COLUMN: Growing into fatherhood
My husband asked if he could write this month’s column on his evolution as a new father. Here’s his take on the perils – and pluses – of being a dad.
Recently a friend asked my wife and I a seemingly simple question:
“How did you know you wanted to have kids?”
Kristine answered simply, “I’ve always wanted to have kids.”
My response was certainly different from what it would have been 18 months ago, when the birth of our daughter was still fresh in my mind. If he asked me then, I probably would have warned him about the perils of fatherhood. I have learned a lot since then.
I learned Elise’s birth wasn’t a miracle to me and that doesn’t make me a bad dad. In my eyes the labour was 22 hours of sleep depravity coupled with watching my wife in pain. By the end of it I almost passed out from lack of food because I forgot to eat. But once that little person comes out it was all worth it.
Well, for Kristine it was.
I spent a long time feeling ashamed that I didn’t immediately feel flooded with feelings of unconditional love toward my daughter. I didn’t know what to feel at first. Dumbfounded might best describe it. Only when we read in various parenthood books that women get a hormonal rush of oxytocin did I learn that it wasn’t my fault; men just don’t get doped up on love drugs after birth.
The next five months felt like the never-ending saga of poor sleep and sore biceps. I learned the meaning of the word “colic,” and I’ll never get those five weeks of my life back.
In the grocery store parents would see our bleary eyes and tell us “don’t worry, it gets better.”
I learned that the strangers who had been there before were right. It did get better.
There were a few notable turning points, too. At seven months Elise could sit on her own which meant a lot less carrying and more interaction. At 14 months she could awkwardly walk, which opened up all kinds of doors, sometimes literally.
I learned that compared to a stay-at-home mom (my wife), I was pretty low on the totem pole – about one step below the cat. But who can blame Elise for preferring the parent who spends all day with her? To this day she’ll often walk right past me when she is upset and say, “mommy up!”
Now that she’s 21 months old she is developing a sense of humour and has found more value in her weird dad. We have started to find common ground and her favouritism is waning. Once she even brushed off mom to say “dada...UP!”
I learned that for me, love for your children is something that grows over time. For many dads it is about bonding, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
It doesn’t help that the only other parent I compare myself to is my wife and our roles just aren’t congruent. Society seems to spend a lot of energy preparing women for parenthood – half of all parents are men, but we often feel alone.
I wish I knew all this going into fatherhood.
But my answer to my friend on how I knew I was ready to have a child? Never mind, I didn’t like what I told him anyway. The truth is, I’m still working on my answer. But in hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made.
Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to 21-month-old Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues. Tom Salzmann is a physics teacher in Surrey.