Reflections And Advice for New Fathers
I'll begin by saying that I am the proud father of a three-year old boy. He is our first and only child, and his birth was simultaneously the most amazing and most terrifying event of my entire life. My life changed in one moment when I saw the top of my son's head for the first time. I found myself facing thoughts and feelings I wasn't ready for. I thought I'd share some of that experience along with the ride that has been the last three years in the hope that maybe a new father somewhere will read this and realize that he's not alone, and what he's going through is perfectly normal.
There is a lot of information out there for expecting mothers, but almost nothing for expecting fathers. Pregnancy books usually relegate poor dad to a half a paragraph in the chapter on sex during pregnancy. The truth is, however, that men go through our own emotional journey which is no less valid than what mom is going through. Whether it's trying to figure out how to deal with a hormonal and (sometimes) irrational partner or just coping with the concept of being dad, it's a difficult transition to make.
I remember a sense of surrealism surrounding my son's birth. Here was this tiny entity no bigger than my forearm, and I was suddenly very aware of the fact that life would be dramatically different. Imagining fatherhood conjured up images of playing catch in the front yard, learning to ride a bike, or wrestling on the livingroom floor. What did not come to mind were the midnight diaper changes, or exactly how incredibly foul the contents of those diapers would be. I often found myself amazed that such an incredibly noxious substance could be produced by such an adorable being, and I won't even go into the sheer quantity produced!
The point is no matter how ready you think you are there will always be something unexpected. It took me quite awhile to realize that I was grieving for the loss of my old life... you know, the one where I could just jump and run when ever and go wherever I wanted to? If my wife and I wanted to go somewhere we simply grabbed our coats and went. Suddenly there's a baby, and now it's always a huge production to go anywhere. Taking a ten minute trip to the store means you have to grab the diaper bag, extra diapers, some formula, extra bottles, make sure there's enough baby wipes, and powder. Once that's all together get the baby into his car seat and make sure he's warm enough. Get the picture? Fatherhood is a big change, so it seems only natural to grieve over the loss of a much simpler time.
Now, before I imply that fatherhood means the end of life as we know it I should point out there are rewards to it as well. There's the smell of your baby's hair as he falls asleep on your chest after having been freshly bathed. You get to see the world through fresh eyes and suddenly things that we as adults take for granted are new and exciting again. I recall the moment I first realized this. We were leaving a restaurant and the trees outside had little lights wrapped up the trunks. My son was completely enthralled by them and I realized that to him, those little lights were the most amazing thing in the world at that moment. When I stopped to think on it a bit I realized he was right. It is pretty amazing that something as mundane as a flow of electrons through a wire filament can produce something so pretty.
As my son has gotten older new challenges have arisen. My wife and I have shared both his triumphs and his not so shiny moments. We've watched him grow, held his hand when something frightened him, and hurt for him when he broke his leg. If you are a father I am certain you can relate to this. If you are an expecting father I hope you take something with you from this and I'd like to part with some advice.
There is no manual, no book, no instructions on fatherhood. The only way to learn is by being thrust into the situation and hoping you can figure it out as you go. You will make mistakes, occasionally you will do something right. In the grand scheme of things, however, as long as your children understand that you love them and really want the best for them you'll be just fine.