Right now, I'm sick—100-degree-fever, shivering-myself-to-sleep sick. For me, the worst part of being sick is this recurring realization that, when it comes to being an adult, I'm tragically inept. There's nothing readily available in my medicine cabinet that would suggest a 24-year-old man rents this apartment. No Tylenol. No NyQuil. No Mucinex. I don't even have a box of tissues or an extra blanket to keep me warm. I would go see my doctor, but I don't remember his name or the center he works in because I haven't gone in for a check-up in god knows how long. In these moments—these shameful and pathetic moments—as I lay helplessly beside a pile of snot-filled Popeye's napkins, the same thought creeps into my mind. Every time.
"I'm a grown ass man, and I can barely take care of myself."
As I get older, that thought extends itself into a question: "How the fuck am I going to raise a child someday?"
For decades now, it's been commonplace to graduate from high school, go off to college, and come home to find that your entire town is pregnant. What feels specific to millennials, though, is that we have to actually see these little bundles of terror pop up on our newsfeeds like White Walkers, reminding us that the fierce and frozen impending doom of parenthood is, in fact, coming.
What makes the idea of raising a child so nerve-racking is the fact that this kid is literally going to give me a lifetime's supply of chances to fuck his whole shit up. On top of my chills and bubble gut, I'm now literally worried about my unborn child's mental health.
Yes, I am a worrier. I come from a long line of worriers—my own father being the most worry-prone of us all. I moved out of my parents' house three years ago, and to this day, when I come back to visit—when I bring my fully grown, college educated self back to the house I grew up in—my father reinstates my old high school curfew. It's very fucking annoying. But it's love.
"The three most important things for a thriving child are love, security, and consistency," says child and adolescent psychologist, Kirsten Butterfield. My father, with all of his overbearing worries, loves me very much, and that's why he wants me home—for consistency, for security, and for sometimes absurd amounts of love that I've never had to question.
So maybe the fact that I'm already concerned for a child I haven't conceived yet is a sign that he'll be alright once he gets here. Maybe he'll even avoid Butterfield's couch, at least until later in life when someone other than me messes with his head.
But that doesn't mean he'll like me. That might be what worries me the most.
When watching my former high school classmates raise their children, even the questions I silently ask myself frighten me. Thinking of kids the same way I think of pets will definitely result in my child hating me.
"What do these things even eat? Do I have to walk it and play with it? I can't leave it alone, like, at all?! Why does it keep staring at me like that? And Jesus, why does it shit so much?!"
I am an idiot and idiots shouldn't raise children—at least not right away.
How would a child ever take me seriously, anyway? I sometimes imagine a little me laughing in my face as I tell him to eat his fruits and veggies, knowing damn well his father had leftover White Castle burgers for breakfast. Some years later, he'll scoff whenever I tell him to clean his room, as he recalls every Sunday I've spent drunkenly wallowing in my own filth, watching the Jets lose by three touchdowns.
I suppose—or I hope, rather, that raising a child can make an adult out of anyone. Maybe the longer I'm a father, the less I'll be preoccupied with XBOX and Fantasy Football, and as a result, I'll be more in tune with my kid.
While I doubt being a young parent ever ceases to be challenging, I imagine the first few years are the most overwhelming. Dawn Dais, author of the parenting book Sh!t No One Tells You About Toddlers, helps confirm this for me.
Dais warns me not to compete with other parents, and not to get bogged down under the weight of the day-to-day. Most importantly, though, she stresses the urgency of simply being present. "Kids don't need fancy toys or 400 different enriching activities. What they need is a parent who shows up for them. This means showing up for the little things and the big things," she says.
From what I gather, the early stresses of parenthood seem to change you in this sweet, wholesome, oddly heartwarming way—a way that'll turn you into a person delightfully dull enough to enjoy hanging out with your children, a way that makes you want to "show up." If that's what it'll take for my child to respect me, I'm not sure if I'm ready.
My buddy Gio, who became a father at 19, has shared similar sentiments with me. Like Dais, Gio also genuinely enjoys hanging out with his now five-year-old kid. The way he tells it, that change in him happened once he accepted he was a dad and no longer a bro.
"I definitely couldn't party anymore," he says of becoming a father. "At first it was weird because I wasn't used to that, so I would just host parties at my house. A few friends would come over, we'd set up the table, and my wife and the baby would watch me play beer pong."
At first, this totally sounded like something I would do. Why let a kid turn shit down? But as it turns out, that isn't really optional. That baby is going to turn down whatever he damn well pleases.
"It was weird," he continues "we're playing beer pong but the baby is right there. I felt guilty. I didn't know what good parenting was, but I knew that was something I shouldn't have been doing. So now we've kind of given up partying. Now when I drink, we're all watching a movie or watching a game. It's less party stuff and more family stuff."
And there's that image again—me, screaming at the TV during Monday Night Football with wing sauce smeared across my face, and my son, next to me, tweeting about how much of a dumbass his father is.
Gio didn't frame it in that way, though (but to be fair, I doubt he screams at television sets in front of his child). In the way he put it, he sounded perfectly content with quietly chilling with his kid. To someone in my position—single, childless, and free to be as immature as I see fit—being content sounds dangerously close to being bored. To someone like Gio—married, with a son and some good sense—boredom seems to play to the tune of fatherhood. He seems to enjoy it.
Right now, it feels like I may just be too childish and excitable to truly adapt to the quaint pleasures of family life. I can imagine buying my kid a Playstation or something, and then arguing with him over who gets first dibs.
"I bought the shit! It's mine anyway—go read a book or something, boy!" And back to Twitter he goes.
I'm a fool, so situations like that could totally happen. People more mature than I assure me they won't, though. Some people actually love and like their kids, with the feeling being mutual.
The most rewarding part of parenthood seems to be when your kids become your friends—your simple, little boring friends.
At this age, when I'm not hungover or too ill to move, I'm bouncing off the walls—so boredom escapes me, clearly. But it is comforting to know that, someday, I'll have a small friend who looks up to me and my Popeye's napkins, and who doesn't loathe me completely. I just want the little homie to always have plenty of real tissues and medicine to wake up to whenever he's sick.
We'll figure the rest out as we go along.