The Cool Dad

The Cool Dad

David Himmel, Columnist, Chicago Health magazine I like to think of myself as a man of action. Drop me in any situation that needs some doing or sorting out, and I’ll confidently dive head first into the challenge. I’ll sweat, I’ll stress, but I’ll take care of business. 

Anticipation is where I struggle. The ignorance of life’s changes is where the crippling anxiety festers, causing me to brood under a cloud of mope and panic. Such was my condition throughout my wife Katie’s pregnancy. 

Prenatal panic

I documented my trepidation of parenthood in this column a year and a half ago. While our son was a bun in Katie’s oven, I could not focus on anything more than my fears of the kid’s health and what his life would be like. I also made great fuss over having to trade in my home office for a nursery, as well as my money and time and energy. Katie was growing a little baby inside and living with a great big one outside. 

I put myself into therapy during the pregnancy and remain a loyal patient today. The root issues I discuss there are not all that different from those discussed with a handful of therapists before, though the details vary: I’m married now, a father, work has evolved. But previous therapeutic attempts did not curb my natural way of creating internal crises. I found myself right where I’ve always been: whacked out and panicked from overthinking about the unknown. 

My current therapist, Kevin Crystal, LCPC, has helped me get out of my own way, specifically as it relates to being a dad. 

“Your anticipation of a major life-changing event and your inability to control it activated your tendency to overthink, panic and catastrophize it,” Crystal says. “Once the task of parenting became a reality, your ability to plan, rationalize and care created a confident parent.” 

He’s right. The moment Katie went into labor, all my worry went away. It was go time. 

Becoming a dad

I am confident now, though not overly so. I still have the worries every parent has: my son’s health, how we’ll afford raising him, how we’ll help him grow to be a beneficial and productive member of society. I’m far from perfect, but these things don’t get me down. My wife may disagree to some degree with what I’m about to say, but when parenting gets harried, I’m the coolest dad in our house. 

Thankfully, my wife is an incredible mother. Thanks to her natural inclinations, our little family unit operates with Germanic discipline. Or at least as much as a family with a 1½-year-old child, a 1-year-old puppy and two freelancing parents can. 

Sometimes Katie stresses out. She doubts herself and me and our ability to do the right thing for our child (and dog). I do not. Not for a moment. I know we’ve got this. 

In a way, she and I have traded roles from pregnancy to parenthood. However, her moments of panic pale in comparison to my borderline destructive fits from two years ago. And that speaks to her resilience and talents as a mother, a wife and a human. 

Stepping up

As for me? I let life happen. Let terrible things take form. We’ll figure it out. There’s no other choice. I’m better equipped now to look through the cloud of mope and panic to see the brightness we can enjoy. It helps that our son is healthy, happy and, so far, pretty likeable. 

At the time of this writing, Katie and I are in no hurry to add another small thing in need of constant care and potty training into our lives. But I can say that I’d welcome another pregnancy with open arms and a mile-wide grin. Another baby would still be a huge life event of uncertainty, but so what? That’s life. What good would life be without the huge events? Life isn’t much fun if you spend too much time thinking about it. 

Cool dads don’t think. Cool dads do. And a cool dad also lets the kids’ mom know how amazing she is and that he owes her big time.

Originally published in the Fall 2019/Winter 2020 print issue