The first part is easy, unless it's not. Which honestly, sets the tone for the rest of it. Fear comes next. Then excitement. Then fear.
Next you start asking yourself questions you never thought you'd ask. Am I enough for them? Can I be enough? What can I do to be enough? Was that enough? Will this be enough? Those questions never stop either, but don't worry. They pair nicely with the fear from the first paragraph. Next thing you know, they're older. There're two of them. One toddler, one in grade school.
You're older too.
You look at yourself in the mirror and it is still just you. You're still just a kid. You're still worried about what people think of you. You're still worried about kid things. But also money and food and making sure your kid's don't have eyes that are full of worry like the ones you're looking at in the mirror.
You close your eyes and hope when you open them again you will see a dad looking back, not a kid with graying hair. When you open them you're still there.
"Dad! I need to go potty!" There is a tiny hand pounding on the door.
Splash some water on your face. Go make lunch. Peanut butter and jelly. One kid likes triangles, the other one wants rectangles. One wants milk. One wants water, no ice please. Next, gold fish crackers and a string cheese. Pick two plates that are the same color. This will result in less fighting over who has the blue plate. Sit with them and ask them about their week.
"Annie wasn't being nice. She was tattling on everyone and she told me she wasn't my best friend."
"I am a dinosaur. RAAAAAWRR. DINOSAURS EAT PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!!"
After lunch, wrestle. You are a dinosaur now too. Attack, softly. When you flip him upside down place your hand below the back of his head so it doesn't smack against the hardwood. He doesn't know you're doing this. He thinks you're wrestling hard. He fights against you, pushes you over. Yells RAAAAAWRRRR!
Your daughter joins too. She is a pirate with a paper tube sword. She jumps into the tangle of laughs and screams, lands a blow across the side of your face and pauses in fear to see if she hurt you.
She didn't. You smile and tackle her. Remember the hand behind the head. Remember to be fierce AND soft. Remember to be a dad.
You are a T-Rex. He is a Steggysaurus. She is a pirate.
You are a dad.
After wrestling, he is coloring at the table. She is quiet and sitting by the window.
"Hey honey. Are you OK?"
She's not. You can see the tears in there.
"Annie said she wasn't my best friend."
Find words. Dads need words. You need to explain to her that Annie may have not have meant that. Explain that Annie is a kid, like her, and sometimes says things that she doesn't mean. Some kids are just mean. Some kids, like some adults just suck. Quick, find words to fix the tears that are starting to come out. Find words to make her better. Find words that will be enough. Will these be enough?
And you hug her. And you don't have words. You don't have anything but a grown up chest to pull her into, and hand to hold the back of her head while she makes little first-grade sobs that will leave a tiny teared face mark on your shirt.
That is what have, that and your questions. Is it enough? Are you enough?
Later, after a dinner with chicken nuggets and same-colored plates and milk and water without ice, it is time for bed. Your wife takes the boy and you take the girl. She needs to brush her teeth. You need to show her. Front, back, top and bottom.
"Dad! I have a loose tooth?"
"Oh yeah?" Wiggle it. It's not loose.
"Maybe. Let's give it some time. Hop in bed," you say.
"Can we play the story game?"
The "story game" is something you made up. She starts a story and then tags you in. You keep the story going for a bit and then tag her in, and so on and so forth until the story comes to its conclusion - usually with a party or a wedding or everyone getting eaten by a dinosaur.
"You start this time, daddy."
"Once upon a time there was a boy... OK, you're turn."
"No, keep going," she says.
"OK. Once upon a time there was a boy who was sad."
"Why was he sad?"
"Oh, just because sometimes people are sad."
"OK, keep going."
"So the boy decided to go on adventure to find his happy. He went to the desert and climbed mountains. He put ropes on and went into caves. He drove his car all over and lived in exciting places. He slept under a different sky every night."
"Was it enough? Was he happy?" She already knows the answer.
"Not yet, but soon. One day he met someone. A kind and friendly girl who looked at the world like it was exciting and new. OK you're turn."
"And then they got married. I know this story. You're turn."
"You're right. And then they got married."
"And then they made a baby, and that baby was me."
"We made you out of love."
"I know dad. You told me."
"I know. It's my favorite story. It's how a became a dad." you say.
"I'm glad you're my daddy."
"Me too, kiddo."
"And then they all got eaten by a dragon. The end."
She giggles. You tickle her. She giggles more.
You go upstairs where kid two is asleep. You kiss him on the forehead, and go to look for the kind and friendly girl who tied you to the world and kept you from flying away. She's downstairs reading.
"He go down OK?" You ask.
"Yep. Did she?"
"Yep. Let's go to bed. I'm tired."
Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Splash some water in your face. It's still you in the mirror.
This is how to be a dad:
Wake up. Do your best. Find the words when you can. Hug when you can't. Be a soft dinosaur. Tell stories. Be a team. Be enough.