5:05 A.M.

I wake up, groggy and sore, on something the hospital staff described as a bed. Honestly, I don’t know what it is… a board? Concrete, cleverly disguised as a wanna-be couch? Okay, fine. It’s a bed, or the closest thing to it that I’ll have for a long while now.

Across the room, my ferocious wife is drifting in and out of sleep. I think to myself, contemplating how tough she is, having endured so much for this pregnancy already: weeks of prodromal labor, frustrating aches and pains, morning sickness that never left. I can’t think of anyone I know who is tougher: seriously, this woman is like a galvanized nail; resistant to corrosion on the surface, and underneath, a hard, steel center.

And yet, she is gentle. How can these traits can coexist within a single being, especially when all of them have such potency?

How we got here, to the moments before our daughter’s arrival, I’ll never know. The months of pregnancy itself, planning, celebrating with friends — every moment seems to have passed rapidly, in episodic fast-forward. The most impactful ones stay only slightly longer, but in the end, all of them will, and must, pass. The time we realized that our third child, a beautiful daughter, was conceived. The surprise baby shower, thrown by co-workers from another dimension, one far-more-positive than our own. The false starts, and fake-outs; which involved several frustrating trips to the hospital only to be sent home. Everything matters. Everything is sacred. Remember it. Catalog it. For one day, twenty-odd years in the future, when the world is even more jaded than it is today, these words will matter somehow, to someone — to a person who I miss so much, and yet, have never met.

This wonderful little girl is the first child who will make it into our arms, rather than being lost somewhere in the in-between. I will never forget, but I also can’t dwell here. This isn’t a place that I should inhabit permanently, but certainly not now.

1:00 AM

Just hours before, I was attempting sleep. I say “attempting,” because it’s a joke. Really, any parent will tell you that. I now know, first hand, how true their admissions are.

You expect that it’s all an act: like bearing and rearing children has somehow worn down their sense of humor, and self-deprecation is all they have left. But from my keyboard to your head, it’s real. If you haven’t experienced this, get ready. This is future me, beaming a message back in time: never think you can’t rest. Take the afternoon off work. Don’t handle the banking crisis, or write a single line of code. You’re done here, dude. Act like it.

Hang up the phone, and walk to bed: your bed, because you’ll be praying to a god you no longer believe in very, very soon. And just like you, he doesn’t give a damn. Sleep, despite how badly you need it, is the last thing on your mind.

Oh, look. Music. Past me presses play, and out of my headphones roars a familiar sound, “Love in the year three-thousand… Love in the year three-thousand…" Why is this so applicable? It’s Fred Schneider, band-leader and vocalist of the venerable new-wave band, The B52s. He proceeds to sing about the oddly futuristic concept of sex bots (even our world has some variant of them now). Strangely, in this worn, sleep-deprived state, I need nothing more than a good party record.

I’m dozing in the corner. My wife is still across the room, relaxing as she can. This is a hospital after all, and we’re here to welcome our first child. Adrenaline rushes as this thought passes, and I’m once again incapable of sleep.

5:30 AM

After a wild awakening, it’s time to get coffee. Against weakness, there is no better combatant than caffeine; the chosen poison of gods, men, and programmers. After navigating the maze of construction-related walkways, I think to myself in a humorous fashion: I am all three. Upon entering the local Au Bon Pain, I quickly realize, as I stand there blank-faced and confused, that without caffeine, I am none of those things. I’m just a man, a very tired man, looking for a fix.

I pass my credit card to the cashier, who graciously helps me bag my sandwich and cinnamon roll. “Is this your first child?” she probes. This question heads straight into my soul. “Yeah, how did you know?” (Do I have that first time father kind of look? Maybe it’s the frazzled, half-ignored haircut of mine. What about the baggy, dark circles under my eyes? Yep. That’s the Dad inside talking.) I snap back to reality, just in time to hear, “…something told me. It’s the look, the anxiousness.” I thank her and turn to leave, but first, I stop. “It helps,” I say, to realize someone else is looking out for my tired, expressionless self.

Walking back to our room, I think of airplane rides where my mouth is a propellor. I think of a little girl and her first words… I wish again, internally of course, that she’ll love me. That I’m preparing to not just be a father, but a Dad. There’s a difference, you see. Any one with the biological drive, pounding hard enough, can be a father. But it takes guts, determination, and most of all, a unique combination of love, gentleness, and strength to be a Dad.

Being a Dad means that you fight for your partner and children, like your life depended on it. And in some, far-off and unrecognizable scenario, it does.

The fact that one day, my dearest daughter will call me Dad, I hope, fills my heart with joy. Even before her lips are able to assemble recognizable utterances into speech, and speech into ideas: she’ll look into my eyes and see love. She’ll see support, and know that no matter who she grows up to be, I’ll still be Dad. A man, and yes, just a man — no matter how superhuman she may mistake me for being — who loves her forever. Period. Always.

6:33 AM

The caffeine is kicking in. I’m making jokes on Twitter, while writing this missive to my future self and changing family, which will be expanding shortly.

How did I get here? What does Dadhood hold? How can I have so many questions, and yet, be comfortable without answers? This is the greatest paradox I’ve ever known. It isn’t without struggle, no, far from it. But in the midst of a swirling pool of turmoil that is dark and powerful, I’m standing in the center: weightless, suspended by a unseen force. Nothing else matters.

I should be worried, or so I’m told. I’m not. I can’t fret about the future, and nor should I. We are in a medical center with one of the best patient care records in the country, bar none. The staff is understanding, patient and kind. I’m here as a support system for my wife and child, not as their advocate; a warrior who must routinely become enraged on their behalf. This, I surmise, is why I can live in the now.

I’m mere hours away from holding my daughter. From seeing her take that first breath… and it feels good. I’ve been mentally preparing for this moment all of my life. I will cry, and no part of my manliness will be lost. Just seeing her little bed at home made me do so, with big tears, already.

If you’ve met me in person, you know I’m not the smallest guy. I’m 6'4”, somewhere north of 200 pounds, and I rock a mohawk. But contrary to the folks who shy away from me on the bus, that isn’t the fullness of my identity. The way I look, and clothes I wear do not make me.

She is tiny, I am big. The “gentle giant,” is here to protect his little girl, who isn’t much bigger than my two hands. Believe me, I will.

I’ve been practicing up on my Dad Humor, as if I needed to. I’ve been learning how to cry, to laugh, and be the man she needs me to become. I’m not there yet, but with this step, I’m on the right path.

The action will soon begin. That’s fine, I’m prepared. I’ve been readying myself by pouring thoughts out on this page, all one-thousand-four-hundred-forty of them. A new life starts now, and I’m ready for it.

Call me Dad, just for now.