Dogs have been a big part of my life since 2008, when my wife, Tillie, and I rescued our first, a Boxer/Lab mix (or so they said) named Lexington, or Lex. Despite being named after a city in Kentucky, I call Lex my “Hoosier” because 1) he was born in Indiana, and 2) his story is one of a true underdog.
For one, by the time my wife and I drove from Cincinnati to Noblesville to rescue one of the adorable pups we saw on Petfinder, there was only one left: him. Plus, Lex was very timid around people, and he continued that with us. From hiding from houseguests to the infamous “poop-on-Dad-on-a-crowded-bridge-because-I’m-scared debacle of 2010,” Lex’s tendencies became frustrating. Lex himself didn’t frustrate us, but what did was the fact that people didn’t see the true side of Lex, one of love, humor, playfulness, and yes, ridiculousness. To combat our frustrations, we created Stuff My Dog Does to show the true side of Lex.
Two years later, our family grew with the addition of our Michigander, Leena, a rescued Vizsla/Lab mix (or so they say) from the Detroit area. If somebody told you that they found a person who looks just like you, has a very similar name and background, needs your help and lives nearby, you’d want to meet that person, right? Well, that’s the story of how Leena entered the Good household thanks to my dog-lovin’ sister, who told us about her; Petfinder; the wonderful people at Sandy’s Sanctuary; and a post to my Facebook wall.
Two weeks later, we had a Lex clone whose tendencies, name, and look were eerily similar to Lex’s. The dogs were a perfect match, and we took great pride in rescuing our second dog.
What I didn’t know about owning a second dog was that the frequency of the question, “When are you guys going to have a child?” would increase tenfold. Talk about pressure! A year later, Calvin was conceived.
I’ve always been one to embrace a new challenge or learn a new skill, but the thought of being a father scared me. I’d been a success raising two dogs, but their inability to tell you that you’re full of it can mask the reality of how you’re doing. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have that luxury with a small human who would eventually be able to use words.
As Tillie’s pregnancy progressed, I continued to put off actually learning how to be a father. On a business trip during month seven, I decided that I better start reading up on this fatherhood thing. What I didn’t realize was that the book What to Expect When You’re Expected: A Fetus’s Guide to the First Three Trimesters would have no educational value.
I pinned my final hope on learning how to be a father on a baby class at the hospital where Tillie would be giving birth. Whew, I’d finally learn the ropes … until Calvin decided to arrive a month early, two days before our scheduled class.
Five hours before Calvin’s unexpected birth, I was volunteering at a conference in Omaha, three hours from our home in Ames, Iowa. After a very necessary and to-the-point call from my loving mother-in-law after Tillie had begun having contractions, I was on the road.
Luckily, I took my mother-in-law’s advice to get home quickly, as Tillie’s water broke five minutes before I arrived home. After getting lost two minutes from my house (an early indication of daddy-brain) and being greeted by looks from Lex and Leena that screamed, “Dad, you better get your stuff together quickly,” Tillie and I rushed to the hospital. Two hours later, Calvin was born.
Things got very real very quickly when Calvin, upon seeing me for the first time, gave me this look:
It was a look I’ve since titled “Skepti-Cal.” I quickly learned that even my little guy was worried about my lack of preparation.
The next morning, I headed home to prepare the house for Calvin’s homecoming. See, Tillie and I had moved into our new house a mere two weeks earlier, and let’s just say that there were a few things that needed to be done.
Upon arriving home, Lex, Leena, and I huddled for what I called “a meeting of peanut-sized minds” to plan our strategy. Their affirmative head-tilts reassured me that they were there to assist.
After a failed attempt at training the dogs to put together the nursery …
… the dogs resorted to offerring moral support as I spent way too much time putting together the Pack ‘N’ Play. Construction has never been my strong point, as you can see.
During my many trips to and from the hospital to take care of business, Lex and Leena were my rocks. They helped ground the situation and lowered my anxiety of being unprepared as a father.
A few days later, Calvin came home. Lex and Leena greeted him with sniffs and whispers of “We’ve got your back.”
But their assistance did not end there. Here are four telling examples of how the dogs came to my aid:
1. I had no idea when to change Cal, but a prolonged sniff by Lex or Leena sent me the cue that the diaper was dirty.
2. The dogs took turns playing space heater and protector during the crazy hours of that first month, a period I like to call “parental hazing.”
3. Coach Lex and Leena modeled “Tummy Time” for Cal.
4) And Lex even performed a baptism of sorts:
Now, I know what you’re all thinking: Wow, Steve, all work no play anymore for these poor dogs. But rest assured that the dogs have received many benefits along the way, such as:
1. Tempur-Pedic comforts.
2. Photo-bombing opportunities.
3. And even matching bibs.
Four months later, I continue to hone my fatherhood skills. I still have much work to do, but I’ve learned two very important life lessons:
1. Mothers are amazing. Watching Tillie succeed so naturally as a mother has heightened my love for her to a whole new level.
2. Dogs do not take the backseat when a child arrives. They actually come to the forefront to help strengthen the family.
Steve lives with his wife, Tillie, their son, Calvin, and dogs Lex and Leena in Ames, Iowa. He is the founder of GrassrootGive, a fundraising consultancy that builds online grassroots fundraising programs for nonprofits. See Lex and Leena’s pursuit of ridiculousness at Stuff My Dog Does.
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