The other night, in between my daughter's bath and bedtime stories, she and her mama were inspired. They picked out a dozen hair ties, along with an assortment of necklaces, bracelets and other accessories. By the time they were done, I had a dozen ponytails in my head.
I looked like Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black.
My daughter looked proud and happy.
"Daddy," she said before I turned out her light, her tone very serious, "you should take out your ponytails before you lay down."
I did as I was told.
This is National Infertility Awareness Week, which is sponsored by Resolve and designed to raise awareness not only about the struggles couples face with infertility but also the fact that most insurance policies don't cover infertility treatments. It's a chance to talk about something we don't talk about a lot, to say it out loud, because saying it out loud makes it OK. Saying it out loud helps you find people who will help you through this. People like us — my wife and I had our now 4 1/2-year-old daughter through IVF.
A lot of times, we focus on the journey to birth, the challenges and the trials of just getting there. It's good that we do, because that journey is long, the challenges are many, the trials are real. It's really, really hard to go through this. It was a long, challenging journey for us, and we were far more fortunate than so many couples.
But the journey to having a kid is only the start. Another journey follows. The stories of the initial journey are important to share. Talking about it out loud makes it OK, makes it easier. But to focus on the struggle is to at least partially miss the essential truth of the journey.
For men, the end goal we dream of, pray for, work toward in our team's infertility treatments, is becoming a dad.
And being a dad ... is awesome.
It really is. Being a dad is my favorite thing in the world. And being the dad to a girl? It's the best thing ever. It's a license to act silly in public (especially anywhere there is an abundance of Mean Girl Moms, which are the places I tend to encourage my daughter's weird even more).
My job as a dad is to show her my world but, more important, to let her discover her own world, to let her be the delightful little weirdo that she is. It's being able to introduce her to superheroes and get introduced to every Disney Junior character, and then mixing them together during playtime. (My kid's a hit a RocCon.) It's reading her books every night, and then seeing her face when we watched the first Harry Potter movie, seeing the characters from her imagination come to life on TV. It's taking her to her first real hockey game and playing "Where's the puck?" the entire second period, keeping the boredom at bay and teaching her to always pay attention. It's watching her learn how to read, which is like magic. It's exploring the new yard, where a stray leaf becomes The Mystical Leaf of Elderzaan, and adventure follows.
It's not all beer and Skittles. She's 4, which means she can be a little terrorist every now and then. But I've never thought of parenting as something that's particularly hard. Maybe that's because of the journey we took to get here. Parenting wasn't something that we happened on by chance. We chose to do this. We wanted to be parents. Compared with the fear and uncertainty of those years of treatments, having to tell her for the 50th time to stop jumping on the chair is a blessing. I don't say any of this to rub it in to anyone going through their own struggles. I say this emphasize that it's all worth it. It's so worth it. All of the struggle, the uncertainty, it can all lead to something that's even more awesome then you can possibly imagine. And that talking about it — saying it out loud, talking to people like us who've been there and had our own sounding boards, who know the struggle and know the rewards — is OK.
This summer, we're taking our daughter to her first concerts - her first three concerts, actually. We're going to see the Avett Brothers, our family's favorite band, in three cities. She holds few people in the kind of reverent awe that she holds Scott and Seth Avett. She'll be there with us, a part of our world and making this a part of her world, wearing headphones and a purple T-shirt with Avett Brothers lyrics on the back — lyrics that, more and more, define our lives.
Growing stronger and loud.
Growing. Stronger. And Loud.