The last few days have been tough — sick kid, got better, then got sick again… It’s been a long time since he’s had a normal night of sleep, which means it’s been a long time since he’s been enjoyable.
This weekend it got even worse, and I discovered something about myself as a dad. I was at the company xmas party when I get the text from my wife (she went home early. #cigars): “He hasn’t stopped crying, I need you home now.” Well, sh!t.
It ended up being a looooo000ng night. Half drunk dad sobering up at 2 in the morning walking his wide awake 2 year-old around a dark downstairs, holding it up because it’ll start screaming like a banshee if it get’s put down, or if dad tries to sit, telling it stories, whispering, trying so hard to get it to tire out.
It takes several hours, but by 3am I’ve got him in his bed and he’s only crying a little bit… the kind of cries that turn into sleep. And he sleeps. For 3 hours. And I’m up again with him.
It’s been a long weekend. You’ve probably been there before.
The New Dad Trend
The sum total of watching my son this weekend has been that I feel pretty much like a bad father. I could barely handle it. I could barely survive the incessant screaming and wining and unhappiness and unhappy-ability of my son, my sick lil’ 2 year old who doesn’t know what’s wrong except that he feels like shit and wants it to stop and the crackers aren’t helping.
I’m not supposed to be this bad at fathering… it’s not supposed to be this hard. I’m one of those “new dads”, the ones who are changing the face of fatherhood.
New dads today are, generally speaking, more involved in the child rearing than previous generations of dads. There are several articles about this switch. Not only are many new dads today coming out from under the emotional aloofness of their own fathers’ fatherhood, but the economy has forced many dads into staying at home with the kids.
New dads are arriving on the scene these days with this internal compass, a knowing, a pressure, that they need to be involved with the kid, with raising and diaper changing and feeding and breast-feeding, etc.
There’s The Trend, And There’s You
This weekend I wanted to make my sick son feel better; I didn’t know how. I wanted to put him down to sleep; I didn’t know how. I wanted to engage him and help him play and enjoy himself the best he can; I didn’t know how. So I just ended up holding him and walking around for 18 hours.
I’m wining like a little bitch about this, I know, but there’s a point. My picture of fatherhood, my model or definition of being a dad, is constantly changing as I learn more about myself, about marriage, and about kids. Today I feel very much the difference between moms and dads, between women and men, and that signal is seriously messing with my “new dad trend” picture.
I don’t think I could ever be as “good” as my wife in the sick-kid scenario — she’s so naturally confident, creative and experienced when it comes to the nurturing, etc. She’d get exhausted and it wouldn’t be easy, sure, but she’s got some internal tools in her belt that were built for this kind of thing.
I, on the other hand, just have this hammer. [SMASH!] It doesn’t mean I don’t have to watch my son when he’s sick, or give up when I don’t feel good at something, it simply means I don’t have to beat myself up when I’m not a natural at something.
Dads Are Horrible Moms
There’s being present and involved, and there’s being present and involved. What I’m trying to say here is:
Hey, new dads, you’re going to want to be really in the grit with your kid and wife, raising your kid, proudly wearing spit-up, engaged, connected, with a proven track record, etc. But you may have some moments where you’re trying and trying to be good at being with your kid and you keep failing, reaching the bottom of yourself, of your energy, of your hope, and you’re left with a lightly sleeping kid and a whole lot of despair about being a dad, about whether or not you’re cut out for this.
When you get there, just re-group, reset, and be honest with yourself: You make for a shitty mom. And that’s how it’s always going to be. You bring different tools to parenting [SMASH!] and you gotta play to your strengths. Right now you may have an infant and you don’t know how to breast feed, or you may have a toddler and you don’t know how to survive the suicide hours… whatever it is, don’t beat yourself up for hitting your limits, for not fitting perfectly into the “new dad” model.
This isn’t an excuse for you to fail, dads. This isn’t your “babe, i just can’t handle that right now” card. This is just a manly slap on the back for when you hit the bottom of yourself as a dad. Walk it off, be yourself, team up with mom, and play to your strengths. [SMASH!]