A Sneak Peek Into The Life of Dads
In support of it being Day 4 of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and all about Dads, I asked my husband, Resilient Dad (aka Pablo), to have a chat about what being a dad feels like for him. What he loves about it, what he finds a challenge and how he managed that transition into becoming a parent. Oh, and that time when my mum walked into the bathroom at 3am to find him standing with our new baby, next to an empty tumble dryer on full cycle, in a desperate attempt to get her to sleep. Parenthood can make you do strange things…
What are the highs for you of being a dad?
It is a fascinating journey of discovery. First, watching this little creature grow and get smarter and cleverer and then surprise you in ways that you don’t expect. Her world is so rich, so intense, so full of life and energy, and it just puts your own life in perspective. Secondly, it’s a kind of love that for me felt very natural and even surprising (in the best possible way): the sense of belonging together is something you need to experience to understand. I had never felt anything like it until she came into our life.
What’s been tough?
I felt and still feel dreadfully hurt when she says mean stuff to me (as kids do) or tries to manipulate her mum and dad by choosing a preferred one (which is usually mummy). It is simply a natural part of her development, and so many kids do it, but I still struggle trying to be rational and not take it personally. I know it’s childish of m. At this age, she doesn’t even really have an understanding of what hurts other people.
What were your thoughts about becoming a dad vs the reality?
I am not sure I had any inkling of, actually, what being a dad meant. I suppose I vaguely thought I’d be more in control than I actually am. I also wasn’t expecting my buttons to be pushed so seriously.
Before she was born, I also thought I’d be able to do some reading, or writing, or researching whilst caring for her on my own. Of course I soon realised that was a load of rubbish, because taking care of a baby requires more hours than there are in a day. But I realised it didn’t matter, because frankly, I can always read that book or do that research, but there is a very limited time frame when I can spend time together with my baby who’ll soon grow up. So I just embraced the opportunity.
At the end of the day, the reason I wanted to be a dad was to feel this deep connection to a little human being, to read her bedtime stories, to be silly together, to have a common world where we can let our imagination run free, and feel that there is a whole life ahead and she can do anything she wants. In that sense, I couldn’t ask for a better daughter. I hope she never loses that sense of empowerment and I would be sorry if any thoughtless action from me somehow contributed to crushing her down.
What have the unexpected things been?
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that having a child would force so much self-examination and challenging of my assumptions. But kids are like mirrors facing us and our daughter will emulate whatever emotions she’s experienced from us. So I had to scrutinise so many things I don’t like about me – anger, clinging on to bad feelings, reacting badly to feeling rejected and inadequate. It is a long list and I am not finished working on it by any means. If I could turn the clock back I’d take care of my issues before I had a child, but on the other hand, I know this idea is a utopia, because it’s the sort of dynamics that involves two people.
A word of wisdom to new dads
Be ready to learn – about yourself, about life, about being a dad. Be humble. Ask yourself: why do you want to be a parent? And resist any natural impulse to say “no” to your children just because. At the end of the day, they grow quick and those years will not come back and you want to have good memories.
Second word of advice: try to have as much one-to-one time as you can with your child. If you had limited parental leave like I did, you might feel sometimes that you are an extra, or the helper. That is a shame. When our child was born, I had the chance to spend Mondays on my own with her while Clare went back to work and finished some studies. I cannot exaggerate how much it did for bonding between us.
What’s the hardest part been?
I think conciliating the above rant on being humble and learning with the reality. Speaking for myself, I do seem to have something left of the traditional attitude that expects fathers to hold some sort of authority over the family. I am not proud of it but at this point, I can only learn and try to change it. Bear in mind I grew up at a time when people still smacked their children and in my household, the ‘punisher’ was my dad. He was and is very calm, kind, and fair. He’s a good dad but he always had the last word. It is not a model we can apply to our family. So changing myself is the hardest part. It takes an immense effort to re-wire everything, re-think everything I thought I knew in order to match my attitudes with my set of beliefs now.
In the early days, I also struggled with the idea of being ‘left out’ of the incredibly strong relationship that my daughter has with her mother. Perhaps I fell for the easy idea of “us” being pregnant, a well-meant but misleading way to portray mums and dads as having equal roles in the upbringing of a child. Of course, dads are important in their children’s upbringing but it doesn’t mean a child will see mum and dad in equal light. I found it hard to discover, once she was born, that there might be a hierarchy and she might feel her mum as a more vital part of her. I use the word “might” because it could be different with other families, but it was certainly true of ours.
Who do you offload to?
My wife, who has helped me immensely. But of course she is limited in what she can do for me (after all, I can’t be her husband and client at the same time). This question actually makes me realise I have absolutely no male company to talk to about these things. A therapist who I saw for six sessions was the closest I got to that.
What’s your most ridiculous dad moment?
I actually laugh a lot when we’re together. But when she was a baby and we had just discovered the power of white noise to make her sleep (but before we’d figured out in our sleep deprived states that you could just buy an app for it), I would spend a lot of time, over an hour sometimes, running the tumble drier in the bathroom and holding her next to it. A last ditch, desperate attempt to get her to stop crying and sleep. One night my mother in law was visiting and I gave her a 3 am scare – which was memorable! And not at all expected.