I used to care about how I looked. Now I have children.
“Everything is vanity,” according to Ecclesiastes. Alternatively, Jerry Seinfeld says, “All fathers essentially dress in the clothing style of the last good year of their lives.”
From ages 15 to 35 (approximately), I checked my appearance in a mirror before I left the house. I showered every morning and wore clean clothes every day. I developed an expression, “It never hurts to look good,” reflecting the notion that it’s generally safer to err on the classy side in terms of self-presentation whenever there is a question of how nicely to dress for something. When my kids were babies, I always had a burp cloth protecting my clothing. (My wife made fun of me for it…and they always threw up on her.) I called my hair “the hair,” and so did my friends. (As in, “The hair looks good.”)
Before I had kids, I certainly never would have posted a selfie on social media in which I was not looking my best. But last week I did, and it was kind of the point. I’m embracing the messiness of fatherhood.
As a parent, it has become part of my Shabbat practice to forgo showering on days that I’m not working. In the last few years, I’ve taken to wearing more hats and sweatshirts than ever before, both of which are code for me rolling out of bed shortly before leaving the house. I’ve shifted from wearing small to medium to large t-shirts over the last decade, not because of significant weight gain so much as an emphasis on casual comfort.
All of this is symptomatic of a larger lifestyle change. So many of the things I used to prioritize pale in comparison to the joy my kids bring me. I’d rather spend time rolling around on the couch with them, or snuggling and reading books together, than keeping myself presentable. Why was I ever so into myself? My kids are so much more entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not letting myself go. I go to the gym several times a week, and try to eat healthier than when I was a teenager (meaning I try not to finish everything left over on my kids’ plates), and occasionally buy a new article of clothing to keep the family photos fresh. I’m just letting the small stuff go, so I can focus on the big stuff: being a husband and a dad.
Despite my somewhat unkempt appearance these days, I’ve recently noticed a phenomenon in which I get attention in public just for having my toddler with me. A woman actually said to me in the grocery store, “I just love seeing men with babies.” I think it was meant as a compliment, but it also made me weirdly self-conscious, because when I’m with my kids, I pretty much ignore everyone else around me. Sometimes I look up from singing “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” with my son on the bus, only to see someone smiling and staring at us, in a not-mad-that-I’m-singing-in-public kind of way.
I assume it’s the hair. After all, it never hurts to look good.