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6 Things I Didn't Truly Appreciate Until I Became a Father

Photograph by Twenty20

1. Cheerios

It shames me to admit it now, but there was a time, not so long ago, when I did not think very highly of Cheerios. Oh sure, they may have been a rock-solid staple of American breakfasts for decades, but I found them terribly basic. As a child dazzled by cartoon mascots and the overdose levels of sugar they promised, Cheerios struck me as a boring food devoid of all the things that made life, and cereal, exciting: sugar Clusters and colorful, unusually shaped marshmallows and all the other things that hasten us to an early grave, but make our time on Earth just a little more bearable.

As a parent, however, I have a whole new attitude towards Cheerios. I now feel it is the perfect food. What I once saw as boring I now view as elegant in its simplicity. Cheerios was the perfect in-between food for my son, an essential culinary bridge between baby food and adult chow. Cheerios never seems to get stale, it never loses what little flavor it possesses, it never goes out of fashion. Oh sure, food tastes might change, the world may tremble with uncertainty, but Cheerios can always be relied upon. I know that now, but it took becoming a parent to open my eyes.

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2. YouTube

I have long viewed YouTube as one of the technological wonders of the modern world. It's a glorious, essential repository for all of the world's wisdom, and all of its art (with one or two exceptions.) But I never truly appreciated YouTube until I became a father and saw what a gloriously pacifying, even gently narcotizing tool this glowing, buzzing, singing, and best of all free babysitter it could be.

My wife discovered before I did how our one-year-old son's attention focuses with laser-like precision on our cell phones whenever we play a playlist of children's nursery rhymes. And here's the crazy thing: it doesn't matter what particular production plays; no, as long as there are children's songs and colorful animation, he is innately riveted and will watch quietly for minutes at a time.This contraption's hold over my son's psyche concerns me a little bit as well, but not as much as it would if I didn't find the lilting British accents and gentle folk stylings of his favorite YouTube children songs clips hypnotic as well.

3. The Genius of Consumer Products

As a left-leaning adult who views capitalism with skepticism, if not downright contempt, I have a complicated relationship with consumerism and consumer goods. We simply don't need most of the stuff society insists are essential to our long-term happiness and contentment but when I visited Toys R Us recently I was astounded and overwhelmed at the genius, variety and sophistication of contemporary toys and gizmos.

Yes, I didn't think it was possible, but it appears that toy scientists have somehow improved on the Super Nintendo technology of my youth. These days, it seems like powerful robots lurk inside every toy made for children but it's not just high-tech gizmos that impress me anew as a dad. I've also picked up a new appreciation for wooden toys and old-fashioned toys of all stripes. True, the powerful robotics behind, say, the new Star Wars remote control toys will eventually achieve sentience and destroy us all, but not before making our lives more fun and enjoyable. And isn't that what really matters? That we enjoy our few remaining years here on the planet before the robots kill us all.

When I married my wife, I knew that I was marrying into a wonderful family, but I did not realize, or appreciate just how wonderful of a family I was joining until my son was born

4. Extended Family

When I married my wife, I knew that I was marrying into a wonderful family, but I did not realize, or appreciate just how wonderful of a family I was joining until my son was born and his grandmother became like a second mother to him, an adoring, ever-present force for good in his life and ours. It's easy to take extended family for granted, to see family as a gauntlet of obligation and responsibilities, but in the case of my wife's family, they give so much more than they receive. I've achieved a new appreciation for my own extended family—it's remarkable how a baby's smile can melt old resentments and allow you to see the best in people.

5. My Wife

Not long after we met, my wife told me that she felt that she was put on earth to be a mother. Having seen her incredible maternal qualities in action, I had no reason to doubt that, but even I had no conception of just what a remarkable mother she would one day become. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God that I have wife who derives such palpable, infectious joy from being a mother. I am perpetually grateful that I have a wife who makes being a father so easy and so filled with happiness and purpose.

The love that my wife has for my son radiates from every pore of her being. People talk about pregnant women emitting a heavenly glow. My wife's pregnancy was beyond miserable but every time she is in my son's presence she glows, and my son glows with delight in return. It is an enduring source of happiness to watch them together, and while I like to think I've always appreciated my wife (although, like everyone, I have my lapses) I have never appreciated her more than after we entered the sacred responsibility of parenthood together.

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6. Life Itself

Before I was a father I lived like an animal. I littered regularly, jay-walked as if there was no tomorrow and regularly looked at my phone during movies. Life was a precious, precious gift that was, alas, wasted on me. That all changed when I became a father, however. Life was no longer some weird Secret Santa gift I had no idea what to do with and contemplating throwing into the trash. No, now life was rich with meaning and purpose.

My son has connected me to a sense of appreciation and joy I felt was gone forever, if I had ever had it in the first place. I see the world through his eyes, and the universe has never seen more glorious, more special, or more bursting with rapturous potential than it does when refracted through my son's irrepressible love for life. Merely being alive is enough to make my son deliriously happy, and that happiness has made me appreciate everything so much more, from breakfast cereals I previously dismissed to the infinite splendor of existence.

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