by Scott Beller
DCG Director of Communications and Daddying Editor
Becoming a father was a long time coming for me. Excruciatingly long, if you had asked my mom.
I was 38 when my daughter Morgan was born. Even though I had decades of mental preparation, experience caring for kids of all ages, and I’d even thumbed through What To Expect When You’re Expecting more than a few times, nothing had quite prepared me for the immediate, constant, but infinitely gratifying responsibility of nurturing another life I’d helped create.
Facing so many unknowns as a first-time, expectant father, I did what most dads do. I focused my energy on getting our 1940s-era house ready and making it as safe, clean, and comfortable as possible for my wife and our baby. Patching, painting, and decorating Morgan’s nursery and baby-proofing everything had been put on hold until I first repaired and refinished our basement, which had flooded in the summer of 2006. Once the New Year rolled around and we learned we were having a baby, the countdown clock was ticking.
In the middle of my DIY renovation-palooza, we had a couple of baby false alarms (as opposed to the actual alarm when I gouged my finger to the bone while cutting drywall and drove myself to the ER for stitches). During one particular late-afternoon emergency, my wife came home from work with possible symptoms of early labor. I was in the attic running a vacuum after installing new insulation, and she couldn’t find me. She was in pain, her symptoms would not subside, and she couldn’t reach her OB/GYN.
Coated in dust and insulation, I drove her to the hospital. Thankfully, after several hours on IV fluids, my wife’s contractions finally subsided. But on the way there, all that kept running through my mind was: The house isn’t ready for this…am I ready for this?
More than just providing her a safe home, I wanted my baby girl to have the kind of dad I wish I had growing up. I didn’t know yet that in just being there with my wife for my daughter’s birth, I was already on the right path.
At 7:58 a.m., on Friday, September 21, 2007, Morgan was born right on C-section schedule. When I picked her up and held her to my heart for the first time, I was a bit surprised to find that seven pounds, seven ounces could weigh so much and yet hardly anything at all. She instantly rewrote and taught me the true meanings of "joy," "purpose," and “unconditional.”
I had never been more nervous, more humbled, or more fulfilled than I was on that first day. Changing a newborn’s diaper on zero sleep will do that to you. But I also learned that no matter how exhausted or frustrated or helpless I felt, I would always be able to find more love to give her.
And that’s an important lesson I know I’ll have to remember as my firstborn now embarks on her teenage years. While I’m still trying to make everything just right for her, I'm sure she’ll try my patience in ways I can't yet fathom. But in those times, I will draw on a treasure trove of memories from when it was just the two of us navigating through the early, stay-at-home-dad, flying-by-the-seat-of-my-cargo-pants years while her mommy was at work:
Just holding her, talking to her, and enjoying the closeness and connection
Figuring out the perfect bottle assembly and breast milk thaw-n-serve process
Reading and re-reading our vast library of Dr. Seuss and Sandra Boynton books
Walking her around “the loop” from our kitchen through our living and dining rooms and back again, pausing each time in front of the microwave so she could see and laugh at her reflection
Tummy time, watching her learn to roll over, rotate like a compass needle, and crawl
Building the perfect, daddy- and baby-friendly playlist and dancing the (seemingly) long days away
Learning which floorboards to avoid stepping on at naptime and bedtime in order to stealth out of her room (SPOILER: all of them)
Graduating to solid foods and feeding her lunches – first the grains, then grains mixed with Gerber, then sliced fruits, veggies, and some kind of protein. Her leftovers being my lunch!
Our first tentative strolls through the neighborhood (I was afraid to stray too far from the comfort of home), around the high school track, and daily trips to our local park for sandbox, slides, playhouses, and bucket swings
Music/dance classes and other indoor playgrounds (and being the only daddy there)
Spur of the moment photoshoots
Finding new, creative, indoor and outdoor activities/objects to spark her imagination and watching her discover the world around her
Trips to National Airport to frolic in the dandelions and watch the planes land from Gravelly Point
Helping her activate all the animated features on her bouncy seat mobile and exer-saucer
Her first beach vacation
Watching her entertain herself (and me) by unloading and restocking my office bookshelves again and again
Drop-offs at and pick-ups from preschool
My first solo voyage with her to Busch Gardens, playing at Sesame Street's Forest of Fun, riding the carousel and little swings, and changing her diaper on the Festhaus men's room sink.
For a while, I was terrified to take Morgan out in public for too long. Afraid to be caught unprepared, far from home, and having to change a diaper in public (and have a similar disaster as I had a couple of years later with her little sister). But the more activities and playdates I added to my repertoire, the more confidence I gained. As a bonus, I soon met and made fast friends with other home-based dads in my neighborhood, to whom I could relate and talk about our experiences.
From the moment I saw and heard Morgan first cry out in that stark white delivery room, I began to understand that being a parent and a positive influence in her life would require more than just “wanting it.” The love, adoration, and urge to protect her came easily, instinctively. The vigilance, endurance, and on-the-job improv would be where the real work came into play.
As DCG founder Allan Shedlin often reminds me, being a father is easy. But being a dad takes an active, lifelong commitment to your child's physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and moral well-being. A dad's work begins with the vow every father makes to stay involved after witnessing the birth of his child and continues for two lifetimes – yours and theirs.
Now, 13 years later, I am proud to witness Morgan becoming her own person, finding and embracing her strengths, her voice, her creativity and style, her independence, and her ability to make more decisions on her own (while navigating the consequences, positive and negative). Even though my newly-certified Tae Kwon Do black belt is better equipped to take care of herself than ever, I strive to keep my delivery-room promise every day: to be there whenever and however she needs me.
She is the one that made me a dad. Then she made me a more confident dad.
Happy birthday, Morgie! Your Daddy loves you beyond words. And no matter how old you get or where you may go in life, I hope you know I'm proud to be your dad and I’ll always be here for you, holding you close to my heart.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, and also Editor of the Daddying blog, and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.