Before that fateful day, I'd spent most of my life listening to people tell me that fathering a child was wrong. Thanks to health classes, church sermons, parental lectures and social pressures, I viewed becoming a father as a sin, a mistake, irresponsible or outright evil.
So indoctrinated was I that it was impossible to shake the feeling I had messed up even though I had all the permission, certificates and capability of fathering a child.
It wasn't until I watched a movie with the line "You're his daddy, Forrest" that I realized I might not be the only guy worried about what he had done.
I was lucky, however. I had a good example of what it took to be a father. The Old Man was the first person I told. He gave me good advice, though I confess it took me a long time to put it to effective use.
First, he said, I would need to grow up. This wasn't something that could be achieved in a few months, but I could do better than I had been.
"Cut back on the dumba--," he said. "It doesn't pay the bills."
He was right about that. Babies are expensive long before they're born. There were all kinds of things we had to buy to prepare. I was not very good at this.
"Our baby is NOT going to sleep in a box from the liquor store," my wife said/yelled in Sears one day. "We're buying this crib."
Several other women heard this outburst, and immediately, I was outnumbered. I had to go sulk in hardware while they talked about colors, patterns and due dates.
As a father, I would be expected to keep a job. No more quitting just because I wanted to take a road trip with Bammer or because some band I liked was playing in L.A. or because I just didn't feel like getting out of bed.
"You have to work every day," the Old Man said with noticeable glee.
That was scary, but what he said next was almost incomprehensible. "Your entire life is going to spin around this baby."
A baby? What the hell did I know about babies? Isn't that what my wife was for — someone to make sure the baby didn't get eaten by a coyote or smell like poop all the time?
Other fatherhood advice from the Old Man consisted of showering my wife with love and affection despite those moments when she took on the form of a conjured demon. Women get hormonal after the birth of a child.
Me • "What do men get?"
Him • "They get stupid."
Long story short, I took all my fatherhood cues from what I remembered the Old Man doing as I grew up — family loyalty, working jobs he hated in order to provide, and, in general, staying out of costly trouble. Oh, and loving the mother of his children for the rest of his life.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.