I’ve heard many stories about the experience of men becoming fathers. At the birth some felt nothing. Others were overwhelmed by instant love and connection. Each man is unique, and so is his experience as a father.
Will is now four months old. Here I want to share a few of my experiences as a first-time father (so far).
When William was born – even the day after – I cried. I was a dad. I had a son…it was hard to put into words. All I could do was thank God. The first weeks watching him sleep, wake up, and eat were the most amazing things ever! When he started holding up his head I couldn’t believe it. When he started lifting up his head while on his tummy we kneeled around him cheering him on like he was a professional athlete. When he was able to stand up on his own (with help balancing) we cheered him on again. Further along in his development he would giggle and smile at us causing us to respond even more ecstatically. When I first saw him smile (for reasons other than having gas) it was like I had been hit by a freight train of joy, WHAM! It was unreal. I also get to make up songs all the time to sing to him when putting him to bed, getting him ready to leave, feeding him, and so on. So fun! 🙂
The milestones and development surely have been exciting and what makes being a father well-worth the ride. Yet this is just one side of the coin.
Sometimes, when William wasn’t going to sleep I would get frustrated with him, even angry. (Embarrassing, I know. How can I be angry at this ball of cuteness for not sleeping?). Well, sleep is kind of like oxygen. If you don’t get enough of it, you can start to get frantic, at least inside. Some of my most desperate prayers were asking God to help him simply to stay asleep. You can’t really know what it’s like until you’ve been there.
When he wasn’t getting enough food or gaining weight I wasn’t sure how best to support Amanda. It was really stressful. She was his food source, and that was it. I couldn’t just say, “Ok, I’ll take a turn now.” She was the one to get up with him throughout the night. Imagine feeding someone ever couple hours 24/7. Then to find he wasn’t gaining weight because he wasn’t getting enough food! Oh yeah, and this is your newborn baby and your main job is to keep him alive for the first years of his life. The pressure was real, and I wasn’t always sure how best to help her. Thank God for the support we found from the friends, family and professionals we’ve connected with (not to mention the “Mom’s WhatsApp Group” with YWAM) to encourage and help us! We couldn’t have done it without them.
Finally, I can be pretty selfish. Fatherhood tests this side of me on a whole new level. Sometimes I lay in bed knowing Amanda’s exhausted and needs me to help her with Will and I just keep sleeping. Or she’s nursing Will and asks me to get her something (again) because she can’t get up, and I get annoyed. Or sometimes I don’t do the dishes when it’s the least I could do. Or I get annoyed at Will for waking up and disrupting my time to myself… I think you get the picture. As much as I want to be a great dad, I don’t alway make selfless choices. The inner-battle is real.
Changing diapers was more-or-less a breeze. I wasn’t as disgusted or uncertain about it as I thought I might be. What’s funny is Amanda and I will congratulate him for pooping. We would say, “Good job buddy! Great poop!” We would do this even if it was a ‘poonami’, exploding beyond his diaper. And when we finish changing his diaper we congratulate him again for cooperating and not peeing on us. 😛
We cheer Will on for everything. Pooping. Eating. Sleeping. Farting. Burping. Sitting in his car seat. Imagine cheering your friends on for things like that! Hilarious.
I thought I would have a hard time with spit-up because I like to have clean clothes. Usually, if anything gets on my clothes, I’ll go immediately and clean the spot to make sure I don’t get a stain. Turns out I just don’t care. If he spits up on me I might wipe it with something, but I don’t even go clean it with water and soap. It’s just become a normal part of life. In fact, as I was writing this blog I took a break and he spit up into my beard (for the first time ever) and onto my favorite shirt. It’s still sitting there…well not in the beard. 🙂
Fatherhood is full of joys, challenges, and surprises. It’s a journey that is unique for every dad out there. Here are some final thoughts:
- Finding support is really important – emotional and practical support for you and your wife as you take on the journey. For instance, connect with other dads who you can reach out to if you need help or encouragement.
- Fatherhood isn’t about perfection, it’s about learning how to deal with, walk through and embrace your imperfections and the challenges you face as you grow into being a dad. Give yourself grace.
- Check your anger when you notice it. Don’t just hide and suppress it. I don’t know the science, but sometimes I could tell that William was picking up on frustration I had, even if I wasn’t expressing it – particularly in those desperate times I was trying to get him to sleep. Learning to be aware of my emotions and how to calm them has been really helpful. I can then re-enter the moment with Will rather than staying stuck in my self.
- Be fully present. I try to pause and be fully present with Will as often as I can. If I’m in the middle of something and Amanda needs me to hold him for a bit, I’ll sometimes pause what I was doing until Amanda takes him again.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You may be the quiet dad, the loud dad, the clumsy dad, the athletic dad…whichever dad you are, be that dad. Like I said: every dad is different. And on top of that, every baby is different. Walk your own journey of fatherhood. With that…
- Invite God into fathering your child with you. Ask Holy Spirit not only to help you with the journey, but to actually work in and raise your child with you, filling in the gaps and teaching him as he grows up.
- Speak “good things” over your child. We’ve prayed and had others pray over Will and through this we’ve discovered some things from God about him. When I speak over Will, “You’re beautiful. You’re a gift. You’re loved and cherished.” or “You are a quiet, gentle, and strong leader. You are a safe place for people…” and so on – he will actually zone in on me, as if he’s taking it all in. These are really special moments.
Final Note: I can’t say enough how thankful I am for Amanda. She has worked so much harder than me at caring for William. As a father, I’ve had much less work to do thus far. Though it’s Father’s day, I just have to honor Amanda too. Without her, I wouldn’t be as good of a dad.