Don’t worry, this is not a saccharin sweet ode to fatherhood. I have two sons ages 8 and 9 (they were ages 0 and 1 when the lab started). They frequently drive me crazy.
I went into fatherhood somewhat indifferent to the prospect. If my wife had told me after the wedding that she had changed her mind and no longer wanted kids, I think I would have been okay with it. Talk about the one species that does not need to propagated on this overcrowded planet.
Now, those two are so entwined into my consciousness that I cannot imagine life without them. I have changed more than a thousand diapers (not a big deal), stayed up many nights (far fewer than my wife) and thanks to my mutant “morning person” older son, I have not slept-in a single day since they were born. I have started virtually every day with them since they were born, getting them dressed and fed, and driving them to school/daycare. I also pick them up at the end of the day and make them dinner a couple of nights a week and help with the chaotic routine of getting them to bed on most nights.
I cannot point to one specific aspect of any of our routines that is all that enjoyable. A lot of it is painful. They can be completely unreasonable. They whine and fight. They cause confusion and delay (a deadly sin according to Sir Topham Hat).
And yet. Somehow, fully engaging in the routines of their lives has made mine more enjoyable and meaningful. It does not add up—a bunch of activities that I mostly do not enjoy are collectively enjoyable? So much for being an indifferent father.
So I will go on rounding them up and take them in for as long as they will let me. And I will continue to yell at them, try in vain to make them more efficient and try to force-feed them food that no reasonable person would think to refuse in the first place. I will continue to break up their fights and dispense justice. And someday soon, before I know it, they won’t care for my participation and I’ll have to relearn my life how to be happy without the intense, hands-on involvement. (I was happy before they came along, so I know it can be done. It’s just been a while.)
There are many parallels between parenting and taking trainees (grad students, post-docs, clinical fellows, etc.). It is possible to run a highly productive lab without trainees (just hire experienced staff). Many of the tasks that go with having trainees are tedious—committee meetings, prelims, and the constant reminders and the long unproductive periods as new skills are learned. And yet, I cannot imagine lab life without trainees. The lab would be less fun and somewhere in all the sometimes annoying rites of passage are the foundations that give our work meaning. One of the great pleasures is watching trainees come in knowing very little and leave as world experts. The best part is we can keep taking trainees for as long as we want (and are funded).