One way of telling this story starts at 10:01 AM, on an oppressively hot summer day, in a mysteriously cold hospital delivery room. My wife, at that moment to me simultaneously at her most human and superhuman, on one bed; our seconds old daughter, flailing and blue, on another; all of us waiting for her to just cry. I remember it so vividly, like it happened in slow motion. All of those hours in that room fade with time, but those last few moments couldn’t be more clear.
This would be the “birth story,” and while it does capture a personally world-shifting moment, it would be both a narrative and personal injustice to assume that fatherhood started there.
Was it when we found out Caity was pregnant? I remember thinking it took forever, but we were lucky to only have to play the monthly pregnancy test game a few times. In my typical romantic fashion, I didn’t believe her when she told me that the test was positive (believe me guys, this is not a reaction I would recommend). I know it’s because I could barely see that nearly invisible blue line, and the disappointment of a false positive seemed to me the greater danger, but perhaps on some level my brain hadn’t adjusted to such a major life decision transforming from an intention, an abstract idea, to a biological reality. Of course I was excited! But also terrified, and anxious, and overjoyed, and confused, and relieved, and in love, and just so curious.
Nine months is a long time to wait to meet your child.
And then there was the decision itself. We talked about it for years, as couples do. We both agreed early on that we wanted kids. We got married, school came and went, jobs were settled into. We each wavered at different times, and in the end realized that we would never be “ready” financially, but that we had passed the point of no emotional return. What were we waiting for?
Pregnancy was not easy. And I’m saying that as the partner that wasn’t pregnant. I know there are probably some people out there who had a great time with it, and that every pregnancy is different, but I can’t think of a life experience I’ve had in which I’ve gained more respect for someone than I did for Caity in her pregnancy, labour, and delivery.
The division of parenting labour at the start of a child’s life is not even, and it’s not even close. I find myself wondering how that affects dads psychologically. I’m guessing my own experience – a confusing mix of sympathy, relief, guilt, and reluctant acceptance of my relative powerlessness – is not unique. But what other conclusion than acceptance could I come to? When biology draws a line, it uses permanent marker.
My daugher is 12 weeks old, but I’m not sure when I started thinking of myself as a father. I always imagined what this role would be like, but how could I know before it happened? How could I know how impossible those first two weeks would be, that days would go by without leaving the apartment, that weeks would go by before I would sleep in my own bed? How could I know the immense, world-shifting, word-failingly powerful sense of sheer joy at the moment of her birth? How could I know the panic and disbelief that they would actually let us go home by ourselves and have to figure out what to do with this baby?
How could I know that in coming between us, a new person could make me love my wife more than I ever thought I could?
And then there is my relationship with my daughter. I’m a therapist. I spend my professional life trying to help people, often young people, so I’m accustomed to the idea of being a role model, or at least not being an idiot, because I know the power, for both good and evil, that a meaningful relationship can have. But to be a dad? To think to myself, whatever I do, that she is learning from me whether she wants to or not? That I am basically setting a foundation for so many other relationships she’ll have later in life? That’s a totally new feeling, and it sums up a lot of my thoughts on fatherhood right now.
It’s the scariest, and best, feeling in the world.
*Photos by Alana Couch Photography.