There has been plenty written about how David Letterman changed comedy, changed late night television and changed the sleeping patterns of millions of people who spent years staying up too late to watch his show. For years, he was the inspiration for smart aleck perpetual adolescents who live life through sarcasm and irony. And then something changed. Eleven years ago, in his late 50s, Letterman became a father, changing his sensibilities, giving him new perspective and giving him a new dimension. He grew up. As a result, we did too.
He proved it was not too late, and for a man who never showed much of his private side, he has publicly embraced fatherhood. If Dave wasn’t intimidated by fatherhood after 56 years, none of us should be, right? How many different ways could he make us feel better about becoming a father? In honor of Dave, the list would naturally have to be 10.
10. “As we all know, when you have a child of your own, a switch is thrown and it stays on full speed all the time.”
You will never catch up with work, sleep, household projects. You child has one gear and every day he or she gets more and more energy. As we get older, parents have less and less energy every day. It’s not quite fair. I can imagine Letterman can afford any parental tools, opportunities and help, and still – he will never catch up.
9) “I was telling my son, ‘Now I’ll be able to spend more time with you because I won’t be at work’ … And my son says, ‘Well I’d like to spend more time at school.'”
Letterman said he is retiring because he wants to spend more time with his family. What makes him think his family wants to spend more time with him? There is nothing like having my daughter come running up to me when I get home from work. When I leave for work as she is trying to get me to stay behind and play, that is heartbreaking. I know it won’t always be like that. In the eyes of kids, parents are cool and they want to spend all their time with us. And then one day we are not, and they’d rather be anywhere else. I’m not looking forward to that. Good luck, Dave.
8) “How’s the family?”
Dave has asked this question thousands of times over the past 33 years, but only seemed to care about it over the past 11. When Jerry Seinfeld was on the show, HE kept asking about Seinfeld’s 12-year-old, seeking a coming attraction of what is in store for his own son, Harry. Mike Myers discussed his kids’ names and showed pictures on a visit last year. This is what is interesting to Dave now. Kids are the common denominator that so many can talk about, a reason so many parents’ social groups revolve around people met through their kids’ soccer and Girl Scout events. And it’s funny, kids really are much more interesting after having my own.
7) “By the time the child has trouble in life, you know, I’ll be dead. I’ll be long gone. By the time the kid’s out stealing cars, you know, Dad will be dead a few years.”
I suppose this is one of the benefits of having kids later than many contemporaries. We cannot control our kids forever and at one point, we won’t be there for them anymore. All we can do is the best job we can raising them, or we can hope to be dead by the time they start stealing cars. As Dave later said, “All the problems will be for the stepfather.”
6) “For the first time since Harry’s been alive, our summer schedule will not be dictated by me. It will be entirely dictated by what my son wants to do. And I think that’s pretty good.”
When Letterman told the New York Times about his summer plans, he acknowledged what parents know. It’s no longer about us. Saturdays revolve around nap schedules and soccer practice, vacations are about the kids, not about the parents. And he’s right – that is pretty good.
5) Letterman’s wife says to their son, “Harry, you know your father is retiring, is there anything you’re concerned about or anything you would like to talk about?’ ‘No, no,’ and then thinks for a second and says, ‘Will I still be able to watch the Cartoon Network?’ He knows that’s my mortal enemy.”
Kids have poor taste. Letterman’s son has access to one of the great comedic minds of our time, and he is concerned about watching cartoons. All we can do is hope they grow into good taste.
4) “Believe me, I’m not the first person to have a kid, but I’ll tell you what got my attention. When they’re able to put the monitor on the scalp, the skull of the baby and for the first time you hear the heartbeat. Oh buddy, then you know you’re in church. It’s the real deal then.”
That heartbeat is the most terrifying thing you will have ever heard up until that point in your life. The idea of a being a parent quickly becomes the reality of being a parent. Even if you are a 57-year-old multimillionaire talk show host.
3) “Here I am now, 56, and by all rights it shouldn’t be happening – but there’s nothing we can do about it now and I’m terribly excited about this, I’m scared silly about this – I’m going to be a father.”
This is every day of the life of a parent, starting with the news that you’re expecting. Every day is governed by two things – incredible excitement and terrible fear. There is nothing more enjoyable than parenthood and nothing more terrifying than the prospect of getting it wrong.
2) Letterman’s wife was nervous about going skiing with him and his son. “Then Regina says, ‘Is it slippery?’ And then Harry and I laughed so hard, we were just at it – ‘The snow, on the mountain? No, it’s the new non-slippery snow. It’ll be just fine.’ So that was good and now it’s something that we all get to do in the wintertime.”
When my daughter puts a Tupperware lid on her head, looks at me and starts laughing, it is consistently the funniest thing I have ever seen in my lifetime. A shared laugh with a child, a growing sense of humor, an inside joke about snow – I look forward to each of these consistently being the funniest things I will see in my life.
1) “I don’t know anything about babies. I’ve got to find a place for it to stay and my girlfriend is having the child, Regina, bless her heart, but I just don’t want one of those kids that’s always taking a dump in its pants. I’m too old for any of this, but especially that…Maybe it’s just me being a ninny, but for the last six months I just wake up like this – OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?! But I’m sure that will pass.”
The fear, the logistics, the bodily fluids, the never-ending questions that continue to be asked before the last can be answered, the promise of one day feeling better about it all, the worry that I’ll be worried for the rest of my life. If David Letterman, who has exhibited complete control of his stage for more than 30 years has these same concerns, I somehow feel better that I do too.
Bill McQuillen is a director at Burson-Marsteller. He has been watching Letterman for 30 years, and is reachable on Twitter @bmcquillen.
You might also be interested in: