The feeling of motherhood has often been described as a warm, enveloping glow. It is radiated from those who have it without any loss of intensity, as if it springs from a boundless energy source, even if those in the throes of motherhood feel tired out and weary themselves.
Children everywhere relate to mothers, not just their own. There is without doubt a morality amongst mothers that binds them. Mothers have their own mothers, sisters, aunties, cousins, and friends; they have their groups, their cliques and their circles. So the glow from these permeates all about them, so everybody can know that this is a cluster of care and love, where those within can have support, shelter, companionship and security.
If women glow in motherhood, what do I do, as a man who is now a father?
I don’t glow – instead I experience waves of emotion, bursts like lightning, the rush of a bungee jump, the perfect breaker that curls and carries all the way to the beach.
I find myself acting the clown with far more satisfaction from my enraptured audience then ever before, working for hours cleaning, decorating and refitting rooms with complete enthusiasm, and determinedly driving from one late-night service station to another to pay triple the price for a packet of disposable nappies.
When I spend the childbirth by my wife’s side, holding her hand while she grips it so tight that her nails break the skin, talking to her endlessly, stroking her hair, empowering her with my composure, I’ve just had the toughest day of my life. But to hold the tiny squirming bundle in my clumsy, oversized hairy arms, to see her little eyes blink innocently; when her monkey-paw grips my index finger tenaciously, an involuntary toothless smile appearing on her cherubic face; that’s probably the closest thing to a mother’s glow I’ve ever felt.
But it hits like a cricket bat to the head. I can feel my chest cramp. My lip curls, my eyes start to flow, and then, the most unmanly of behaviours – a big sooky cry. It’s barely controlled; a gruff voice in the back of my mind telling me to keep it all together, the mid-wife and the nurse exchange knowing glances. This is the one time, however, when my new feelings overpower any embarrassment. A voice bellows proudly inside my head, “That’s my daughter, and that’s my wife, and I’ve never felt so happy and loved anybody more, ever!”
As in life, there is pain as well as pleasure in fatherhood. There’s the frustrating incompetence you feel at not always being able to pacify a crying baby, the first few botched attempts at folding a nappy correctly, or dropping the last jar of baby food onto the floor. There’s the exhausting night-time rockings and sleep depravation, and balancing sanity with household tidiness.
There are the black times. When your wife wails her apologies because she’s lost the baby that was never born, and you cry too and tell her its not her fault, its nobody’s fault….but deep inside you believe it your own fault – you were working too hard, too long, you didn’t offer enough support, she suffered too much stress…..
When you’re phoned at work by your wife to say that your daughter has pneumonia and has been rushed to hospital, after you said it was just a cold and that’s all the doctor would say anyway. Spending the next four nights at the hospital by her side then working the days is a small penance – not that you could’ve slept.
But overall, there is joy. The kind of joy that if you were to see it in the sky, you’d go “Aaaahhh….” lying on the grass, grinning inanely. There are the strident memories, mere pinpricks in time, that hold greater value than any sporting or career achievement ever could, because you’re proud, or pleased, or rewarded, or loved, or just bloody grateful because they’ve made you feel better, by doing what they do, than anything you could’ve done yourself.
And from day one, that special birthday, when your life and that of your wife changed forever, there were the days, weeks, months and years that became at once a blur and a passage of highlights in your mind, and you became less about you and all about them.
Because becoming a father is something almost any man can do. But being a father is about filling lives with love, support and happiness. Laying the foundations for it all is belief, belief that your children are smart and healthy, and by doing so, empowering them to believe the same. Believing that your wife is the most important loving person that you could ever need, she is your wife, your children’s mother and a person you fell in love with years ago, for the same reasons that you love her now. Belief in yourself; that you can make it all right, despite all that life throws at you, so that they can continue to succeed.
Now that you’re a father, your path to happiness is along the one you make for your family.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem