caillou is the worst

after years of obsessively documenting cocktails and hamburgers on social media, writer Joshua David Stein fell hardest for capturing two new little subjects—his sons.

There are four of us in the 27th row of a Delta flight out to SFO from JFK, but Achilles, my two-year-old, is stretched out across most of F, all of E and some of D, the seat wherein I’m sardined, hanging halfway into the aisle. My wife is similarly crammed into the window seat with Augustus—universally known as AuggieBehr—momentarily asleep in her arms. Though uncomfortable, we couldn’t be happier. Ana is watching Say Anything…—“It’s the first movie I’ve seen in two years!”—and I have a brief respite, during which the children are asleep, to work. Fatherhood: an uncomfortable crash position, happily assumed.

In no other relationship, that I can think of, is insane love with no upper limit not only tolerated but expected. If we stared at the people we date or even are married to as intently as we do at our children, it would be creepy. But I could stare for hours at Achilles just being Achilles, zoning out on the couch, one finger in his nose and the other deftly looping Caillou—the worst television show ever—on the iPad® over and over again. What, I wonder, is he thinking? How, I ponder, can he be so cute? When, I fear, will he notice I’m staring and say, “Papai, go away!”

Being a father is at once an immortalizing act and one that renders you painfully aware of the passage of time. They are little for so little time. I think to myself that soon, Achilles and Auggie will be surly teenagers, and later, young men with families of their own. Perhaps that explains my obsession with staring. I want to store as much of their faces—with their bulbous cheeks and unguarded expressions—in my mind as possible. This probably explains why there are so many babies and toddlers on Instagram and Facebook, none of whom asked to be there. And this definitely explains why there are so many photos of my own babies on my personal Facebook and Instagram feeds too.

The thing is, a few years ago, well before I was a father myself, I thought, “What kind of schmucks flood social media with photos of their progeny?” But now, not only do I post photos on Instagram and Facebook, but Achilles has his own hashtag (#achilles4president) and Augustus does too (#auggiebehr). Now, I understand that it seems criminal not to share their cuteness with the world. And so, a scroll through my feed reveals a 100-picture-long series of Achilles at the playground and a large portfolio of him sleeping. There are hashtags like #brothers, which features Achilles hugging/throttling AuggieBehr, as a toddler does. My wife even initiated a series called “The Library of A and A” that features choice editions from the boys’ library. (A tip: If You Want to See a Whale is perhaps the best children’s book ever.)

I have, in other words, become the cliché that I long hated, a hawker of cute, a baby-sharing maniac. But as I sit staring at Achilles, who is now moaning, “Ferris wheel, I no like it,” in a state of half sleep, I don’t mind the discomfort of my current position, half hanging out into the aisle, one bit. The truth is, what I could not have known back then, in my childless days of Instagramming cheeseburgers and cocktails, is just how boundless a father’s love really is. Now, not only do I share pictures of my children, but I also walk around the neighborhood wearing a bucket over my head because it makes Achilles laugh. It seems that it has taken actually having children to see how my staring and subsequent sharing of photos of them is just one attempt at slowing down time and capturing the moment. Maybe not this exact moment in which the drink cart keeps jostling my elbow and half my butt is asleep, but this is a head-over-heels love affair with my two little guys. They’re everything to me. And yes, that includes hashtags.

Writer Joshua David Stein frequently contributes to New York Magazine, the New York Times and the Sunday Times and he is a restaurant critic at the New York Observer. He lives in Harlem with his wife and two sons. He (rather humorously) documents his misadventures in 140-characters-or-less on Twitter at @fakejoshstein.