Archive for the ‘Fatherhood’ Category
Two Months and Counting February 22, 2014 | 04:10 pm

It’s been two months since my baby was born, three since I posted “Congratulations! She's Pregnant! You're Screwed!“. I thought it might be time for a bit of retrospection.

There are a few things that I want to say right away.

First of all, I was hugely helped by idea that becoming a father is a crucible (see the comment by Avdi on the previous post), and that you have to fight for whatever time you need. Anything that is fat in your schedule needs to be eliminated. It’s just that simple. Once the baby comes, your schedule is cutthroat, and it’s all about just pushing through.

Second, I have become an idiot. And, by all reports, this is never going to get better. I cannot remember things as well as I did before the baby, and I’m making stupid mistakes that I wouldn’t have made before. Creativity is harder to come by.

Third, I’ve gotten fat. Deprived of sleep, my body is looking to calories for energy, and my willpower to keep myself from eating is way down. Of course, I could work on adjusting my diet and improving my exercise, but other things are getting my willpower and attention right now.

That aside, let’s begin the retrospective.

I still believe everything that I said in the original post, and dads-to-be are coming out of the woodwork to tell me they feel the same way. Aside from spreading on Avdi’s advice, my only other advice is to keep repeating this mantra: “It gets better.” The first two weeks were exhilarating: between the constant demands from the baby and the excitement of learning how to manage a baby (Protip: look up Harvey Carp’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” video), it was satisfying in that too-busy-to-be-bored kind of way. After that, things got much more routine, and it became a slog. Each week is better than the last, though, in the sense that the baby is easier to deal with. My baby girl is just starting to smile for reasons other than gas, mostly as a muscle reflex from tapping her nose. She’s also sleeping through the night, although that’s apparently uncommon.

At eight weeks, being a father doesn’t seem terribly enjoyable. But this doesn’t surprise me: this part of having a kid wasn’t what I was looking forward to. I’m looking forward to having a kid a few years from now, and then having an adult offspring. A few parents with older kids tell me that they want to be back at this phase, and I don’t get it. My running theory is that they have suffered brain damage, suppressed the trauma, or otherwise forgot just how much this time sucks.

And this time does suck. Breastfeeding is extremely hard, and the mother will need a lot of support. This is especially true in the beginning, when breastfeeding took four hands to really work. Now that we are past that stage, my job has become entertaining my wife for the six hours or so that she is stuck in the chair doing the breastfeeding. That’s a lot easier and more fun than the previous job, so it’s getting better.

Outside of breastfeeding, there’s the ever-popular game of “Why the Hell is the baby crying this time?” Initially, there was just one setting to the crying: “END OF THE WORLD”. Now, she’s just now starting to have distinct cries for “END OF THE WORLD”, “pain”, and “anything else”, which at least offers a clue. But since “pain” could be anything from being scratched to an arm being stuck in an awkward position to gas, it’s hard to debug. And “anything else” requires running through the whole list, which is roughly this (in order): diaper, hungry, uncomfortable, bored, tired, WTF?

Meanwhile, people keep encouraging me to spend time with the baby, but I don’t know what to do. She screams at me most of the time when I tried to do babywearing: the one notable exception was when I wore her to Durham Friends Meeting (the Quaker Meeting that I attend). I consider her staying quiet for forty-five minutes while being worn to be a miracle on par with Hanukkah. Outside of that, she mostly just sits there, which doesn’t give me a whole lot to work with. I was going to read to her every night, but she doesn’t tolerate that well with me. (Other people seem to have better luck for some reason, which is disheartening to say the least.) Occasionally, I’ve got enough energy and excitement to be able to entertain myself with her, but that’s just for extremely limited windows.

I tried to have some things that were my schtick: some ways that I was going to be special for her. At first, it was the fact that I could quiet her down better than anyone else. I thought that I had some special knack, but it turned out that I was simply less stressed than Mom and more familiar than everyone else. So that didn’t last long, and pride went before the fall. I was the diaper guy and handled all of them (my wife literally did not a change a single diaper for the first six days), but other people were simply going to have to change her diapers sooner or later. Baths were just her screaming at me in a room with reverb, which is hardly the special experience people sold me. So I’ve mostly just given up and I’m biding my time until she’s more engaging.

While all this struggling is going in within the context of the nuclear family, I’ve found the treatment outside the nuclear family is largely continued dismissal. Dads are very much second-class citizens when it comes to childrearing and any kind of parenting consideration, which basically disengages me right away. The stuff that is dad-centric seems poseur-ish and hyper-macho. I don’t want something for dads or moms: I want something for parents. All of this has at least given me appreciation form the Women’s Liberation movement: if I was treated like this in all aspects of my life, I’d be rebelling, too.

The one thing that has changed since the birth of the child is that I am getting a lot more positive feedback from my wife, so at least I’ve got that going for me. I’m not sure if this is something a guy can just expect from his wife, or if it’s a consequence of her reading the previous post. Just to be sure, if you’re a guy, I’d happen to leave the previous post up on your laptop and sitting out for your wife to find. Having your wife be supportive is huge, because you’re not going to get much support from anywhere else.

Being who I am, I tried for book reading. Every book I’ve read on being a father has made me feel worse, so I’ve just stopped doing that. First of all, all the books contradict each other, which is worse than useless. Second, the books make a big deal about how meaningful fatherhood is and how warm and fuzzy you feel and how that can be spiritual, and I’m feeling little of that, which is leaving me feeling like a broken sociopath again. One of the books said, “Lay with your daughter on your chest. This is when the world begins to make sense.” I did that, and didn’t feel anything more than a weight on my chest and anxiety about whether she was about to burst out crying. Another book I read spent the first half the book talking about “Mindful Parenting” and how great it was and how it would transform everything without actually ever defining what it was or talking about how to accomplish it. So, yeah, forget books.

When I reached out to others, I quickly also discovered that “Mommy Wars” (because it’s not Parent Wars, right?) are vicious. I will take blogging flamewars any day over these kinds if issues. Anyone who thinks that women are somehow innately more cooperative or friendly or whatever haven’t had a conversation with new moms about vaccines or breastfeeding. And everyone is freaking offended by everything, and it’s all hugely important OR YOU WILL SCREW UP YOUR CHILD FOREVER YOU BASTARD. I have literally been told that I am abusing my child (their terminology) by having her get vaccines and using formula to supplement breastfeeding. In return for putting up with this kind of vitriol, I still get conflicting and largely unhelpful advice. This has put me off soliciting advice from anyone beyond my family and some very select friends. This has mostly worked, although I do feel pretty isolated.

Now, to be fair, we’ve had an incredible amount of support. My parents, my cousin, and a friend of mine all came and spent the night, which was huge for allowing my wife and I to catch up on sleep (and each other). People have regularly come and spent a lot of time just holding the baby and being all excited about her, which takes a lot of pressure off my wife and me. So that sense of isolation isn’t from a lack of attention from family and friends: it’s more from a fact that I feel like my wife and I are having to figure this all out (mostly) on our own, and I’ve still got a kind of distance from the baby that she doesn’t.

Between that sense of isolation, the day-to-day demands, and the way it has wrecked my mind, body, and soul, I just wouldn’t do this again. Doing it once has been really good for me, but I don’t have any interest in repeating the experience. From where I’m sitting at this moment, I just can’t understand people who are onto babies three, four, or five. Having a second kid in order to give your child a sibling makes some sense to me, but doing it over and over again seems bizarre. That makes as much sense to me as running your car into a streetlight three, four, or five times. But ask me again in a year or two.

Congratulations! She’s Pregnant! You’re Screwed! November 23, 2013 | 04:41 pm

Moms: This post isn’t for you. Please don’t read it. If you decide to read it and you get pissed off, please don’t tell me about it. This isn’t a conversation for you. When I’ve got something out of it which is valuable to bring outsiders into, then I’ll let you know. But I don’t right now, so I’m just talking to the guys, and you really don’t want to hear this. If you have a critique that you’d like to make, please talk to your partner about it and have him bring it in, because your partner is welcome into this conversation.

Dads: There is a small subset of you out there who are way excited about having a baby and who get all gushy about onesies and cribs and the like. If that’s you, then this post isn’t applicable to you. If your lady asks if you agree with this post, you have my permission to go ahead and claim to be one of those guys, even if you aren’t and you agree with the whole post. I get it, and I’m just a random dude on the Internet. Throw me under the bus if it helps your relationship with your baby’s mama.

LGBTQWXYZWFTBBQ Folks: Yes, my note to the moms was downright exclusivist and heteronormative. The rest of this post will be, too. If your relationship isn’t heteronormative compliant, then I have no idea if anything in this blog post has any relevance to you or not. Take what’s applicable, and file the rest under “Breeder Problems”, right beside anything starting with the prefix “Bro–”.

It is astounding to me to experience the utter neglect of dads as human beings during the whole pregnancy cycle. We’re complete accessories: we’re talked past when we’re not outright ignored, and those things which do address us are basically just the same thing women get but with more hair and a few infantile jokes about beer and sex. Oh, and lots of great tips about how to keep her comfortable and happy and to be sensitive to her needs.

But these books are worthless. When I get together with other fathers-to-be and newly minted dads, nobody is concerned about how to make their wife comfortable or how to be sensitive to her needs. We’re the generation that grew up in the world of the “Sensitive 90s Guy”. One of the books that I read called it the “Pussification Period of America”, which is blunt and crude but fitting. As Tyler Durden puts it, “We’re a generation of men raised by women.” Sensitivity, we’ve got.

Fight Club – A generation of men raised by… by the_MGTOW_database

The issue that I have—and which I keep encountering—is that I have no idea how to relate to this newborn baby stuff. I’ve got the technical aspects down, and I know that a bunch of it is going to be on-the-job-learning, but I’m talking about something deeper than that.

The reality is that I don’t care for newborns. I don’t get excited about onesies. I don’t make “Awwwww” noises when a baby burps. I could not care less about the colors for the nursery or whether we have stars or animals. The part of having a kid that I’m excited about isn’t for a few years down the line yet. This whole baby and pregnancy thing just sucks, and my happiest times during this process are when I can ignore the fact that my beautiful wife has this parasite growing in her, and ignore the fact that it’s about to rip its way through some of my favorite parts of her body and enter the world as a sleep-depriving life-vampire for somewhere between three months and a year.

And I’m not the only one. When I talk to other dads in confidence, I hear a whole lot of agreement, usually appended with some statement like, “Yeah, but we can’t let our wives know we feel this way!” (Sorry, guys. Feel free to disown me and act like you have no idea what I’m talking about. I get it.) The most messed up part of the whole situation is that the guys who feel this way often feel like they’re the only ones, and there’s something shameful and broken about us in particular, whereas all the other guys must be coping better with being new dads.

But they’re not coping better. Sure, there are a few guys out there who are super excited to be dads and to be Mama’s Little Helper the whole time. (For some reason, these guys tend to be with women who are loathe to be doing this whole “pregnancy” thing. There’s a balance in the Force.) The reality, however, is that feeling like I do is extremely common, and it won’t take a much asking around among dads-to-be for you to find that out for yourself.

Yet, despite how common it is, there’s just nobody who addresses this problem.

I’m yet to encounter a daddy book which addresses these feelings and tells you how to deal with them. Classes that aren’t explicitly for new dads will regularly refer to the class saying “You”, but they’re only ever talking to your wife: you-as-partner basically do not exist except insofar as you’re a spare and mobile pair of hands to get things for mom, and you-as-partner-as-human-being is a totally foreign concept. (When you do get some attention, it’s usually to tell you how you’re going to fail: you’re going to faint when you see blood, you won’t be able to handle your wife in pain, you’re going to be an idiot about diapers, etc., etc.)

Since books and generic classes failed, I signed up for all the classes in the area specifically for new dads (that’s two classes, BTW). In one class, I mentioned I felt this way and we had a conversation about it, but didn’t come to much of a resolution: the best we got was “Well, it’s not as bad as you think it will be once the baby comes.” In the other class, I mentioned I felt this way, there were some comments of agreement, and the instructor proceeded to acknowledge and then ignore it. (Oh, and also BTW, the good class which did address these issues is getting cancelled due to lack of funding.)

With books and classes and dad classes out, I looked on for more support. As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as a “New Dads Meet-Up”. So it’s the personal network only at this point.

Your wife, of course, will not be able to comprehend the problem at all, because she’s in an entirely different place, both in terms of the support she’s getting and the embodied experience of being pregnant. And it’s not her fault that she can’t understand, and she’s not a bad person for it: it’s just the reality of your different circumstances. But it sucks, because if you’ve got a wife who is normally a key part of your support system, she’s suddenly off the table.

So, then there’s family and friends. While family and friends are busy throwing your wife a parade for getting knocked up and gushing over her growing belly and asking her how she’s feeling to the point she’s sick of hearing the question, you’re going to be shunted entirely to the side. Those that actually listen to your concerns will genuinely say something like, “Yup. That’s how it is. Just gotta man up and get through it.” Guys who used to be wonderfully supportive will suddenly become sadistic older siblings, tormenting you with horror stories about how horrible their babies were, how they got no sleep, how they lived covered in vomit and shit, and how their relationship tanked, the sex dried up, and all their dreams and hobbies had to die.

Oh, yeah, did I not mention that? It may not seem like it when you’re planning pregnant life before conception, but you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail for any kind of free time. If you have time-consuming hobbies or big dreams, you’re going to have to take them out back behind the shed and just put them down, because there is simply not enough free time. Personally, I’ve got one thing that I’m clinging to, and it’s a struggle, but I am just barely making time for it. And, of course, my friends and family are more than happy to tell me how even that little time will be gone once the baby arrives. To hear them tell it, that baby is the Sword of Damocles for my one last side project. So, at that point, I guess I’ll just be a diaper changing service and a paycheck until the baby grows up enough to be less demanding. (Which, of course, friends and family tell you is “Never.” Sadists.)

It doesn’t help any that partners have a pretty thankless job throughout the labor and the first few months. When mothers tell birth stories, partners during labor almost never get mentioned except when A) a mother is asked directly about them, or B) the partner is being blamed for something the mother didn’t like during labor. The same is true when you hear moms talk about breastfeeding or the fourth trimester. So as much as all the books tell you as the partner that you’re vital and important and just as much a part of it as mom, clearly moms don’t see it that way…unless you’re screwing up. And the reality is that it’s legit for you to be neglected, because you’re entirely a luxury. The baby is going to be born whether you are there or not. Your wife would be able to breastfeed and raise the child even if you split. So it makes total sense for you to be left out of the story. It just makes the role especially unrewarding.

All this is true, and people wonder why I’m not more excited about having a baby, and why I seem so down through so much of this process. I have no inner motivation, no outer encouragement, and no way of relating to it as a full person. I’m just trying to get through this time and the by-all-accounts-miserable time to come.

At this point in the blog post, I’d love to make the turn to the solution. I’d love to explain how I had that experience, and then I found something that worked, and now I’m much better off. But I didn’t, and I’m not. I’ve got nothing.

I do know that burying yourself in your job is a horrible plan. If you do, being at work becomes more rewarding than being at home, which means that you will come to love being at work and loathe being at home. I tried this for a very short time as a coping mechanism and rapidly discovered how workaholics are born, because I was beginning to hate getting into the car to come home from the office, even though I love my wife like crazy and normally can’t wait to get home to see her. Hanging out with the guys or any other activities outside the home without your wife has the same kind of problem.

The best advice I’ve gotten is to try to find some, any place where you can have a sense of agency. This has reportedly worked for some guys (I’ve gotten “I had this friend who…” kinds of stories), but I haven’t gotten it to work for me. Some guys get into photographing and taping and documenting everything, living vicariously through their wife via their records, but my hands shake and I generally hate pictures and videos, so that’s no good. Some guys get into making a crib or furniture or the like, but that just wasn’t going to fly in my situation, and that’s fine, because I’ve got negative interest in craftiness: if you have any inkling that way, go for it. I picked out books that I was going to read to my baby girl (bathtime and reading and bed are going to be my schtick once we get there), but thanks to my decisive nature, I just picked the books, called it good, and was done. I tried getting into vaccines and the rest of the medical side of things, and then discovered that the “v”-word is a hugely contentious issue, right up there with religion and politics. (Thanks for wrecking that for me, Jenny McCarthy.)

So, that’s where I am at. I can take some solace that I’m not alone here—lots of guys seem to feel this way—but I’m at a loss for what we can do to make this situation suck less. So, in an act of utter desperation, I’m putting it out to the Internet. What do I do?