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Reflections on two years of fatherhood: I never thought I could love so much (or be so tired)

I used to think that male friends who openly expressed their love for their young children were going soft, I now find myself feeling the same way.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

A LITTLE MORE than two years ago, on 2 November, 2012, my son Larry was born. As I wrote shortly afterward, he must have the family political gene because he arrived a few days early and in the nick of time to be alive for the US presidential election. His birth even made it on to the national airwaves, when Marian Finucane announced it and told listeners that I had more than one good reason to be exhausted on Election Day while a guest on her Sunday morning programme.

In those heady first weeks after we had brought him home and when he was a docile infant, I still had no idea of what a life-changing experience fatherhood would prove to be, despite having been told as much by nearly every parent with whom I spoke in the preceding months.

Well, they were right. Nothing will be the same for the foreseeable future. The relatively unfettered freedom I had to do as I wished and come and go as I pleased is a dim memory at this stage. I haven’t set foot in my beloved Boston in a long time and it will be some months before there’s any hope of getting back there again.

I never thought I could love someone this much

That said, like the vast majority of parents everywhere, I give thanks for my son each and every day. Although I would have previously thought male friends who openly expressed their love for their young children were going soft, I now find myself feeling the exact same way.

Seeing Larry’s giddy smile when I go into his room in the morning or when I return after being away at work invariably makes me melt – and often brings tears to my eyes. When I can’t be with him, he is to the fore of my thoughts. I constantly ask my wife to email pictures and videos to see what he’s getting up to. I never thought I could love someone as much as I love Larry.

There’s an important reality of parenthood, however, that isn’t discussed enough and is glossed over ordinarily. Being a parent of a very young child is, at times, a difficult and stressful job. It’s not always fun and rewarding.

Babies and toddlers spend a lot of time screaming and crying. They don’t care if you’re tired and have to wake up early the next morning. Whenever they want to get up – for a bottle, for a cuddle, to watch “Into the Night Garden” or “Peter Rabbit” – they’re going to do it, a clock that says 4:15am notwithstanding. They’re similarly not bothered about when, where, and on whom they relieve themselves. Without dwelling upon the gory details, suffice it to say that any preciousness I once had about bodily fluids is long gone as a matter of necessity.

A baby’s impact on relationships

I’ve also discovered that a new baby drastically changes the dynamic of his parents’ relationship. It is a monumental undertaking to recreate the way it was before the baby for a weekend, a day or just one night. Larry has managed to invent new sources of, to put it euphemistically, “debate.” Ascertaining whose turn it is to wake up with him, in particular, and what has consequently become known as “competitive tiredness syndrome,” is one such occasional “debate.” Unfortunately for my wife, she is a very light sleeper and often has to dig me in the ribs to ensure I rise when it’s my turn!

Additionally, the somewhat unusual arrangements in our house – my wife typically works at night and every other weekend; I work on the other side of the country for most of the week – unleash the potential for further “debates”.

Of course, none of this is novel. Babies and toddlers scream and cry more than the rest of us because they can’t talk yet. They get better at sleeping as they get older. They will learn to use the toilet eventually. Parents who read this can say “been there, done that”. An apt response from single parents might be “try doing it on your own”. Parents of twins and triplets could ask me to “imagine having more than one to look after?” Couples will counsel that it’s essential to make time for one another.

Fatherhood is the best – and most exasperating – thing that has ever happened to me

They are right on all counts. Furthermore, I’m mindful of just how lucky we are to have Larry. So many men and women in 2015 are doing everything in their power to bring a child into the world and experience the wonder of parenthood for themselves. I hope and pray that it will work out for all of them.

Still, it would be a lie to say that everything has been joyous or easy since November of 2012. In two years, I have learned a good deal – much of it the hard way – and I have incalculably more to pick up. Fatherhood is the best thing that has ever happened to me. There have been moments during which it has been downright exasperating, too. That’s as frank and honest an appraisal as I can offer.

Now, fathers of teenagers and young adults tell me that the real hard work hasn’t even begun yet. In January 2015, as I spend endless hours trying to prevent my 26-month-old son from hurting himself and wrecking everything within his ever-expanding reach, I can’t imagine that it will get any harder. Someday, however, I’m sure I’ll be waxing nostalgic for having a gorgeous little boy in my lap at a godforsaken hour as he watches and I endure his favourite episode of “Peter Rabbit” for what seems like the millionth time.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and columnist for TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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