives to ensure that this is so.

Our lives are about our new reality – the reality that parenting is all-consuming and it is inescapable. It is hair raising and lonely.

And it is beautiful. And perfectly imperfect.

Our children’s evenings always end the very same way.

We start with bedtime stories – read to them either on the gliding chair in Juliet’s nursery or on the couch in Dommy’s big-boy room.

We turn the music on. An eclectic but nonetheless soothing CD (of an indecipherable language) has found its way into Juliet’s stereo. For Dommy – lullaby versions of classic Elton John tunes (once in a while, he’ll sing in his sweet voice a snippet of Rocket Man’s chorus, for my extraordinary pleasure).

And then we set them down into their cribs. Without fail, before we leave their rooms and turn the lights off for the night, we recite to them – their eyes staring up at us as we perch above them – the names of all the people in their lives who love them.

Each and every name. The list is long.

They’ve gotten used to the ritual. And so have we.

Not long after our memorable LabCorp incident, I shared the experience with our two moms. I, of course, expounded at great length about how much I was struck by my son’s virile bravery. His courage to fight through the pain.

Our mothers, independently, came to slightly different conclusions about my little vignette.

Both were struck, more than anything, by his level of trust in me. That his innate courage, which he no doubt displayed, was bolstered by the fact that he was in his father’s arms. And that nothing could possibly go wrong with me there by his side.

Gosh, I hope that this is true. Of course, he’d be right if he felt this way about me and about Dan.

Because we love our little Dommy and our baby Jules immeasurably and unconditionally, and we always will be there for them.

And above all else, we hope that they realize that our hopes for them are just that – our hopes. We do not wish any of these things for them if they don’t want them for themselves. We have given them the gift of life, and it is theirs – and only theirs – for the devouring.

Take it, run with it and never look back.

Think how you want to think.

Do what you are inspired to do.

Love who you wish to love.

And you will never disappoint. 

David DeGiralamo and Dan Allen have been in a committed relationship for ten years and live in  New Jersey. Their son, Dominic, is two and a half and has mastered the first thirteen levels of Angry Birds  and Juliet, now nine-months old, loves her brother almost as much as she loves smiling for the camera.