When people ask, “How is it being a father?,” I wish I can respond with these three words. However, because I want to avoid quizzical looks and long drawn out conversations, I would give in to the typical excitement and happiness that people have for our newborn.
My daughter was born about one month ago and never have I felt time pass by so fast. It is only now in this brief respite of quietness that I am forcing myself to reflect and not vegetate with Brooklyn 99.
Without a doubt, once our daughter came out of my wife’s womb, it had to be one of the most magical experiences ever—minus the brief moment of extreme frustration towards my mother-in-law for telling me to look at her phone camera a certain way.
It is interesting how labor is mostly associated with the movie scene pictures of the woman yelling and screaming with her legs hoisted up. It doesn’t prepare people for the twenty hour process, perhaps a reason why the instant gratification culture prefers to avoid natural births.
Nonetheless, whilst my wife labored laboriously, I could not help but feel useless for most of the early portion. In fact, at one point I felt quite bored just sitting next to her, waiting and resting with her until the next contraction and bout of pain. I refrained from trying to “capitalize” the time by reading a book or something and joyfully waited, massaged, and breathed with her.
Then came the intense, active labor, where everyone had differing opinions to offer—take the drugs, go all natural, don’t look down there, watch the whole show, expect her to cuss her head off at you. Looking back, it took a lot of butt and hip massages, warm showers, deep breathing, water feeds, and a lot of encouragement, and then everything is instantly forgotten. The literal sweat, blood, and tears, agony, defeat, persistence, strength, courage, weakness, hope—all describe the amazing woman my wife is as she climbed through one of the toughest experiences of her life. And while I could not be more amazed by her, the existential thoughts going through my mind at the moment were something along the lines of this is not right and wow was pregnancy worth it?
But as I said, then the magic happens and what seemed like a baby that refused to come out, all of a sudden slivers out and these thoughts and feelings are shuffled underneath the amazement, joy, awe, and wonder. And while most arduous journeys in life that are conquered have an end and come with a sense fulfillment, the extreme process of labor is quickly shuffled underneath taking care of a newborn.
People’s responses are expected—precious, adorable, cute. And all the congratulations, smiles, gifts, messages, all the happiness and joy are genuine and true, however like with most things in the modern life the scale leans so heavily on a positive-only response, that it feels wrong to be frustrated and useless.
And those sentiments are only the tip of the iceberg, trickling down from the labor mountain, while the real ugly stuff is festering underneath all the attempts to match people’s expectations of what it ought to be like to have a newborn.
Society has taken some steps forward, such as offering the P.U.R.P.L.E. crying handbook and identifying and labeling a new mental health issue of postpartum depression. But what about dealing with things like a lack of love for the newborn? Lack of patience is probably a top-seller, followed up by a lack of gentleness thus the need for a handout to inform broader society not to shake their babies out of frustration. But rather than normalizing these “typical” responses, I am oddly aware of how evil I can be—or to Christianize it, sinful.
When people hear on the news of abandoned children and are horrified, I have a small taste of understanding why individuals would do that. The amount of sacrifice it takes, the amount of love to pour on a newborn is not something anyone or any learning can prepare you for. And while some of this is understandable and “tolerable” sin, God and I know some of the even more wicked passing thoughts that cross my mind, and some of the fleeting anger, and as Jesus would say, is on a scale of murder.
I expected this major life change would come with its challenges and hurdles. It is not the diaper changing and adjustments to our living that ever worried me. It was knowing that with every major challenge and struggle in life, comes a deeper awareness of self, comes with a deeper confrontation with values, personal and societal, it comes with new tensions on old and new relationships.
There is no doubt that I love my daughter. There is without a doubt a deep sense of gratitude for her life, period, as well as how well-behaved and how happy she is. There is so much happiness and joy to see my wife becoming more whole and complete as she was meant to be a mother. There is without a doubt an immense love growing, beyond my own capacity.
But it is challenging. There are many times frustrations if not checked quickly can fester into something much more toxic. There are many times where I feel useless, which I also understand can lead to depression. There are many times where my evil, wicked heart and mind is revealed, and damn it is ugly to have to face.
It is difficult, but every new waking moment with my daughter comes new joys and I forget the hyper-selfish, gluttonous, dependent, whiney, needy, baby that she is. It is amazing that there is a capacity within me to love her in that regards. It amazes me even more that there is a God who does the same for me, for the world that continues to choose to live in that hyper-selfish, gluttonous, dependent, whiney, needy state.
How I long for the day where there will be no more tears.