Here is a confession: my marriage went from crazy beautiful to a living hell the first year after my baby girl was born. Adulthood struck me like thunder. I knew it was coming, but I could never suspect how hard it will hit. There is a cliché upside to all this, and I’m sure all experienced daddies will playback the whole “Children are fun and cute and make up for all the sacrifices they had to make” when asked. But that’s just it: fatherhood is not a sacrifice, and as soon as any daddy realizes this small fact, happiness starts pouring in.
So to get to the bottom of this very small, but common, issue I decided to go talk to several dads, anonymously. After only two interviews I realized that the problem is actually bigger than previously thought. Our society subscribes to the stereotype that men should just man-up.So when fathers start to feel anxious, empty, or out of control, they don’t understand it, and they certainly don’t ask for help.
My first subject was the father of two sons and a daughter, ages two, five and seven, respectively. He is a fun, outdoorsy, activity-centered, sports lover who is also overworked in marketing and advertisement, but loves what he does. “What scared me were the crazy thoughts that ran through my head at 4:00am when the kids were crying. What if I just left him screaming like a car alarm and went to bed? If I was sitting alone with the baby in a dark room, it seemed I was the only person in the world awake. All you have are your thoughts, most of which are, “God, I hope this gets better fast, because right now it sucks.”
My second subject was the father of one-year-old twins. A hobby-oriented, animal lover, tool nerd, and TV lover. He is an engineer who currently works in sales, because it brings in better financial compensation. “I knew that stupid things like watching TV, going on the computer, or taking a nap whenever I wanted were over; that was expected. But I was worried that I’d never get back to my hobbies, my friends, and my extended family. I felt trapped and started spending longer hours at work, because I didn’t want to come home and be guilty about the way I was feeling.”
Mommies tend to have larger social networks, and share stories and strategies during pregnancy and life as a mom, which could help. Daddies often find themselves alone and scared, so they tough it out the only way they know how to: by shutting out their emotions, getting distracted, or simply disappearing.
So apparently a different version of postpartum depression hits daddies, in a sense. First thing to realize is that you are not alone and it’s only natural, so listen to what nature is trying to tell you. All those changes require you to father-up, not man-up, by letting go of expectations and accepting the present. When you become aware of the triggers they become easily manageable. One such trigger is stress, or worrying too much about the future. Another issue is anxiety, obsessing over the past or “what might have been”. So if there is one thing to learn from other daddies’ experiences is to let go of both the future and the past and live in the present. Make sure you soak up all those amazing moments because they do fly. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, stressed or anxious remember that change is only natural, and the bigger the change, the bigger the lesson –the sweeter the reward.
You don’t have to live pretending everything’s alright. Even though that might seem like the tough thing to do, it actually makes you weak. So seek help if you need to. Help can be a talk with a friend, advice from a family member, or seeking a professional for guidance.