What We Deny Fathers

Before I got pregnant with our son, I had a week or so when I didn’t think I could live another moment without him. I felt there was this little person knocking at my door, and I was on the other side calling to him, “Baby, it’s me. I can’t get to you.” This one month, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed my baby or I would die. This was exaggerated perhaps because we had had a miscarriage the year before and I had waited to get pregnant again because I felt too fucking sad to be happy about another baby. I finally was happy for another baby again and wasn’t willing to wait. Each night, I’d lie in bed and my heart would burn for this person I felt was already attached to me. I found myself seducing Ryan in my hormonal drunkenness, saying sexy things like, “The only reason we’re here is to make babies. Now do it!” He said he wasn’t ready. When that ovulation window closed, I curled up in the bed and wailed and wailed the doom of the world.

We were both ticked off with one another, each of us resisting what the other said they wanted. After a few days of talking it over with each other and with our close friend Luke, Ryan said to me, “We will have a baby. Trust that. We will. But I want to want our baby as much as you do.”

And that was an eye-opener. I had assumed he would never come anywhere close to the desire I had for a baby. I had been a sexist punk, staking sole claim of any and all baby-wanting. Here he was, with tears in his eyes, telling me, I want to experience what you’re experiencing. I want the burning heart. I want that knock at the door.

I knew I didn’t want to steal that from Ryan. I hadn’t realized my desire for a baby hadn’t given him the space to realize what the hell he felt about having a baby, or even give him the space to have fun, to enjoy this rite of passage. I also wanted our baby to be given the gift of being desired by both his parents.

I was able to lay off and find patience. I thought about the fact that somehow my baby was already with me, that the burning sensation in my heart truly was the soul of our baby. Each night, I’d be excited to lie in the dark and concentrate on this feeling. A month later, Ryan was the one whose desire for a baby could no longer wait. I surrendered and we got pregnant.

Raising our son has been very much like this early realization. Ryan desires all the rites of passage with our son as much and sometimes more than I do. In the early months, it was very easy for me to want to take control, to tell Ryan to hold the baby this way, not that way...and I would realize I was falling into the belief, whatever cultural belief, that the baby world is a woman’s world, a woman’s place, a woman’s purpose, and not a man’s. There was even a part of me at times that believed I knew more than he did about this (even though I had no clue). In these moments, Ryan would remind me, “This is mine too. I need this.” And I would take off the mommy-crown, collapse in the chair and just be me, the part of me that is not a mother, the part of me that is so thankful I don’t have to know what I’m doing and carry the weight of the world, the part of me that can be an artist, the part of me that can be a daydreamer, and just let my partner relish in his part of parenthood, his part of the despair of not knowing why the baby is crying, and then the joy of soothing him and soaking in that relief of silence and peace. 

We talked about how my urge to micromanage him made him feel as if I believed he was not capable of being a father, of taking care of his very own son. I quickly realized that if I said one thing about actually it’s easier putting the onesie on this way, I was undermining him, disrespecting him, making him want to yield to me and give up. This simple interaction of not trusting a father to put on a onesie the “right” way gives weight to this myth that women know better how to care for children, that mothers are more essential than fathers, that fathers don’t know what the hell they are doing with a baby, and that a woman’s place is in the home with her children. If a new family starts out this way, how is a father ever to catch up with not only his child but with his partner—to be trusted, seen, respected, and loved as a man, as a father, as a capable human being? And how is a mother ever to catch up if she is given this duty as her sole purpose in life, when she has so much more yearning inside of her to say, create, become, change, build...a new world?

I stopped butting in. When he was with the baby, it was his time for trekking the unknowns of baby-land, and it was my time for wow-I-can-just-be-here-and-not-worry-land. Ryan took the reigns of being a father, but he could only take them if I let them go.

Because of Ryan’s desires and his willingness to fight for them, I haven’t had to enter the lineage of women in my ancestry of being the dominant caretaker. It sometimes feels so engrained inside of me to feel guilty or ashamed if I’M not the one with my child all day, or I’m not doing whatever activity with him to develop the such-and-such part of the brain I read in some magazine that mothers (not fathers) should be doing. I am certain that being a mother is not what I am solely here to do no more than being a father is what Ryan is solely here to do.

For years I didn’t think I’d ever want a baby, and then suddenly I did more than I ever expected. The want was voracious and all consuming, so much so that I feared motherhood would erase me completely. Ryan’s desire for a baby was different, but no less important. He was not going to let me or any backward cultural expectation make him miss out on the small, intimate moments of his son’s life. And because of this I haven’t had to miss out on the other things I am here to do, to make music, to write songs, to hopefully make a difference with what I think, what I believe.

If we want an equal world, with equal pay, with equal opportunity to make our mark, with more affordable and accessible childcare, we need to acknowledge fathers’ desire to be with their babies and carve that identity, even among the fathers who seem desireless and those who withdraw. One step forward is honoring that what may look like absence has its origins in cultural shaming of men who express nurturance.