Father of All Hangovers

I touched my prime again Saturday, sitting on a curb in L.A. past 1 a.m. drunk, disheveled, alone, stranded and making unanswered FaceTime calls. I had been warned that if you decide to party as a parent of a toddler, the punishment comes the next day in the form of a little human tornado indifferent to how you feel.

This is especially risky for me because in addition to any physical hangover, I have to recover from such a huge delta in emotions. After two and a half IPAs, I feel like Superman and fly on the magic carpet until passing out like a child who doesn’t want Christmas to end.

When I wake up to reality way too early, the self-loathing settles in insidiously with the fatigue. My mind races with discomfort, and I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. I invariably picture a bullet going through my temple, which sounds disturbing but I think can safely be categorized as a weird imagination tic rather than suicide alert.

So Sunday morning should have been absolutely awful with my wife needing to head out for a birthday brunch. (This wasn’t the most Covid-careful weekend for us inconsistent liberals… sorry.) But my 2-year-old was actually like a balm for my emotional comedown. I can’t pinpoint why he had this soothing, almost restorative effect.

Snuggling him against his will made me feel loved, or at least in control. His sincerity with every action and facial expression never gets old. Watching him frolic on the playground — mostly by himself but also with some endearing, unsure interactions with other kids — was just beautiful and nourishing.

I love him so much it’s overwhelming. I want to eat him and hug him and teach him and protect him. He inherited his mother’s sweet temperament and my risk aversion. He says hiiii to every stranger and then outsources the rest of the conversation to me, an introvert, until his arbitrarily timed buh-byeeeeee.

He presses down on my back during push-ups and stoically sits on my shoulders for squats, sensing my need for added resistance during a three-year hiatus from the gym. If it weren’t for Covid and anti-Asian hate, hot chicks would be flocking to us at the park dropping digits and DM’s left and right.
He took an adult-sized crap on the bathroom floor and then was afraid of it. He refuses to sit upright when playing horsey, preferring to maximize graspable surface area lest he fall two feet.
And I know this isn’t woke-compliant to say, but I just love how he has his mom’s brown hair and white skin, yet his face is Chinese AF and looks like he just stepped out of a rice paddy and into one of Chairman Mao’s propaganda posters.
The poor kid was already behind on his language development and now confuses Mandarin and English. When searching for squirrels, he sings “Song-su [squirrel] are you?” It melts my heart.

When he thanked his mother for a toothbrush with “Shih-shih [thank you] mama”, we were both exhilarated to the brink of tears. I am aware there was a time when I would ridicule parents for celebrating their mundane children, but the cognitive development here is miraculous. Who taught him to put together a noun, mama, with the act of thanking? Is my boy the next Steinbeck, yes or no?

I am not shy about expressing good thoughts and bad thoughts about parenthood. I don’t want my shtick to be the grumbling dad who’s always talking smack about his kids to be funny or self-deprecating, but then lives for them behind closed doors.

My frustrations and meltdowns are real. But clearly kids aren’t all that bad if we’re having another one on purpose, due around Christmastime.

On paper, the logistics and lifestyle impact of a second child don’t excite me. It’s going to be good though. That’s kind of the mindset I’m settling into with raising children. I almost put it in the same bucket as exercise. Many if not most days, it’s hard to get up for it. But I do it because I want to, and over the aggregate I reap many benefits.

I think of wellness in four quadrants: physical, mental, emotional and financial. I am fairly disciplined in training for three of them, but only beginning to explore emotional health.

When I was sheltering at home during the first Covid peak, struggling to be productive against the unrelenting tide of a baby waking up to the world, I naturally assumed it was parenthood causing emotional distress. I had never felt this kind before, and it seemed like a pretty linear trail to the source of the problem.

Slightly wiser now with a long, long way to go, I concede maybe all parenthood did was expose previously existing emotional weaknesses. They were trivial or at least ignorable when single and unattached, but I’m better off for working on them now.

So it appears my boy has helped me with one of my enduring passions in life: getting better at stuff. And although I don’t know parenting will ever be a passion in and of itself for me, I sure do treasure my little guy, my hangover balm, key to my tortured or wannabe tortured soul, handy bodyweight workout resistance, icebreaker for conversations I don’t want to have… and soon to be big brother with a big heart. He’s going to be a fantastic sibling when we “double the fun” in December, which my wife says ironically and truthfully.


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