As I’m sure you’ve realized by now, much of adulthood is different than childhood. Some of these changes aren’t an improvement (see: metabolism), but many are (see: being able to stay up late to see the end of the game).
Many of these changes are easily foreseen (and eagerly anticipated) from childhood (see: driving a car). Some others … not so much (see: the satisfaction of a home improvement activity completed successfully).
Into this latter category falls something that I’ve started calling Dad Joy. Yes, it’s kind of a lame name, but I think it captures a unique feeling of fatherhood. Let me explain.
When I was younger, having fun meant having something myself.
For example, if I was to enjoy dessert, I needed to have some (and preferably lots) myself. I received no pleasure from knowing that my siblings or parents also received a healthy serving of cake and ice cream. In fact, their gain often felt like my loss.
Similarly, if young me was to enjoy an experience, I needed to directly experience it myself. I needed to zip down the waterslide, kick the ball into the goal, feel the fish tugging on my line, or upgrade to hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. It was fine if my friends got to have their own waterslide laughs, soccer successes, angling triumphs, and board game victories … as long as I was getting my own.
Candidly, this me-at-the-center understanding of fun and enjoyment lasted through childhood and well into early adulthood … and then slowly began to crack. As it has cracked, I’ve learned that there’s something deeper and richer underneath. Though I knew happiness, there is a happiness deeper still which I did not know … and which I experience most often as Dad Joy.
I’m not exactly sure when I first noted the existence of Dad Joy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was when our oldest (then an infant) realized that being tickled is funny … and I started to laugh at her laughing. Why would tickling cause the tickler to laugh?
Dad Joy was certainly in the room when that little girl dared to stride across the living room carpet, trekking from the safety of mom’s hands to mine. She took steps on her own, she walked … and I couldn’t have been happier.
I felt it again when that toddler girl caught a ball for the first time. After countless failed attempts, her little hands closed at the right time and the ball came to rest in her grasp. She was thrilled, and her thrill gave me a thrill … Dad Joy.
After many such occurrences, I recognized and named this new type of happiness and that’s led to me spotting it with even more frequency. It’s there when—from the sideline of a low-key soccer game—I see my daughter position herself well and stop the opposing team’s breakaway. It’s there when I’m standing in the ankle-deep water at the beach, resisting the call of the breakers as I keep watch on my little people who are cackling at the fun of waves pushing them back and forth. It’s even there when I serve myself slightly less ice cream so the kids each are able to enjoy sizeable portions.
Dad Joy. Deep happiness and joy experienced because my children are happy and enjoying life. There’s power in naming it and something really special in recognizing and celebrating it. I’m confident that it’s a part of your fatherhood experience as well, and I hope it’s something that you too relish.
Photo by Kendal Wolgemuth.