I’ve been very lucky. Most fathers get a few weeks of paternity leave after their child is born, before their contact is cut brutally short to evenings and weekends. Instead, for the last five months I’ve been at home with the baby, interacting with her, spending time with her, singing silly made-up songs to her, catering to her every whim. It’s been tiring, a dramatic change of pace from all of my previous personas; ‘Dad’ was just something I loved being. Obviously I still have that identity, but the parameters have reverted back to the more traditional; an office-based job now takes up the bulk of my day.
I know most fathers go through this sooner than I have. I know mums go through this when they return to work after their maternity leave. I’ve been very lucky. But it’s no less of a wrench handing the baby over to strangers in the morning, to not see her again for 12 hours. I feel like I’m missing out on her development, on those little milestones that come thick and fast in that all-important first year.
I’m forever tempted to phone up the nursery, to ask them what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, what she’s been eating, whether she’s had a nap, what they’re doing with her. Are they giving her enough tummy time? Introducing her to textures and toys and sounds and languages? Will the nursery staff hear her first words? See her crawl for the first time? Are they forming a close bond with her? Will it be a stronger bond than I had with her?
What if she doesn’t recognise or like me any more…
Irrational fears, I know. And someone once told me that feelings, while real, aren’t reality.
But that’s an intellectualisation, and it’s not going to quash my fears or help me not miss the baby.
I have to learn to become a different kind of father now. Learn to rely on others.
But I don’t have to like it.