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A Not by the Book Guide to Fatherhood

All this columnist ever wanted was a manual.

Tiny. Fragile. Beautiful.

Those were my first thoughts. I couldn’t believe I was handling my baby daughter.

“What do I do with this?”

That was my second thought.

“Where is the owner’s manual?”

I had an owner’s manual for my car, TV and even my microwave, and that was just basically punching a few buttons and presto, I had a warmed-up piece of meat.

“What do I do now? How am I going to handle this? What’s next?”

A few months later, my dad, daughter and I went out to lunch at a hamburger place. While we were eating, a stench came over the table.

“What’s that smell?” my dad asked.

Oh, now it was time for a diaper change. I had practiced this and done it at home, but this was my first road trip one.

“Dad, can you give me a hand?”

This was the same guy who built his own house, could fix anything on this planet and had a knack for knowing what to do.

“I don’t have a clue. That was your mother’s job.”

Three years later, I’m in the same hospital room.

“Here’s your son.”

It was the most beautiful thing I’d seen. He was handsome.

I was holding him tightly, afraid to drop him.

“Do you have an owner’s manual for this one?”

I had the “girl thing” under control, but boys are different. Changing diapers was a whole new experience.

A few days after my son was home, I was watching him and a movie at the same time. This was great. I wasn’t a nervous wreck like I was with the first one.

Then, I was back on worry lane. I forget to strap him in, and he rolled out. His arm was twisted. His bone was out of place.

“If only I had an owner’s manual, this would not have happened.”

I’m 40, and I’m a single dad, getting the kids on alternate weekends. Suddenly, I had to do everything myself.

Quickly, I mastered macaroni and cheese, and heated up a mean chicken nugget.

A few years later, I’m at my girlfriend’s house.

“Do you want to meet my daughter?”

It was looking like we were going to get serious, and it was time. I was nervous. I was staring down the barrel of stepfatherhood. The daughter had graduated college and was starting her working career.

A year and a half later, I was standing at the altar as my girlfriend and her daughter walked down the aisle together. For me, it was one of those 2-for-1 deals. I was going to have two new women in my life.

It’s late at night. The daughter is on a date, it’s snowing and I can’t sleep. Really, I just plain worried about her.

“Do you have an owner’s manual for being a stepfather?’’

Of course, bookstores and libraries are filled with books on parenting, but all I ever wanted or needed was a simple, plain owner’s manual.

Happy Father’s Day.

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