It should have been my SECOND Father’s Day. Noe’s due date was on June 13th of last year and Father’s Day landed on the 19th. Noe didn’t arrive on his due date, but Lori went into labor a few days later in the early morning hours of Father’s Day. At around 2am, I awoke to find myself alone in our tiny bedroom in our small downtown Portland apartment. Lori was in the next room timing contractions. “Happy Father’s Day!” she said, “You’re going to be a daddy!”
At the time, none of us had any clue it would be another 52 hours until we’d be introduced to Mr. Noe, and even then, only by brute force. The dude wasn’t coming out for nothin’. And that was just a little under a year ago.
A bit has changed since then. For one, we don’t live in Portland, and saffron-clad monks and guys with horses have replaced bearded and bespeckled hipsters and mentally ill street dwellers.
And Two, we have a quasi-one-year-old who has added to our lives in ways we could’ve only imagined a year ago.
It’s fun being a dad. It’s hard being a dad. A quasi-toddler demands a lot from you. But you also get a lot in return in snuggles, peek-a-boos, only-for-daddy smiles, and only-for-daddy-tears. There are also the intangibles, which are of course harder to quantify, but no less meaningful.
Moving to a new place in an under-industrialized country halfway around the world from our family and friends with a three-month old, to start a new job, move into a new house and neighborhood, learn a new language and culture, and figure out how to be parents, all at the same time, is the hardest thing either of us have ever done…and we’ve willingly and unwillingly subjected ourselves to some hard stuff over the years. For myself (and I know Lori feels similarly), raising Noe through this first year, with all of its challenges, has also been the single most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. He’s turning into a special little guy for which I’m already immensely proud, even if he puts us through hell at times.
Over this past year, some of our family and friends who know us well have asked me, “What do you think about being a dad?” And, honestly, I don’t know how to answer that. At least not succinctly. It’s like people asking me, “Did you like being a Peace Corps volunteer?” or “Did you have fun running your first marathon?” Those questions are virtually impossible to answer truthfully because the experience is too complex to be boiled down to one overarching sentiment. Some parts are good. Some parts are REALLY good. Others, well, others make you question how or why you got yourself into this situation in the first place. Being a dad is no different.
What is different about being a dad is I’m just getting started. Undoubtedly, my feelings will change and evolve in the coming decades. Also different are that after 26.2 miles, you finish a marathon, and after 24 months, you finish being a Peace Corps volunteer, and have the rest of your life to reflect upon the experience. But you never stop being a dad. Never. It’s not so much something you DO so much as who you are — though I believe what you do matters immensely.
Being a dad is also chock full of choices. For me, in particular, because I’m Noe’s primary caretaker throughout the week, my days are filled with choices. Do I play with Noe or do I try to get work done and have him play on his own? Do we brave the heat and go for an outing for new experiences and stimulation or have a day in for calm and consistency. Do I enforce boundaries Lori and I have established, or let one slip because he’s absolutely determined to pull all of the pillows and cushions off all the chairs and it’s not going to hurt him while keeping him busy for 15 minutes? Do I help him with something challenging or make him figure it out on his own?
And then, of course, there are the bigger choices we regularly encounter. Do we continue to have him go to daycare and playgroups a few times a week because he really enjoys it and it’s good for his social development, or, do we keep him away from other kids because he’s had four bouts of illness requiring antibiotics in a very short time? How do we mitigate the health hazards of living in a place like Vientiane, such as pollution, food borne illness, Dengue and infectious diseases, limited medical access? How do we “baby proof” a large house that is conspiring against us at every turn with all hardwood surfaces, stairs, furniture, sharp corners, screws and nails, and tropical pests and their left-behinds. Do we prioritize our relationship or prioritize Noe’s needs? Are we bringing too many of our Anglo-American biases and assumptions to our daily decisionmaking here in Laos or are we using cultural sensitivity and assimilation as an excuse to be lazy in our parenting?
We do our best, which is all I think any parent can do under any circumstance.
On Noe’s Due Date Day (June 13th), we celebrated with delivery from one of our favorite Indian joints here in Vientiane, Flavours and Spices. Just as we were sitting down, Lori mentioned how fitting it was that we were having Indian food because it’s what we had on his actual due date a year ago in Portland.
The Friday of Father’s Day weekend, we spent some time having locally-brewed Rock Brew at O’Grady’s while Noe amused himself (frustrated himself?) with a bubble baton of which he could not master, while biting off (and nearly swallowing!) a good chunk of that foam ball. Needless to say, he has lost his foam ball privileges and the bubble baton will not being coming out for a while.
Father’s Day morning was spent up at Ray’s Capitol Grille, chowing down on one Joe’s Special…
…and one tower of delicious coconut mango pancakes (with bacon!) — combined to make up my favorite breakfast in town.
Some down time on the hammock in the heat of the day, which did not go unnoticed by at least one other person in the house. He must have been standing there for five minutes before I noticed him peeking out the window.
How could I say no to that face on Father’s Day?
That evening, the three of us visited one of my favorite watering holes in town, aptly named the Beer House. I opted for something I’d never had, in a type of glass I’ve never tried while Noe busies himself with eating his dinner next to me.
When we returned home, we were greeted by this large lizard on the compound wall (note it’s size in comparison to the gecko on the left).
It’s the first time in a few years that I wasn’t able to spend Father’s Day with my own dad, which of course was hard (though we were able to have a nice long Skype with my parents and sister’s family, as well as Lori’s parents, of course).
It’s not easy missing out on milestones and holidays, but it’s something that Lori and I have grown accustomed to with our lifestyle, and we really work hard to make the time we do have together when we’re back in the States as worthwhile as possible. We’re firm believers in quality over quantity, knowing full and well that proximity to loved ones doesn’t automatically equate to meaningful experiences or lasting memories — and all too frequently results in complacency and procrastination.
Later this summer, we’ll be flying back to the U.S. for a while to spend time with our parents and see family and friends. It will have been about ten months since my parents saw Noe in person. Because our families live so close together, each side doesn’t often get exclusive time with us or Noe. Our plan is to spend four days with my parents in Tahoe and four days with Lori’s parents on the Oregon Coast, in addition to the time we’ll spend with both families in Roseburg. I know that Noe’s looking forward to seeing Nanny, Poppy, Grammy and Grampy as much as they are looking forward to seeing him (and us…oh, who am I kidding).