Be true: Fatherhood is hard

I shouldn’t be awake right now. I should be asleep because, in less than three hours, I have to drive everyone to the airport. Then we’ll board a plane bound for Denver for a week-long vacation with the in-laws. There’s a lot happening in these next 12 hours.

I really shouldn’t be awake right now, but I had to rip through two hours of work to catch up before vacation, and even then I’ll have to devote a couple hours next week to sending stories, receiving feedback and re-writing pieces. And with most of the work finished (sans the sending), I figured I could — and should — write a little about what’s on my mind. And what’s on my mind is that being a father is hard.

They — as in doctors, parents, friends, experts, television personalities, crazy people on message boards, authors — don’t coach you on it. Mothers get all the attention before and during the first months of a baby’s life. What to expect when you’re expecting? How about pain, mood swings, nervousness, a body that changes in ways you never thought possible. But very little about what men go through. Maybe it’s because American culture sees men as steel-solid robots capable of deflecting every baby bullet, or maybe it’s because American culture also sees men as incapable of being emotional, and instead relatively slow-witted and primitive. How can a baby change this one’s life? This one doesn’t even know what change means.

Well, that’s not true, but despite that, I get little help from the outside world. Friends would regularly tell me “It gets better” or “You won’t sleep,” and that’s comforting pep language for the first three months, but what happens when your daughter wants mommy all the time, or when your daughter cries mercilessly after drinking a bottle and nothing will calm her down?

We think Genevieve may be teething. That’s the explanation we have for now, and we won’t know the truth until either a tooth emerges or something more serious occurs. But at this moment, just before we step on a jet bound for the Rocky Mountains, where the air is thin and the mind gets dizzy, we have a daughter who cries a lot. Today there were two occasions in which I put her down in the crib while asleep, but then, she immediately kipped right up and stood on her own two feet, yelling with a tomato face. She cried a lot today. We don’t know why it’s happening, but we’re saying teething, and God help all the poor people on our plane in a few hours.

The hard part isn’t the unknown. I’ve learned pretty quickly that you can’t control what you don’t know, so there’s no reason to worry until you actually know. No, the hard part is knowing that something is wrong and having to stay patient around a two-foot-tall person screaming bloody murder but incapable of saying “here’s what’s wrong.” I’m past feeling sad when she cries — crying is old hat. I’m also past feeling frustrated when she cries. But I’m not past feeling sad, frustrated, tired and incapable all at the same time. I’m not a day care center with trained professionals at my side. On Thursdays I’m alone without a wife, typically without anyone. And on days when I really, really need to finish my work and Genevieve can’t help but cry because something is wrong, I’m really alone. I can’t vent to anyone. I can’t be sad. I can’t be angry. I have to be composed, and that’s really, really hard sometimes.

Sarah texted that she was likely to be late coming home from work, and then she texted that she would be even later. By this time I had finally calmed Genevieve enough — I dipped her under a cool shower for a moment, draped her in a towel and cuddled her close. We took to the couch and I held her so she could lay asleep. After 10 minutes of screaming she fell asleep, though because I could hear faint thumb sucking and I wasn’t able to myself fall asleep, I’m not sure that she ever completely fell. But we rested on the couch for about 80 minutes, on and off, until she finally awoke and screamed only a little more. Then I took her outside and she was calm, though her eyes were lost and slightly red.

There was a moment, just before I brought her to sleep and during a particularly jarring cry, that I sat still and blank. Genevieve’s screams cut into my ears and shattered my patience, but I couldn’t react. All I could do was stare hopelessly into the forward wall until I’d snap out of it and figure out what to do next. Mothers have handbooks that tell them what to do next (that said, I can’t imagine how mothers do it — any of it), but I feel as if fathers are just supposed to do the next thing, whether they know it or not.

Well, I can’t just do the next thing. I’m not an alpha male. I’m not the perfect specimen whose heart can’t shatter and whose patience can’t be broken. I get frustrated. I get sad. I get angry. I have to take walks alone. I have to drink once in a while. I have to take a weekend every couple months because parenting is taxing. I also don’t work as much as I used to — a stipulation of our financial status (and, by the way, it’s borderline criminal how many families can’t afford daily day care) — and that really affects a workaholic like myself. I have opinions about how my child should be raised. I want to be heard. I need to know what’s happening. I’m trying my best. And sometimes I need a moment before I try something because all of this is really hard.

That’s why I’m awake right now, because this is really hard and, for me, writing helps a lot. It’s one of my best means of therapy. If it happens to come now two hours before I have to wake up because we have to get to the airport, then so be it.

Fatherhood is hard. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. Own the frustration. Own the sadness. Own the hardship. Then find your therapy.