A Millennial’s Honest Thoughts on Fatherhood After Two Sleepless Weeks In
Parenting is a new type of love I’ve never experienced before.
All the other loves — marriage, friendship, community, spiritual, professional — all have some sort of kickback.
But very early stage parenting, especially for mothers, is one hundred percent pure sacrifice.
“So it’s the most genuine then,” a friend said when I told him this.
“I suppose,” I said.
The night our beautiful daughter was born is one I will never forget. After our family members had left and it was my exhausted wife and me in the hospital room alone with our newborn for the first time, she (the baby) wouldn’t stop crying.
As much as I paced the room at two o’clock in the morning holding her in my arms, her apache war cry wouldn’t seem to lessen. Her little chin trembled and her entire red-flushed body shook in torment as she shrieked.
“This is our life now,” I remember saying bitterly as the weight of responsibility and sacrifice became more and more real with each passing high-pitched sob coming from the little person in my arms who was only a dozen hours old.
I was sad. But “the transition” is always the hardest. It gets better. So I’m told.
Several nights ago, laying in bed with my phone and my daughter, I found a comment buried at the bottom of a gutsy article entitled “I became a new dad and all I could feel was resentment” published in The Guardian. It’s a story about a new father being driven to depression, alcoholism, and mental instability that led to a physical altercation with his own father and eventually counseling. The new dad felt so angry and bitter that it destabilized and incapacitated him. The point of the article was that new dads need to talk about their feelings and not keep the resentment all bottled up inside “like a man.”
The reactions to the article, similar to my own, were divided into two camps.
One horde of commenters had zero sympathies and said things like, “suck it up” and “you’re lucky your wife didn’t leave you” and “sounds like your wife had to take care of two children.”
Another group was more understanding. “Thanks for being honest about this,” they said, “you’re not alone,” and “kids are tough, we’ve all been there.”
The comment that struck me most was a sentence that brilliantly encapsulates the millennial view of having kids.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would ever choose to no longer be the most important person in their own life.”
This sentence hit me like a sledgehammer in the chest.
Having an infant makes you no longer the most important person in your own life.
On a superficial level, I knew it was a ridiculous comment. Of course, I’m not the most important person in life. It would be SO SELFISH to even think that. I’m a good enough person to know that life isn’t all about me. Only immature young people can be so self-centered.
But on an authentic level, I knew it was true. I want to be the most important person in my own life. What’s wrong with that? I’m happiest when I am free to live as I see fit. This is the ethos of the “me-generation.”
And why millennials are terrified of having kids.
Globetrotting, job quitting, photo filtering millennials are less afraid (than their parents and grandparents) of risk and unconventional lifestyles because they’re anchored. They’ve found their “why.”
Past generations tended to operate by “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” by traditions, rules, and unquestioned obligations. Do the right thing. Forget about yourself. Nobody cares about your “feelings.”
But millennials question everything. Once they find an answer they believe in, they do it whole-hog. This is why they can be the boldest, most driven people, but also the laziest. Because they’ve found their why.
It’s me. The reason deep down for why a millennial does anything is myself. I like being the most important person in my own life.
This why having kids flies in the face of the millennial ethos. It’s terrifying. It goes against everything that makes logical sense in their lives. They want their freedom, choice, and options to live their best life.
A baby is a ball-and-chain.
Deep work, going to the movie theater, week-long tech conferences, and traveling abroad — things I treasured — are all over. I can’t do them, or at least, I’m not enough of an asshole to do them without my wife.
We’ve spent the last two weeks cooped up in our house, changing diapers, warming up bottles of breastmilk, and burping our baby.
For some people, kids are the ultimate purpose in life. The most fulfilling call. The most satisfying role. These people say they didn’t feel fully alive until they had kids.
I call these people “purpose parents.”
It’s based on advice from an anonymous parent who posted in an online forum:
Only have kids if you really, really, really want to have kids.
Some people really, really, really want to have kids.
But what if you only mostly wanted to have kids?
What if you derive the majority of your fulfillment in life from elsewhere?
What if you’ve already found something that makes you happy?
For non-purpose parents, having kids can feel like a ball-and-chain.
But these two weeks of fatherhood — my daughter — has taught me something else.
Bitterness comes from a short-term perspective.
Frustration comes from getting lost in the difficulty of the moment. Joy comes from the idea that when I’m 85 I’ll have a daughter who will take me in when nobody else will. God-willing.
You might call the scariest part of parenting “feeling stuck” — the yoke is heavy but the burden is light (~8 lbs right now).
Feeling stuck causes bitterness and resentment. It’s how we cope with feeling helpless. We can’t change the situation, but we spin ourselves in angry circles trying to.
Instead of becoming resentful, I’m learning to grieve and let go. My wife and I are grieving the loss of some of the most fun and happiest times in our lives. That life is over and this new one has begun. Grieving allows my perspective to change. Letting go lets me grow. I’m no longer the most important person in my own life and it’s okay to let that fact take some time to sink in.
One father I talked with has a two-year-old son. He acknowledged that it’s been hard but he said he’s never felt more joy in his life. My older brother and sister-in-law have four kids all under the age of five. My brother turned 30 last week. He said more and more he keeps finding joy in the little things.
Sometimes, it’s hard to find the joy in parenthood in the first few weeks. Perhaps I am just caught up in the middle of the most significant transformation in my life. But just because I can’t find joy doesn’t mean I shouldn’t search for it.
Yes, the benefits to early infant parenting are few and far between. But they’re there. I just need to undergo greater pruning inside to see them.
Fatherhood is a new type of love I’m learning about.
Wealth, fame, followers, vibrant traveling experiences, and success all provide a thrilling farrago of happiness. Don’t get me wrong, these are still motivations for me. I don’t plan to lose my ambition as a millennial. I don’t ever plan to “settle down.”
But there are layers of personal character I don’t think I’ve developed yet.
Namely, love, as cheesy as that sounds.
Love is hard and selfishly illogical. These first two weeks of fatherhood couldn’t make that any clearer. I’m still struggling to articulate it, and I’ve only just begun this journey, but I’m imagining this kind of love does wonders for your personal character.