Editor’s Note: Alex Stadler recently became a first-time father and, as he said “was immediately swept down a hazy, humbling, chaotic, 24-hour frenzy of a river that is called fatherhood.” He offers this glimpse into his early days as a member of this club where he learns his roles as “THE DAD.” – KMcK.
Out of the cloudy haze of unconsciousness a small voice whispers, Are you going to change his diaper?
Through my just cracked eyelids I notice my wife getting up to prepare to change my son’s diaper, and I ask, feeling insulted, Why are you asking me to do it, if you are already doing it?
I am shocked when she tells me she had been asking me repeatedly, and I was saying Yeah, yeah!, but never moving. I had no idea.
We often recall this and laugh. I am ever in awe at how much of a physically challenging situation new parenthood is, and how taken for granted we parents are by society.
I am now a part of We.
My lifelong buddy Andrew, who already has three children welcomed me into “The Fatherhood Club” the other day. I was taken aback at how nice it felt to be welcomed. Thank you, Andrew.
Night after night, I look up and it is 3 a.m., and I find myself sitting in the glider with my infant boy in my arms. I am half (OK, mostly) unconscious. Eyes shutting on me despite my best efforts, my head is bobbing uncontrollably, and I am probably drooling. My wife’s eyes are also half shut (so she cannot confirm the drool) as she is sitting right next to me and pumping breast milk.
I am trying to keep a bottle in my son’s mouth, and he is spitting it out, coughing, drooling, spastically swatting it out, and simultaneously appearing starving, but refusing to suck. My boy is squirming, agitated, and apparently spinning out of control into a howling mess from which I’m sure we will never survive.
All of a sudden my wife is telling me Do this and try that. I’m appalled.
I am THE DAD, I think to myself, and I can figure this out on my own, and no one needs to tell me what to do to help my son. He’s MY SON.
What ensued was one of the stupidest arguments ever. My wife and I both apologized to each other the next day.
Of course becoming THE DAD has meant significant change for me. As I continue to establish myself as skilled at calming my boy out of his tailspins and coaxing him into sleep. My wife has noticed and now refers to me as Mo Rivera, our family’s closer.
My wife now views me through a new and different lens, as new stressors appear seemingly out of thin air, and I have had to come to terms with the fact that I must reassert my love for my wife in a new way – as the mother to my child who along with me is struggling with her new role.
I am also coming to terms with the fact that I am not nearly as perfect, important or central a figure, anymore, now that we have a very little boy in our home. I have to assert myself as the gatekeeper to family, friends and strangers.
Of course, I owe an immeasurable amount of gratitude to my mother-in-law for her domestic support and to my mother for whom I now know a new level of respect for going through this for me. We are incredibly fortunate to have them in our lives and for having kept us alive when we were newly born. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this would be without them and tip my hat to all new parents who are without such amazing help.
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Alex Stadler is a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapist in private practice, and a mental health consultant to numerous NYC human services agencies. Visit his websites at effectivetherapynyc.com and therapynewyorkny.com.
His most recent contribution to our blog was End the Silence about Male Depression.