They say immersion journalism is dead, but I just might have proven them wrong. The night before I wrote this column, I took on a most unfamiliar role, one my wife has been playing for the past two months: waking up in the night to take care of our baby son. We recently started bottle-feeding him, which allowed me to overcome my, er, biological inabilities in this department. This won’t be so bad, I thought around 5 a.m., as I sat in the dark while he cooed and sucked down formula.

Cut to an hour later...

They say immersion journalism is dead, but I just might have proven them wrong. The night before I wrote this column, I took on a most unfamiliar role, one my wife has been playing for the past two months: waking up in the night to take care of our baby son. We recently started bottle-feeding him, which allowed me to overcome my, er, biological inabilities in this department. This won’t be so bad, I thought around 5 a.m., as I sat in the dark while he cooed and sucked down formula.

Cut to an hour later as I lay in bed, my mind churning through the latest NFL trades. While my wife can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I have a giant spinning turbine of an overactive imagination. Once I’m up, I’m up — and then the birds started chirping, the sunlight glowed through the blinds, Tommy cried for more. My wife got about nine hours of sleep; I got three.

It seems trite to point this out — it’s even dawned on Sheryl Sandberg by now — but mothers are absolutely heroic. The sheer attention demanded by a wailing, bewildered, helpless newborn makes all the corporate meetings and filing deadlines in the world look like half a game of Yahtzee. Meanwhile we fathers are not nearly so lionized. The average dad is portrayed in popular culture as either a dangerous idiot à la Peter Griffin or a mid-life cornball like Phil Dunphy. He’s the guy from every 1990s commercial that the comedian Nick Di Paolo used to parody: ‘America Online, so easy even Dad can use it!’ (Di Paolo’s follow-up: ‘Oh you mean the guy who bought you the computer?’)

That stereotype can be annoying, but you understand it better when you become a father. To be a dad, frankly, is to sometimes feel hapless, or at least peripheral. It isn’t your birth canal that just pushed out that soccer ball, after all. You can’t breastfeed (though I’m assured that our woke social engineers are hard at work on this problem). And while you might play with him, make him laugh, read him Goodnight Moon so many times you start typing the damned words into the prompts on your tax forms, there is something about the bond between a mother and a child that can occasionally make Dad feel sidelined.

In this respect, fathers become all too aware of the differences between the sexes. Don’t get me wrong: like all right-thinking people, I believe both that there are no such thing as genders and that there are 521 of them. I consider my own sexuality to be a journey; I fully expect by the time we have our second child to have transitioned into a Latinx cystic fibrotic dilophosaurus. But in the meantime, it’s become annoyingly plain that the current roles are fixed. I’m a man. My wife is a woman. There may even be something complementary about the two of us. Who knew?

Some say you grow more socially conservative when you become a parent; others claim you tilt liberal as you watch your kids screw up and necessarily deepen your tolerance. For now, put me in the first camp, and not just because I’m engaging in wrongthink about gender roles. The idea of abortion sickens me even more than it ever has; I don’t so much as want to think about it anymore. And mark me down as mildly irritated that I’m going to have to shell out money for Catholic school here in blue-state America lest some kindergarten teacher start haranguing my little tyke over his white fragility because he accidentally fell off the monkey bars.

Still, at least paying outrageous tuition bills is one way I can help narrow that gender gap. Fatherly inadequacy does seem to wear off bit by bit, as your child grins at the faces you make, waves his arms while he’s sitting in the high chair you built, slurps down the bottle as quickly as the breast milk. You start to feel more essential. As a dad, it’s all about finding solace in the small things. It’s remarkable how listless I can feel writing about political issues that affect millions of people yet find absolute contentment in successfully zipping up some footie pajamas over a pair of flailing legs. And while I have strong opinions about the tax code, it’s nothing compared to my almost violent preference for Luvs over Huggies. There really is no limit to the ways in which the concrete is better than the abstract, the familial is better than the impersonal. And coming off of a dreary quarantine, that’s all the more true.

Everyone I talk to says the same thing: being a parent isn’t easy, but it’s also the best sacrifice you’ll ever make. It inevitably encroaches on the other things you love, forces changes where you may not want to make them. I don’t read as often as I used to and the evening’s alcohol intake has been tragically reduced. I also know that I’m going to have to stop swearing at some point in case he overhears. Yet what better reason could there be for a little abstaining? Weight loss? Please. Parenthood might be the only good excuse for wholesome living.

Still, self-improvement has its limits. I’m on my second mug of coffee right now and I’m not about to stop anytime soon. Tommy, meanwhile, is passed out in his crib. I give him 10 minutes.