What It Is To Be A Father

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Do you know that postpartum depression can affect fathers, not just mothers?  It’s true, and luckily it’s becoming more widely known and accepted.  Personally, I don’t care about labeling what someone is feeling or experiencing.  The important part here is that people understand they are not alone and what they are going through is real in the moment but it does not have to be their life.  As a father, feeling symptoms of depression after the birth of a child is real and if you feel those things, don’t let it linger – be aware and take care of yourself.  Talk about it, especially with the mother of your child, with friends, family, or a professional.

I, thankfully, did not and do not have postpartum depression, but I did have my moments of confusion and frustrations, especially early on.  I want to share my experience and my thoughts on being a father through the newborn stages – as my son, Weston, is 3 months old.  I am going to be talking from my perspective and experiences, as that is all that I know, but I do think that all fathers should be doing these things.  This is how I view fatherhood, so far.  

We tend to think that motherhood and fatherhood start when a baby is born, however, I believe it starts long before that.  If it is in the universe for us to be a parent, then everything we do up until the point of conception and the birth of our child matters.  Every choice, every experience, every single thing we do plays a role in the expression of our genes we pass along to our children.  Those things we do also affect our ability to find our true self and better understand our role in the universe. I do not necessarily think that the possibility of being a parent in the future should dictate all aspects our lives as we progress through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, but it is something that we should be aware of, be mindful of. 

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Beyond that, I believe that parenthood starts when we decide to have a baby or first find out we are pregnant (if it is unplanned).  The health of our body and mind plays a huge role in our abilities to get pregnant and the development of our child in the womb. We certainly have little control and little say over anything that happens – such as, actually getting pregnant, the sex of a baby, the size of a baby, the development of a baby, and so on. We have absolutely no control over those. That is all beyond any body-mind.  When Kait was pregnant with Weston she was absolutely unaware of how he was developing inside of her, and I, of course, had no clue.  We control when or how his heart or nose or toes or ears formed. Or how or when his cardiovascular and nervous systems formed. They just do. There’s something beyond our understanding, and certainly beyond our control, that allows that to happen.  Let’s call it the unexplainable.

What we do have is the ability to influence the development of a baby because it is happening within the body. The body is the vessel in which the unexplainable happens. 

The health of the body, which is also tied to the health of the mind (as we know, if you read my previous article – Movement is Important, but it is NOT Everything), will have an effect on how well the unexplainable is able to guide the development of the baby. The healthier the humans, the clearer and stronger the connection, the better development of the baby.

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Sure, genes play a role; and we know that genes have many, many expressions and the dominant expression is heavily influenced by the conditioning of our mind and body (see Joe Dispenza’s work). The happier and healthier the parents, the greater the chance of the baby developing the same way and even improving upon the abilities of the parents.

We might not be able to determine how or when the nervous, musculoskeletal, or cardiovascular systems are forming, but we can give the unexplainable the best shot possible at making some excellent systems.  We do this by being healthy. We do this by being happy, at peace, and free from stresses as often as possible.  We do this by conditioning ourselves to be our best so our dominant expressions of our genes are positive and are more likely to pass on to our children.

 

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So what is the fathers role?

Everything out there seems to be about the mom, or mama as they tend to be referred to by marketers, mom groups, and basically anything baby. All of those things should exist. But it drives me nuts when everything is only about moms. The majority of marketing is towards moms, they rarely show dad taking care of, or wearing the baby.  It’s always mom. Even with how involved and aware I try to be, Kait is number one because she has been the one home for the past three months and she is breast feeding, so I get it.  But what about dad?

Here is how I view the role of a father, especially through the newborn stage, but a lot of this can apply throughout life.  Dads and future dads out there, this is for you.

Be Healthy

First and foremost, the fathers role is to be healthy. Healthy in body, mind and spirit.

Healthy in body by being fit, mobile, and free of illness and disease. I feel it is necessary to quickly explain what I mean by fit. Fit is not about vanity. It’s not about looking a certain way, being ripped, and spending hours in the gym. Fit is about eating well, feeling good, being strong, and the ability for your body to handle various forms of stress without breaking down.  It’s about being able to easily hold, carry, protect, and play with your child.

Healthy in mind means being aware, or being mindful about who you really are. Being happy, free, peaceful, loving and grateful. This requires not being selfish, immature, reckless, miserable, angry, and  not being a “hate my job and commute” person.

Spirit, well that’s for those who want to and are ready to be on a spiritual journey. Through this journey we seek to better understand and become aware of our true self and our true nature.  Being aware of this brings us more quickly and more often to happiness, peace, and freedom.

Sounds like everything we want for our children, doesn’t it? Children learn from observing so setting the example is so very important.

Ok, so being healthy is role number one. Being healthy leading up to, during conception, during pregnancy, during labor, and throughout the child’s life. That’s ideal.

 

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Be A Great Husband

Following being healthy, the next most important role for the father is to be a good husband, boyfriend, companion, or whatever the father’s relationship is to the mother.  What that is called doesn’t matter, it’s about what you do and the person you are in the relationship.  I am going to refer to this as the husband, because that’s what I am.

Being a good husband is so extremely important for being a father.  As the father, we kind of sit around and watch a lot.  I think this is where the postpartum tends to come in, because we feel like there isn’t much we can do.  Like we don’t have a role and we can’t do anything.  But, we certainly do and can.  

We obviously have a role in the conception of the child.  During pregnancy, our role is to be supportive and present.  Not only present in body, but also present in mind.  We should be communicating well with our wives.  We should be aware of how she is feeling and if she needs anything.  Not necessarily just going out and getting anything that she is craving, but we should be helping her stay healthy and strong.  We should be making sure she is getting the nutrients she and the baby need. No, I am not saying that we have to control everything the mother eats, but overloading on sugar is a serious concern with pregnancy.  If I didn’t encourage Kait to try her best to eat anything somewhat healthy, I swear she would have tried to survive on ice cream alone.

Kait had a very sick pregnancy, for about the first 22 weeks.  There was nothing I could do to help her feel better.  It was hard.  I could only be there for her and be supportive at times.  I held her hair and rubbed her back when she would vomit, and wanted me around.  She couldn’t stand the smell of onions or rice, so we adjusted what we were making.  I had to make the vast majority of our food and Avett’s food (yes, we make our dogs food.  It’s so much healthier and he loves it.  He either would eat the food or had blood in his poop with pre-made/store bought food.  Has never had that issue since we stated making his food).  Kait couldn’t even be in the house at some points.  She couldn’t stand the smell of my hair product, it made her gag, so I had to switch it up.  Small things like that.  As the husband and father, it is our role to be supportive, comforting, and present.

During labor and birth, our role, again, is to be supportive, comforting, and present.  First, we have to be there.  

Kait went completely natural, no pain meds of any kind.  It was a long process, from water breaking to Weston’s birth, it took 36 hours.  I was there to do what I could for Kait, to help her feel comfortable and to help her get things moving.  I felt like there wasn’t much I could do or much I was doing.  I was just there.  I used techniques we learned in a class we took to help reduce pain during contractions.  I have an advantage as a physical therapist that I am highly educated on the anatomy of the body and know how to manually assist people.  I knew where to place my hands to make her more comfortable, how to place my body so I didn’t hurt myself or tire too quickly.  Still, I had to have constant feedback from Kait to make sure what I was doing was helping her.  I got her water and ice.  I held her hand and provided words of encouragement and answers to her questions when I could. I kept family in the loop, kind of.  Though I didn’t feel like I was doing much, afterwards, Kait said she needed me there and expressed how helpful I was.

Watching Kait go through labor was one of the craziest things I have ever witnessed. It was amazing, she was amazing. It made me fall even deeper in love with her.  I was not expecting that at all, but I did.  Kait actually said that she fell deeper in love with me after that too.  Neither of us had expressed that to each other until a few weeks ago, which was funny because neither of us would have guessed that of the other.

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So the baby is here.  Being a husband now becomes even more important.  First, we have to set the example to show our children love from an early age.  We have to show them how to love so they love their mother, father, siblings, friends, animals, all people, the earth, and so on.  We show them through doing.  

The most common examples of love that Weston will see are the love we show him, the love we show Avett, and the love shared between Kait and me.

Secondly, as fathers, we have to be present.  We actually have to be around, often.  If our job offers a paternity leave or we can afford it, then we should take the time off.  

I am self employed, which means I can take off as much time as I want but I also need the income.  I can’t afford to give myself paternity leave, but I am lucky that I can really make my schedule what I want it to be.  What I want it to be, is home with my family as much as possible.

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When we are home, physically present, we must also be mentally present.  We should not be spending all of our time in front of the TV, computer, phone, or out in the yard.  When we are holding our child, be in that moment with him/her, not scrolling on Instagram or whatever.  We have to be around our wife and child, even if we have other things to do.  Be there.

I think I found the most challenging aspect of being a father so far – constantly questioning whether I am doing enough –questioning whether I am doing my fair share because we decided to breast feed Weston, so Kait does all of the feeding.  She pumps sometimes, but that doesn’t work as well for her, so she really takes all of the feeding on.  Young babies eat a lot!  So I would feel like I would come home from working with clients, hold Weston for 10 minutes, then he would need to eat and go back to sleep.  I felt like I was so insignificant at times, those are some signs and symptoms postpartum, for sure.  But I talked about them with Kait.  We reassured each other when the other needed it, and also when we didn’t.

 

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Father – Child Connection 

Have you ever heard parents say that they felt this immediate connection to their baby, as soon as the baby was born?  I sure have.  I think this is another point of contention for fathers (and mothers) that can lead to postpartum depression, however is not regularly and openly discussed.  Don’t be alarmed or feel like something is wrong with you if you do not feel an immediate strong connection to your baby.  Be there for him/her from the very start.  Hold, kiss, and love him/her and the connection will form and grow.

I certainly didn’t feel an intense connection with Weston right away.  He seemed like every other baby, except I knew this one came out of  my wife and that I was responsible for keeping him alive and happy.  I was definitely committed to taking care of him and had some kind of love for him immediately, but I didn’t feel that connection I feel now.  Honestly, I wasn’t really worried about it. I knew that the connection would form with time and would get stronger the more Weston and I were around each other.  It has, and I know it will continue to grow.  

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Here are some of the things I do to be involved as a father and husband with a young baby:

  • Go to whatever classes she wants to leading up to labor and birth
  • Take on the bulk of diaper changes
  • Dress the baby
  • Do every part of the bedtime routine that you can
  • Bathe him/her together
  • Have a carrier so you can wear him/her
  • Cook
  • Clean the house
  • Do the laundry
  • Food Shop
  • Do all of the heavy lifting until your wife is healed enough – then either hold your child while she lifts things, or you still do it — I am thinking of carrying the baby in the carseat.  Or in our case, we have a stoop with 4 steps leading into our rowhome so we have to carry the stroller in and out. I do that, especially if Weston is still in the stroller.  
  • Walk the dog
  • Go on family walks
  • Push the stroller
  • If you are working or out, come home and find out what your son/daughter did new today
  • If you are working or out, ask your wife is she needs a break from him/her as soon as you get home
  • Share the load 
  • Baby is crying — take turns trying to calm him/her
  • Read to your child
  • Listen to music together – or play music – or sing to him/her
  • Dance with your baby
  • Travel as a family
  • Plan trips
  • Sit in the backseat of the car with your child
  • Be Kind*
  • Be Grateful*
  • Be Happy* 

*If you’re not, be truthful with yourself and work on it – get help if needed 

All of those things, to me, are being a father, being a really good father.  Make sure your wife or the mother of your child is getting space to be able to do things for herself too.  Make sure you both still have your time to be you and not only identify as a mother or a father.  Be you too.  Be the example of who you want your child to be — not who you don’t want them to be.  Be understanding to the amount of work – physically, emotionally, mentally – that the mother of your child is going through during pregnancy, labor/birth, and throughout the child’s entire life.  Be healthy, be a husband (or whatever your relationship is), be present – fully, and be loving.  Allow the unexplainable to do it’s thing, as best as it knows how.

 

“Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.” – The Avett Brothers,  Murder in the City

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✌️ – Check Out My New Article – Maternity Leave: A Father/Husband’s Perspective

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