Three years ago, my daughter was born. The magical (screaming, agonizing and exhausting) miracle of birth ends with cutting the umbilical cord. I’m aware some dads do this themselves. I am not one of those dads.
Blood grosses me out. Cutting an actual flesh-tether connecting my wife to my daughter … um, yuck. Hard pass.
Come to think of it, how the heck did we, as a species, used to do this birthing thing before modern medicine? Did cavebabies stay attached, waiting for cavedoctors to invent a surgical knife?
But I digress.
I didn’t cut the umbilical cord. Didn’t watch too closely as the doctors did either. And … maybe I should have. Because years later, I’m pretty sure that moment wasn’t done right. The umbilical is still there.
Not literally, of course. But there’s more than flesh in those bonds.
Daddy’s little girl still attached to her mom
I’m a stay-at-home dad, so my kid is my responsibility alone for most of the day. Yet, for the first six months, I was not-the-mama.
My daughter wouldn’t let me feed her. Kid, let me feed you! Nope. No bottles. No hugs.
Wouldn’t let me change her. I know I’m not Mommy, but this is my job!
Not a smile or a kind word for six months. Fun times. Aren’t babies supposed to naturally love both parents? I think this kid missed a memo.
The umbilical tie to her mom proved to be stronger than just a preference. My wife works from home. If she wasn’t nearby, I’m not certain we would have survived those early months with my daughter. Some birds chuck their chicks out of the nest to watch them fly. Well, that wasn’t an option for us.
The year after that first one grew better. I became tolerated.
She knew Bandit Heeler, from the show Bluey, as “Dad” before she was willing to call me that word. Then again, Bandit’s introduced with song and dance shouting “Dad” whereas I was just … there.
And clearly, I was not Mom.
No quick way to cutting the cord with mom
So how did I do it? How did I finally cut the cord? My daughter’s 3 years old, and oh, she’s still attached to her mother, don’t get me wrong. And I’m grateful they’re close. But guess who else she’s attached to?
Yep, that’s right … still mom. But also, most times, this guy right here.
Guess who she runs to, and clings to? Who she sits on as a chair? Who she pours water on? Guess who she smears with markers? Who she tries to share her favorite food (her own boogers) with? Guess who gets invite to every tea party? And, of course, guess who gets used as a personal wagon to get places?
Cutting the umbilical cord took time. Oh, we tried the quick, surgical approach. This involved letting a babysitter inside the house before running as fast as we possibly could out the door without turning back. Imagine the loudest, most desperate scream session you can possibly envision. Maybe a billion decibels?
Yeah, we wish it had been like that. It was so much worse. The entire Earth caved in and I’m pretty sure flames came out of my daughter’s ears when we tried that.
The “spend time with dad” approach wasn’t a clean-cut success either. For example, as a former teacher, I always try to incorporate education into my time with our kids. I use themes like “colors” or “space” and so on to focus the kids’ attention. Well, I kid you not, we spent a week of necessary education around a single lesson: “Dad exists.”
Again and again, I’d emphasize this one concept. Puppet shows. Songs. Even good-old peekaboo. I think that week did help. A little.
I’m not exaggerating when I say my daughter’s love had to be earned and won.
Create a unique bond with your child
Ultimately, what worked best was not working on cutting the cord between my daughter and wife, but instead working on creating a new one — a true emotional attachment — between us.
In his book, The Ultimate Stay-At-Home Dad, fellow SAHD Shannon Carpenter talks about the importance of “Dadventures” — the journeys fathers take with their kids. This was a turning point my daughter and I. We started going on at least one Dadventure a week: a hike in the woods, a trip to the zoo, a visit to the children’s museum, and so on.
These are moments of pure joy for both of us, and it is through these deep, meaningful connections that a new umbilical began to grow. Not the icky blood-and-fluid kind, but the emotional tether that now bonds my daughter and I together.
Once, while navigating the packs of unsmiling moms at the children’s museum, my daughter kept running back to me and asking to be picked up. She put her hands on either side of my head and pulled me close, to kiss me on the cheek. This was a signal. I wasn’t Mom, born attached. I was Dad, and through hard work, play, and constant, constant love … I’d finally earned my own umbilical.
A cord I will always cherish.