Thursday, November 4, 2010

Daddy Depression

My friends are multiplying. If you know me and my friends, you understand this is a rather frightening proposition, but that is beside the point. We recently got together to watch a football game and the room was filled with two pregnant women, a two month old, an 8 month old, and an 18 month old. Another friend, who has a two year old and another on the way, couldn’t make it. It is mildly depressing when you can’t go over to a friend’s house to watch a football game anymore without spending 35% of your time making sure a weebling wobbling little person doesn’t get their hands covered in buffalo wing sauce, or “accidentally” pick up an open can of Bud Light while you aren’t looking.

But it also means we can now, pretty unabashedly, talk about parenting and kids while we pick over nachos.

One friend said something that got me thinking. With a little hesitation, and a little bit of what seemed like residual shame, he said that it took him a while to bond with his newborn. Weeks, in fact. It surprised him, and he wondered if he was the only one.

It was the first time I heard a dad say something like that. Woman have been given free rein to talk about issues with bonding, post-partum depression, and feelings of helplessness after birth. If any of you read the “mommy blog” -- and if you haven't you should check it out --you know that the devotion of the audience is at least partly due to Heather Armstrong writing openly and honestly (and with a great sense of humor) about her struggle with post-partum depression. It struck a chord with a huge audience, and likely helped Armstrong and countless other women through a tough time.

So why can’t guys (or why don't guys)talk about this?

Does it have to do with the whole macho, I don’t show my feelings stuff? Do we think that any post-partum confusion is relegated to the other sex? Have we been instructed that the woman’s role as mother is so much more involved, so much closer, so much more difficult than the role as father that we don’t really need to worry about bonding? I think it is the latter.

I still remember sitting in a breastfeeding class with Leanne (yes, one of the most awkward classroom experiences of my life) and having the instructor go through a whole litany of ways nursing aids the bonding process between mother and daughter. She then said that the father can bond with the child by…

wait for it…

giving the kid a bath.


So my wife actually FEEDS my child. Provides her sustenance from her own body, food that her body produced. She does this for 12 hours a day. Every day. For a year. And that experience is supposed to be replicated by me dipping my crying child into the kitchen sink for 20 minutes every couple days? Somehow I don’t buy it.

I think a lot of dad’s feel the same way my friend did. He loves his daughter more than light right now, but it took him a while to make the connection. When Olive was born, I remember feeling completely useless when she was crying. I couldn’t do anything to sooth her. But as soon as Leanne got a hold of her, we had a calm baby again. Of course, most of that had to do with Leanne being the one to feed her, but I can’t help but think my daughter wanting to be with the comforting figure, and at that point in her life it was mommy. You would have to be the tin man for that not to effect you a little bit. You are a first time father and your child scream uncontrollably while you rock her and sing to her and hold her, but as soon as mommy is there everything is fine. The first thing that pops into your mind is that you are a bad dad. Tough to take for anyone sometimes.

It will be interesting to see how I handle having another little one to bond with in six months. Will my knowing now what I didn’t know then help me look for ways to bond? Will having an understanding of the process ease some of my parental uncertainty?

At least now I will be able to look at my two year old daughter and ask her to give daddy and hug and a kiss and know that everything works out soon enough.

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