I had one year and three months with the love of my life before he morphed into this weird, unpredictable, hyperactive monster known around our house as ‘Daddad’.
That doesn’t seem like a long time to some of you, but it was long enough to form a pretty solid, lovable idea in my mind of what kind of person I was signing up to spend my life with. Creative, intelligent, stylish, athletic and above all else, caring, I had a pretty strong notion from very early on that this guy was someone amazing. He is also independent and definitely someone used to keeping his own time and schedule – not things that mesh well with family life (on face value). Then our daughter arrived and my larger than life, hilarious (and somehow serious at the same time) man turned into the monster that occasionally, accidentally, gives our daughter beard rash. The pall-bearer of her litter when she’s too tired to walk around the Mall by herself. Seemingly infinitely patient when she says, for the fiftieth time “you can’t get me!” and speeds off on chunky toddler legs into the crowded supermarket. Professional raspberry-blower, and teacher of lessons that are tough to learn (do not touch the fly screen, dear toddler!! Or Daddad will get you, RAAR!) Seeing the transformation a man goes through from bloke to dad is one of those most amazing sights to behold, second only to that internal shift we go through as women when turning into mothers.
The difference is we’ve got ten months to change, and then (in most cases) maternity leave to come to grips with it. When we discover our bodies are harbouring life, we start the journey to motherhood. For some of us it’s long before that, when we first start thinking about having children. By popular consensus men become fathers when they hold their children for the first time, and what a shock that must be! Personally I think as soon as they start thinking about the prospect of parenthood the transformation begins, but for most dads it’s fair to say the reality of life after birth doesn’t kick in until, well, life after birth. Their women are different, distracted and sometimes inaccessible. Their houses are overrun with new clutter. Their schedules are rearranged by tiny people who like to sleep and eat and play and inexplicably, sometimes, cry for longer periods of time than our men might be used to. For me, my now husband’s ‘daddishness’ is one of his most enticing personality traits. He balances my ‘motherishness’. He helps me teach our daughter lessons about life, he helps me to love her and our family is build on his foundation just as much as it is mine.
Now we’re expecting our second child, he fills me with the confidence that we can do this, that we won’t sink under the seemingly endless mountain of tiny-tiny human laundry accumulating in our living room, that we will still be able to travel, eat out in restaurants, participate in activities outside our house without totally losing the plot. I picture being a mother to two children and my brain fizzes with alarm while a little high pitched voice says “sorry, when did we sign up for this? Is it too late to reconsider?”. Then I picture welcoming our second child home with my husband and our daughter and the fizz turns to warm caramel, replaced by a calmer voice that says “it’s going to be different, and it’s going to be challenging, but you guys have got this.” You guys, both of us together. We were married only recently after being engaged for several years and that’s definitely brought us closer together. We’ve had a few conversations since then about how being married changes one’s perspective of one’s self, and that’s what started me thinking about how fatherhood has changed my perspective of my (now) husband. If I could cycle back to the night we met I wouldn’t think he was the kind of guy who would happily sit on the tiles of our courtyard drawing chalk cartoons for a toddler while she gleefully demands “more piggy! More piggy!”. I couldn’t have pictured him lovingly making both of us poached egg breakfasts, just the way our daughter likes it with the toast torn up in a bowl, or pictured him creating rap verses to “Wheels on the Bus” when she suddenly and violently takes agin her car seat harness and starts tearfully demanding “Out! Out!” in peak hour traffic.
Aside from more emotional changes than I could, or should, list here there are also other, more subtle changes. Although our daughter now sleeps in her own bed (most of the time for most of the night), we spent a good chunk of her life waking up with bad backs after spooning our first born in our own bed. Which used to seem big enough to fit an army, until a tiny person with sharp toe nails came to live with us. It seems every other week you can find a new study showing the benefits of safe co sleeping and bed sharing with infants. What many people don’t know is the impact bed sharing has on fathers, such as being more biologically attuned to the physiological needs of their children, or dips in testosterone arguably making men more in sync with the needs of their partner and children and less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour. And you thought your husband was going out partying less because of sleep deprivation? Well.. that may be a factor too!
In writing this post I asked my husband what made becoming a father easier. “Well… I didn’t have to give birth. That was nice” was his first response. Very glib. Then I asked him what I did, bought, changed or created that made it easier. And his response was better “well… I like that our pram is tall enough for me to talk her for a walk while you have a nap. I like that you bought bottles, so I could feed her, because she’s so cute when she’s got a full tummy. It’s nice being able to wear her in the carrier. And I like that she has toys we can enjoy together – not just dolls.” That’s the ticket: that’s the info that is simple, helpful, and that I’m now sharing with you. Talk to your husband, connect with him over both of you becoming parents. It’s different for both of you, so have fun exploring those differences. And then work out what will make it easier. What will make it more manageable? His priorities might not be the same as yours (surprisingly he wasn’t concerned about the colour of our nursery…), but in creating change in your lives or household, you can make the transition to parenthood easier for one another.