FF: Describe your family.
JS: I like to think of my family as ‘typical,’ though I’m sure most people think the same of theirs, no matter how that looks. My wife, Annie, an educator in Chicago Public Schools, originally hails from Western Kentucky. We’ve been married 4 1/2 years now, and we live in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago. I am a white boy from the Chicago suburbs (though I try my best to dispel such notions) who transplanted to the city about 5 years ago. I work from home as a freelance market research analyst. Back in July, we welcomed our daughter Lisa into the world. She is now 7 months old, and ready to tackle anything—a trait we like to encourage in her. We also have two cats: Leroy (aka “Fats”) and Bianca. They have been surprisingly good with the transition from being the ‘kitty-babies’ to simply being pets who don’t get the attention they were accustomed to. They also have a healthy sense of anxiety around Lisa—she likes to grab and pull their fur, and they like to run away from her before she gets the chance.
As funny as it is for me to say it, we’re one of those ‘crunchy’ families. We (Annie, really) had an unmedicated home birth; we use cloth diapers; and we do a bunch of other ‘crunchy’ things. Annie is all about it because it’s healthier, better for the environment, etc. I’m mostly on board because it’s so much cheaper! Instead of buying 3500+ diapers for a kid through potty training, we have about 25 cloth diapers (and we can re-use them if/when we have more kids!). Instead of having to haul around formula, bottles, find a way to heat water, etc, Annie can just feed her at the “milk bar.” Plus, since we nurse, it means I don’t have to get up as much in the night!
FF: How has fatherhood changed you?
JS: I used to get very little sleep because I didn’t need it and wasn’t tired. Now, I need more sleep than I’m getting, and my waking time is not all by choice. In a deeper sense, I worry more and hope more. I worry about the world in which my little girl is growing up. I wonder if our culture will twist her sense of beauty and self-worth, or even cause her to think that her value is only found in her appearance. I worry about whether gender stereotypes will limit her notions of what she can do–if she feels forced to wear pink and love princesses and unable to wear lab coats or be an astronaut. I worry about the gangs in our neighborhood and find myself paying attention to the tags, hoping that the most recent dis won’t be cause for shootings when the weather warms. I find myself encouraged by the neighborhood school (where I’m already involved as an LSC member), which is fantastic. I worry about the potential for flooding in the condo we’re about to buy, and trust that there isn’t harmful mold hiding under the carpets.
But I have hope too. I have hope that she will be a friend to others. I have hope that she will love the Lord. I have hope that somehow, my muddling fathering will help guide her into a full and vibrant person. I have hope that she will be an advocate for positive change in her world. I have hope that the best thing I can do–the strongest vote I can make and the loudest voice I can raise–is to trust that by bringing a life into the world, I am making the world better.
FF: What mistakes have you made as a dad? Name at least one and talk about what it meant to you.
JS: I think the greatest mistake I’ve made thus far is not investing enough time in my relationship with my wife over the past 7 months. We’ve both been busy with the routine of taking care of Lisa, preparing for the next day, working, and trying to find a moment of sleep to overcome exhaustion. We’ve not spent enough time on dates. We’ve not spent enough time just talking to each other. Because of this, our relationship has suffered–not in serious ways, but in subtle ones that lurk beneath the surface. I don’t ever want to get to a point, even years from now, where our lack of connection with each other causes us to have distance. And the better we are as husband and wife, the better we are/will be as parents. We’re certainly nowhere close to this yet, but I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a home where good, healthy relationships aren’t being modeled for her. (Did I mention that I worry more these days?)
FF: What’s the most helpful advice you heard when you were becoming a father or advice you’ve gained since you’ve been a father?
JS: As soon as you find out you’re going to be a dad, start sleeping as much as you can. You’ll be glad for it later.
The best advice I’ve figured out since I’ve been a father is to get in your baby’s face. Let them feel your face and pull your hair and slobber on your nose. Blow raspberries on their belly and listen to them laugh. Sing to them. There is nothing more joyful and wonderful and awe-inspiring as seeing your child–this creature that was so utterly helpless and dependent–begin to respond to you and interact with you. Even before they have language, a kid will express so much emotion and share her love to you as a parent. Get close, and soak in as much of it as you can.
FF: How do you attend to your relationship with your wife outside of your being parents, and has parenting changed your marriage?
JS: Hah! I didn’t read ahead, and I feel like I already answered this one above. Parenting has definitely changed our marriage, simply by refocusing our attention on the little one rather than on ourselves. It’s so much *effort* to get away on our own, and so much of our lives are dictated by the baby’s schedule. Even when we do manage dates, there’s a sense of urgency to get back home to the baby, rather than linger and simply sit and enjoy each others’ company.
FF: Talk about the role you want to play in teaching your daughter. I imagine Annie will be a good educator to her, since she is an educator, but how have you taught her. How do you hope to?
JS: I read to her. Probably not often enough, though she’s usually more interested in eating the pages than looking at the pictures. Her favorite books at the moment are “Moo, Baa, La La La,” “Oso Pardo, Oso Pardo, Que Ves Ahi?” and “Daddy and Me”. I love reading to her. Whenever I go on walks with her, I try to point out and talk about the things I see–dogs and trees and stores and cars and whatever else is around. She is wonderfully alert and just loves to take it all in.I must say, the notion of “teaching” Lisa seems a bit funny at this point. Most of her ‘learning’ is just a matter of her figuring out the world around her and how she can interact with it. My role in teaching her that sort of thing is more just a matter of exposing her to new situations, people, and things, and letting her figure it out. She has a wonderful ability to study objects in a measured way before picking them up or moving them or whatever she wants to do. She’s very thoughtful and deliberate; I don’t have to do much except get out of her way.
As she gets older, I hope to teach her in so many ways. I hope to teach her to be kind, loving, compassionate, encouraging, and friendly. I hope to help her gain a sense of God in her life. I hope to help her find the rhythms of family and spirituality by establishing traditions and sticking to them. When she gets to school age, I hope to help her with her homework and look for ways to challenge her and push her even more. I hope to expose her to a wide range of ideas and people and experiences and places. I hope to teach her to love the outcast, to be compassionate to the people around her to suffer. I could go on…
FF: What surprises are there along the way for parents? What do you wish you were told to expect?
JS: Well, there’s always the explosive poop while the diaper is off and baby is on the changing table. That’s always surprising.
I wish I had been told to expect that relationships would be so much harder to sustain after the baby comes. In the past 7 months of parenthood, I have not spent nearly enough time with my friends. Nor has Annie. As wonderful as it is to be a parent, there’s a sense of loss when it comes to the freedom I used to have to spend time with friends. If you can, really cultivate deep friendships with friends and get them used to coming to your home. It will be so much easier to maintain friendships if it’s already ‘normal’ for them to reach out to you and to come to you than it is to a) remember that you have friends you haven’t seen in a while, b) figure out when you can schedule to meet them, and c) actually muster the energy to pack up baby’s stuff, leave the house, and visit for a short while. If you think it’s hard to see your friends now, it’s 5 times harder once you’ve got a baby. Be intentional about your friends.FF: What is one recent memory you made with your child?JS: Every moment is a memory I’d love to hold on to. But one that feels especially cool at the moment is from last week. I had put Lisa in a sitting position in her crib for a moment while I went to prepare a diaper for her. A moment after I put her down, she grabbed the rail of the crib and pulled herself into a standing position–the first time she stood up completely on her own! I was simply shocked, but had the presence of mind to grab my mobile phone and shoot a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoJUZyMbIls) when she did it a second time a few moments later. Such a great moment of pride for me (look how much she’s progressing!) and a cool ‘first’ for her!