Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Husband: Not the Father We Thought He’d Be

He thought he’d glide effortlessly into fatherhood in the same way his father had. It turns out, he has his own path.

Originally published on The Good Men Project.

Despite his affinity for kids, parenthood has been a rocky road for my husband.
Our son was planned. He’d come after a complicated miscarriage and fertility treatment. Loved, desired, ostensibly the most powerful creation we’d conceived of. We had created events together, masterminded courses for couples and singles around relationships, and yet … And yet, in the final months of my pregnancy, my husband would wake, gasping for breath. What were we doing? Did we know what we were about to embark on? Clearly, we didn’t.
I had confidence my husband would be an incredibly good father. I’d seen him with kids. He had a certain magic that had them gravitate towards him, an instant affinity and connection. Why then, was fatherhood such a rocky path for him?
Loss of Freedom
The loss of freedom was huge. Certainly, we had anticipated some of it, but we never fully realized the extent of our freedom and spontaneity until it was gone. For me, I was dunked in the ocean of motherhood and so overwhelmed, my focus was largely on learning to find my own true North in the watery nation of parenthood. For my husband, he could logically understand the importance, but internally he felt trapped with his own version of island fever. It felt like almost every aspect of our lives had changed: meals, sleep, exercise, sex. Everything was now dictated by a tiny helpless creature.
Loss of Connection
The loss of connection was huge. My husband felt like he had lost his person, his anchor. In a relationship where he often needed space (see the article I wrote called “Loving the Man Who Needs Space”), he now had more space than ever while I was breastfeeding. Only, with the vast space he found he actually wanted more connection with me. With this new creature in our lives, it was hard to find it. Date nights never seemed to give him enough time and even weekends away weren’t enough. In our minds, we had thought the child would be yet another source of connection between us. In one way, he has totally been that. In another, he has been the biggest cockblocker of our lives.
The Jealous Inner Child
Over time, my husband has realized that not only was he having a difficult time with the shift in our lives, but with his inner child was as well. As stated in “Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child“, “We were all once children, and still have that child dwelling within us.” My husband certainly has an inner child, and boy is that kid pissed. You see, my husband is not a jealous person. We have incredible amounts of freedom within our relationship to explore with others. But when it came to our son, he found not only was he jealous, but his inner child was jealous, too. Talk about a brainfuck. I found the best thing I could do was be gentle. The amount of self-judgment my husband had was huge. Not only was it difficult enough to weather the changes in our lives, he was jealous of his son. This has certainly shifted over the six years of our son’s life, but in the beginning it was intense.
Needs vs. Neediness
While my husband intellectually understands everyone has needs, neither of us were prepared for the vast quantity of needs a baby has. And while it was all normal and healthy, it still had the odor of neediness to him. With time, he’s come to understand that he will unconsciously code needs as neediness, but in an equal opportunity fashion. Everyone’s needs – including his own – have been needy for years upon years. With this new understanding, he has been able to relax into the volume of needs a young child has as well as learn that his own needs are totally normal. What a journal that has been.
My husband had spent time on and off with children over the years. Each time I saw him, there was a natural spark and connection. With our infant son, however, he became easily bored. While I enjoyed motherhood – in a profoundly deep and satisfying way – he found the early years of parenthood painfully boring. Now, he is definitely someone who notices nuance and detail, so it honestly came as a surprise that he didn’t find the same in his own son. Recently he remarked, “Our son didn’t actually get any personality until he was about three years old.” It would be easy for me to jump all over him, judging this experience, but I know these words are not meant unkindly. For him, the ability to hold a conversation, create projects together, and have a meeting of the minds, is really important. That he can do that with our now six-year-old is eye-opening.
Falling in Love
I immediately loved our son, but it wasn’t until he was four or five months old that I actually fell in love. It was tipping over into the great abyss and being held in a vast warm ocean. For my husband, it wasn’t until our son was somewhere between a year and a year and a half old. Perhaps it was the lack of hormones. Perhaps he needed to wade through his own self-judgment, but it did happen on its own time and at its own pace. By giving him space to connect more with his son, he was able to move past the jealousy and find his own relationship.
It’s Like Becoming a Vampire
Jonathan Coulton tells us this story:
I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling – I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually, you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.
Indeed, it is complicated. My husband is not the father we thought he’d be. He thought he’d glide effortlessly into fatherhood in the same way his father had. So did I. It turns out, he has his own path, one paved with vast unconditional love and moments of freakout and boredom.
I remember when our son was a year or two old, my husband turned to me and said, “I know if I keep turning him away because I’m having a hard time, there’ll be a time when he won’t come back.” So my husband keeps leaning in, growing, stretching, having moments of breathtaking, exquisite connection and almost painful beauty mingled with irritation and suffocation, but he keeps on trying. That’s how I know I chose the right man to be not only by my side but my son’s side as well.

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