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What It's Really Like To Be A Dad For The First Time

It's overwhelming, yes, but you'll never surrender
by Lamar Roque | Jun 18, 2017
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Up to this day, I can’t sit through a frame of the 1940 animated musical, Pinocchio.

Even if it’s within earshot or in my slightest peripheral, I bolt and get out of there. I steer clear from the classic, in any shape, form, or rendition, because it gets me every single time, man. I got a kid of my own now (she just turned one last April), welling up over some cartoon isn't what I'd call top priority.

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I was nine years old when the plot first piqued my interest. Here’s this unrelenting wooden kid who twisted a lot of truths, survived a whole heap of trouble, and pulled a transformation not even a reformed junkie could rival. Plus, there’s a moral to his story to boot: a disfigured face could actually be a direct result of dishonesty. I was stoked to see the flick.

At that time, my parents rented the Betamax tape from our neighborhood video shop. When their budget allowed it, they had rewards of this sort ready for when my sister and I finished our chores. Unfortunately, the owner who ran the business had serious hearing problems, so your eyes just had to be glued to the screen when you had one of his flicks on. The analog generation knows this: back in the day, when you duplicated any form of video, your levels simply had to be on point or else you’d be watching your main characters whispering their dialogue. That’s why we always had our TV’s volume jacked up to the loudest bar. We had no cable and it was one movie a week, our version of Netflix right there. It was the best.

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'As a man, you look forward to rearing, loving your child every single day—no matter how messy this world gets—but then you realize you can’t have everything exactly your way'

Life back then was tough, but my parents never allowed us to realize just how dire things got. The blue-collared work ethic and incessant resourcefulness were two things my parents were all about and they wanted us to grasp those virtues early on, ready us for life’s hardships, and solidify our character. 

Aside from making the bed, cleaning the house, washing the dishes, the kids in our household also had to wrap candies, polvoron, and pastillas to help with the on-the-side startup family business. No, my parents weren’t forcing labor on their only daughter and only son, but non-compliance definitely came at a price. So, if you wanted to remain in their best graces, you worked your ass off for your own good and did what was right. It was always about accountability and how not having it robbed you of your backbone, and in turn made life messy. This was our reality and we faced it together.

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In case you're wondering, my father commanded the belt, while my mother wielded the broomstick with great dexterity and grace. But these tools were only unbridled when absolutely necessary and warranted—specifically, demonstrations of anarchy under their roof. If it was misconduct beyond the abode, penalties were in store for us the second we got home. Needless to say, I was the usual suspect compared to my sibling.

But, we were always disciplined with discretion, never in front of company to embarrass us or put us to shame.  Thorough debriefings came right after, and by the time you emerged from their quarters—eyes sore, glutes calloused, with tears and sweat streaming down your face—you’d realize that you live with the decisions you make, good or bad, and face the music no matter how discordant it may be.

Anyway, back to my story on sweets and the sweet boy made out of oak.

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The deal was to wrap a hundred pieces of whichever item was prepared on the dining table. If it was a school day, you had to finish your homework first, eat your dinner, then pay the piper. You could get away with doing just fifty pieces if you came up with an infallible argument that the particular school day has got you beat and hitting the hay was an immediate requisite. Expectedly, watering down chores just wasn’t the route to take, since a standard was already set.

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When the weekend rolled in, the narrative was slightly different and there was much more to look forward to. Wrapping faster and better was the sole focus because playtime and/or movie time was there for the taking soon after.

Unfortunately, my wrapping skillset was grossly limited. Aside from heavy hands and flawed technique, I just couldn’t build the momentum and wrap those suckers neatly and efficiently compared to the extremely precise confectionery-wrapping natural that my sister was. It was a common sight from my side of the table: my mother re-doing the once-intact polvoron powder on my cellophane wrappers for me to re-wrap.

Not that it was a competition. The rule was pretty straightforward: settle your account and you’re free to go.

On the day of Pinocchio’s premiere, I obviously couldn’t wait to get off my polvoron detail any faster. I figured enjoying that movie was exactly how I wanted to spend that Saturday. At this point, all my cousins had seen it, raved about it, and knew all the songs to it. I really felt I was missing out, so a change was in order.

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So, I clocked in early and began the grind, dead-set focus fueling my desire to finish early.

To no one’s surprise, I struggled mightily. The cellophane just wouldn’t want to fold the way I wanted it to. My robot of a sister finished up way before I did, so she got dibs on Pinocchio. The woman deserved it anyway, the way she slayed that stack of candy.

Except, it was dreadful sitting from where I was. There was only one television set in the house and it was in our living room, next to the dining table. The tube wasn’t in my line of sight nor my peripheral, but I could hear every sound wave coming out of its speakers. So, when my sister fed that tape into the player, I had to suck it up and do everything twice as exact and fast. But, I was exasperated and just hit the panic button. Each polvoron wrapped was just as frustrating to handle as the next. But, thanks to mother’s encouraging words and my father’s unbelievable patience, I made it through the ordeal.

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I caught the end credits of the movie that day and just decided not to see it altogether—ever. As far as I was concerned, I heard all of it and left it at that.

Boo-hoo right, really over a damn cartoon, you say? Well, raw defeat is always difficult to swallow, much more to digest when you're a nine-year old who only wanted to do his family duty then take a a well-deserved break. Yes, boo-hoo.

'There are no days-off once you become a father, and you’ll be surprised at how steady you'll feel about the whole deal'

When I had my daughter last year, I thought about the memory of Pinocchio and polvoron more and more.  Fatherhood is a lot like that botched weekend. As a man, you look forward to rearing, loving your child every single day—no matter how messy the world gets—but then you realize you can’t have everything exactly your way, regardless of how seamlessly planned your day, week, or even month is.

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The obligation and responsibility is a conscious decision you have to make on a daily basis, even when it means forgoing indulgences, or letting go of personal goals for a while no matter how bad you wanted them in the first place. There are no days-off once you become a father, and you’ll be surprised at how steady you'll feel about the whole deal.

On your rough days, you’ll feel like a failure, not knowing what to do with yourself. But on your good days, the highs are sweeter than any Spanish shortcake.

Again, I’m still learning; I know I’m going to be here for a while.

I didn’t want anything to do with Pinocchio—that’s until I discovered what my folks did years later. Shortly after swearing off Pinocchio, they purchased the rental and held on to it for safe keeping just in case I'd change my mind. They never forced me to watch a frame. There was no big splash either to indicate they had done this wonderful gesture for me either. They waited, they listened, and they didn’t miss a beat.

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I only hope to make my wife and daughter as proud of me every day, the same way I am of my own parental units.


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