Not long after my wife, Kat, and I brought our first child — Eva — home seven years ago, I was wracked with guilt because I felt there was only so much I could do to help out in those first few weeks of Eva’s life.
I was anxious because I don’t like to let people down — especially my wife. And now, my kid. I mean, I knew I had the rest of my life to let Eva down as a dad, I just didn’t want to kick that off so soon.
I swore I’d seek some sort of guidance, a lifeline, a little support, to see if what I was feeling wasn’t so strange. Or, to find out if I was heading down the path of male postpartum depression. I swore I’d find help to get me back on track, but the thought of reaching out and looking for support seemed intimidating. Maybe I was a bit ashamed, like I wasn’t cut out to be a dad. So I put that off.
I wish I hadn’t.
GIVE DADS INSIGHT
My friends Rob and Erica had their first child last year. As the euphoria of being able to claim her on his 2016 taxes wore off, what Rob said he felt when they were back home for a few days hit close to home with me and, as it turns out, with a lot of guys I know.
“Overall most of the pressure I felt was about Erica since she was, and still is, breast feeding,” he said. But was there anything he needed to make those first few weeks easier?
“Maybe just understanding more of what I could do to help with feedings, sleep, all of that,” he says. “You learn as you go and figure it out but, just overall, having more knowledge on ‘what to do to help’ and maybe how to better schedule/organize all of it would’ve been nice.”
Ah, but did he look for guidance from anyone to help him understand what he was feeling or needed? Nope. Just like me. Didn’t even type “support for new dads” on Google to see if there was anything there.
I asked my friend Corey Shiffman, whose daughter is now 11, if he could remember when she was a baby. If he’d had the support he needed at the time, or anything he wished he’d known to make an easier go of it all (a big ask for a father of a ‘tween girl). He told me that he was pretty lucky in that he “… had unbelievable support from friends and family.”
But in general, isn’t it true that dads need the exact same encouragement and support that moms do?
PARENT ROLES ARE CONVERGING
“Don’t say to a new dad, ‘How’s the babysitting going?’ I’m not a babysitter, I’m a father,” says Shiffman. “I don’t watch my child, I parent her. Would you ask a new mom that question?”
A 2016 Pew Research Study (pewresearch.org) shows that parenting roles have been converging for many years now, and more and more dads see parenting as “central to their identity,” almost as much as moms at 57 – 58 percent.
The fact that dads want to play an active role in every aspect of their baby’s and growing kid’s life needs to be recognized and encouraged.
There are dads (a ton of us, thankfully) who are every bit as involved in the child rearing as moms are.
For the most part, society gets that, if not expects it. Support for dads is a different kind of support, to be sure. It’s not the “How do I know when the baby is hungry?” stuff, but equally as important.
Because, when you get right down to it, those first few weeks or months for new dads are terrifying and exhausting — as much as they are for the new mom.
Shiffman says it best: “We’re ready to blow at any moment from stress and worry and in need of encouragement and nourishment so that we can pass that along to our new child.”
Don’t be like I was. Go ahead and reach out if you’re a new dad dealing with anxiety and uncertainty. You’ll be a lot better off for it.
HELPFUL WEBSITES FOR DADS
The WATCH D.O.G.S. program gets you involved in your child’s schools.
Check out the “DadTalk” blog and the “Tips and Activities” section for ways to stay involved with your kids.
A national organization dedicated to helping fathers socialize and support one another. Includes a blog, podcast and chapters in cities all around the country.
Support, education and advocacy for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their children.