There were a lot of things I didn’t know before I became a father. How to change diapers. How to do TikTok dances. How to realize sooner that it’s horribly embarrassing to watch your dad try to do TikTok dances.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about being a father, probably because my twin girls just turned 13, an age I knew was coming for 13 years yet, still, somehow, it surprised me. Why didn’t I know we’d get here so fast?
I suspect there are a lot of things new parents don’t know, like how your kids are probably going to outgrow believing in fairies, and maybe even some of the magic of Christmas. How spectacularly unprepared you’ll be for pretty much . . . everything. Parents without twins used to say they envied my wife and me — we’d get the parenting of two kids done at once. But we’re the jealous ones; they get the chance to learn from their mistakes before the next kid comes along.
If you’re a new parent, you might not know that on more nights than you’ll care to admit, you’re going to wish they’d just go to sleep already. Later, you’ll be sorry you were in such a rush. Sorry you worked late so often. Sorry you stared at your phone when you should’ve been sitting on the floor playing make-believe.
You might not know that some of the things you found annoying are what you’ll miss most. For years, no matter what errand we were driving to, every playground we passed was met with pleas of “Can we go?” from the back seat. We stopped often, and also not nearly often enough. There’s an awful lot I would give to be asked that again.
You might not know how hard it’ll be to let go of the silliest stuff. Over the years, we amassed a real estate empire of those wildly expensive Calico Critters play sets the girls adored. But those have been in the basement for some time now, next to a dozen more boxes with school projects, baby blankets, and the tiny knit caps from the maternity wing with their names written on them in Sharpie — the only way the nurses could tell them apart.
You might not know how blessed you’ll feel to have kids at all, because not everyone who wants them gets them, and, unimaginably, not everyone who has them gets to keep them. (No one tells you that you’ll start using the word “blessed,” for God’s sake, because it’s the only one anywhere close to how you’ll feel.)
Here’s one that I didn’t know: One day you’ll put your child down from a piggyback ride, and then you’ll never pick her up again.
I stumbled across that observation online, and it knocked the wind out of me. It turns out that a heart grown fat with love is more sensitive — why didn’t I know that?
My wife, Stephanie, who is far less maudlin than me, likes to say our children are honored guests in our home; that the fundamental job of parents is to raise good grown-ups. She’s right, but she also talks tough — text her a photo of the girls on their first birthday, then see what happens.
The truth is, I would’ve known all this if I’d listened. Everyone tries to warn you. Your parents, your co-workers, even that misty-eyed lady in the grocery store who tells you to “enjoy every minute — it’s over before you know it,” just as you’re trying with one hand to stop a toddler from biting her sister and, with the other, digging for the wallet that, you’ll soon realize, is sitting on the counter at home. Thanks for that, grocery-store lady.
I’m usually alone when I go to the store these days. Sometimes I’ll see a parent struggling with a toddler, and smile. It all goes by so fast, I want to say.
I think next time I will.
Francis Storrs is the editor of the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.