Crossing the Rubicon: When Dad Issues Become Dad Problems

via gunaxin.com
via gunaxin.com

By Matt

Let me be frank: I have Daddy Issues. I’ve already talked about them. This goes a bit further than that.

Angela will be the first to tell you that. These issues are not simple “daddy didn’t love me” ones, either. My dad loves me dearly. My parents love me, and for that I am truly blessed. I have a lot to live up to be my father, and I have always looked up to him as a role model. Watching the show from the front row seat was so much easier. I am not sure if it was whitewashed or not. Either way, I saw the best out of him. Maybe it’s because they do that I have these creeping feelings of inadequacy all the time, especially since Zelda’s birth. You always hear from parents talking about how they “got through it” and the “tough times” they went through in the first years. I always shrugged statements like that off. I never thought I would be a father in the first place, even if I always wanted to be. Then I got my wish: I became a dad. And it felt like it was in a blink of an eye. Suddenly, I am that person going through the tough times. I am trying to “get through it.” And I want to be honest: I haven’t handled it well.

Zelda was born on 9 February. Less than a week later, I was teleworking and attempting to put in 8 hour days at home. That was rough. That first week was hell. She had her nights and days mixed up, and I swore she would never stop crying from 11:30pm to about 4:30am. One of the days that I did go in that week, I had stayed up with Zelda all night rocking her back and forth until 3:30am. I had to get up for work for a meeting that day. I’ll let the Facebook post I wrote for this page do the talking:

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Since then, I have lived in that “tired, but not tired” state of mind. Don’t get me wrong – Zelda has been an overall fantastic baby. She is basically sleeping through the night. She smiles and laughs with me sometimes. I fall in love with her more every day.

That’s the condensed version of my life lately. I would call it the “Facebook friendly” version. Facebook life is not real life, even if you use it as much as I do. It’s picturesque, right? Zelda sleeping through the night. Angela and I get along all the time. Time, albeit precious, is well spent with the entire family.

Then reality sets in. Things like the sleeping incident at work become more frequent. The stress gets to me more and more each day. All the while, I am wondering what my own father would do in each situation I get myself into. Thankfully for that time period in the very beginning, we had the help of our parents. As tired as I was that day I fell asleep on the john, I would have suffered a much worse fate those first few weeks had it not been for the parents, especially my mother-in-law Anne.

For a while after my mom and Angela’s parents left in the mid-March, things were okay. I thought things were getting better. Facebook life started to look like real life. It was a fantastic couple of days. It did not last. Like I said before: I haven’t handled it well. So naturally, things got much much worse. Work began to pile up. Deadlines were set and I needed to make them. When you work for a small non-profit, events and things need to get done. I was the only person that could do them. So you swallow your stress and work through it. Soon the Facebook life moves away from real life.

I guess I could say that it all started to get to me. The job. The feeding schedules. The lack of sleep. The feelings of inadequacy and the worrying about worrying from worrying. I started to notice some of my hair coming out in the shower towards the middle of March. My acne started coming back. The brave face I put on for Angela and the baby slowly faded away. I was getting angrier and angrier. I was mad at work. I was mad at Angela. Hell, I was even mad at the dog because of her ongoing issues. I was mad at everyone but myself. It’s the most selfish I have ever been. But that would change soon enough. What happened in the end to the boy who kept crying wolf?

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And then there were the fights. I noticed in the days after we were on our own that I would catch myself raising my voice for no reason at all. I could count on one hand the amount of fights we had before having the baby. We started to get in a few spats here and there. What it really boiled down to was my obsession with work. My obsession with deadlines. Angela and I were a team and I was putting ghostrunners on base. If there was something she told me to do, I would somehow find a way to not do it. The worst of those was taking time to rest. I had a period of time around a major work event last month where I was drinking one to two Red Bulls a day. Actually, I am lying. I wasn’t telling anyone, but I was drinking 48oz. of high energy Red Bull a day for three or four straight days.

It all came to a head about a week and a half ago.

For a few days last week, my life flashed in segments and frames, like a television antenna that can’t quite get the channel clearly. It was hard to process all of it. Do you ever swim in your thoughts, semi-conscious in a state of drowsiness, hoping to God that the next time you blink the scenery will change?

(blink)

I’m driving to work. I’m counting the hours away from my family before I have to attempt to put on a brave face.

(blink)

Text message. My mother. She is asking me why I am not sleeping and when I will get a “day off.” I tell her not anytime soon and hang up, frustrated.

(blink)

We are arguing again. I look down. The baby is in my arms and I can’t get her to stop crying. I don’t know who I am more mad at: the baby or Angela.

(blink)

I can’t manage to look at a mirror because I don’t want to see the face staring back. So much anger. I’m also internally upset at how much weight I’ve gained in the last year, despite my best efforts to lose through diet and exercise. Nothing works. But that’s why the mirror is your best friend and worst enemy. There’s people that think they are overweight and are, and those that are skinny and are overweight in their mind. I’m the former.

(blink)

I am staring blankly at the wall. Angela is asking me when we should eat. I act like I don’t hear her. I just want a few moments of silence, even if its just in my own head.

(blink)

It’s Monday evening. I’m watching episodes of House Hunters in a half daze. Angela and I were fresh of our morning fight about something or another. The bills in the kitchen were piling up, which I continued to stare at in blank fascination. How do pieces of paper hold so much of our lives together? Is it worth arguing over like we had? All the while, I am stressed with no sign of relief. I haven’t had sex in a long time, but I am really trying to respect the wishes of Angela and wait. It frustrates me to no end, but I am trying to be the “good guy.” Meanwhile, my stress gets so much that I have to sit and think at night, eyes open, about how long I have to be the “good guy,” and more importantly, what would make me a “bad guy.” I wonder if I’ve crossed that line already.

So, we’re sitting watching House Hunters, pretending to be civil and loving our child. She starts to cry. We look at each other and play the silent mental game of “who is going to check her diaper.” I go to check her diaper. I look visibly frustrated in doing so, and the conversation goes from silent to deadly within minutes. There goes the stress. There goes any thought of sleeping. Now work comes back into play. Get the popcorn and kick back.

“It’s all you ever think about,” Angela says. “We have sacrificed so much so you can do your work at night.” The worst part is, she wasn’t wrong. You know that part in Ghostbusters II when the judge is building his anger level and the pink slime keeps rising and rising. That’s been me for the last two months. And at that point, I had just hit the point when the “Scoleri Brothers” jumped out into the courtroom.

And then I snapped. I yelled at my kid to be quiet.

Let me first say three facts.

  1. I immediately regretted it.
  2. I immediately apologized to both her and Angela.
  3. I am completely less of a person for doing so. Do not convince me otherwise.

The baby begins to wail. I feel like a complete asshole. I am. At that moment, I am hugging her close and whispering in her ear how sorry I am. Tears are streaming down my face as I begin to contemplate how the fuck I got to that point. I want to hit myself. I want to choke the life out of me for it, but I can’t. I have to be there for her. I have to be there for Angela.

This is very honest and heartbreaking to admit. I yelled at Zelda because of my own petty frustrations. If you’ve never done it, I salute you. If you have, and don’t want to admit it, I also salute you. It’s not easy to admit. But we set out to do this blog back in August of last year to be as real and honest as possible. So here I am, telling you that I was so stressed out that I took it out on my two-month old daughter, helpless and crying.

It took a long time to convince Angela I wasn’t a monster, and thankful I haven’t done it since. I don’t know if this is PPD or my own selfish frustrations. Some websites call it “sad dad” or “dad blue.” Whatever it is, it’s out there because life after having a baby is also hard on the father. Sure, I am not feeding her with my breasts, and I didn’t birth her from my genitals. I give Angela mad props for that. What I do do, is try to make up for my mistakes and be the best father I can be. If I can manage to be a decent husband at some point along the way….even better.

If you are a new dad and have struggles like I do from time to time, I am here to help. I can’t say I am back to 100%, because I’m not. Not even close. But I’m working on it. I made a mistake that I am trying to fix. If you are in the same situation, let’s talk. Let’s all be great dads, better partners, and better people.

I have an email. I have contact information. If you want to talk, let’s do so.

Trying to Have it All

By Angela

A few months before I had Zelda, Matt and I went to a secondhand bookstore located on the fringes of Old Town. So far as secondhand bookstores go, this one is fancy. It’s ordered, clean, and there’s plenty of space between aisles. It’s even got a resident cat. There’s a small women’s studies section, and I always cruise by to see if there’s any interesting titles. I own many of the books that make up the section, but every now and then I find something interesting.

One such book is Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids, and Life in a Half-Changed World by Peggy Orenstein. It consists of conversations she had with over 200 women, ranging in age from the early twenties to the late forties. These conversations sketch a portrait of the different challenges of living in a world that has been changed by feminism, but has yet to be revolutionized. As I read through the book, I became alarmed at what was ahead. Friedan was right all along: you can have it all, just not all at once. At least, not without some serious sacrifices.

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Picture sent by Zelda’s daycare.

The stories in that book and the idea of sacrifice came back to me this past Monday, when we dropped Zelda off at daycare for the first time. I won’t lie. It was hard as hell. I’d always pictured myself as the hard-as-nails power career mom, who would kiss her kids goodbye and go off to work with a vengeance. Well, that picture unraveled fast when I realized just how much I was in love with Zelda. During the short three weeks I had leave, I understood why so many women gave up careers or never returned to work after having kids. That hardcore career mom vision began to fade around the edges. Even though it’s not possible financially, I started fantasize about not returning to work and just raising my baby. Ever see Baby Boom? How hard could it be to drop everything and go into business for myself? Right? RIGHT?

The thing about fantasizing, though, is that it’s just fantasy. The reality was the cold, wet Monday morning, dropping Zelda off at a virtual stranger’s apartment all day. God, I wished I could have had more than a measly six weeks with her! Mom guilt, man. It’s real. I could go on and on about how other countries have great maternity leave or talk about San Francisco passing a paid maternal leave law, but it’s not like that here and now, and there was nothing I can do to change the situation. I do hope more cities follow San Francisco’s example.

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A day in the life of Zelda.

Zelda’s caretaker is fantastic. She is a lovely woman, sends me pictures during the day, and even provides an itinerary of the day’s activities. The other kids are all older than Zelda, but they love her. One morning, when we were walking down the hallway to the caretaker’s apartment, one of the other kids at the other end of the hall saw us and cried, “It’s Baby Zelda!” Just today I was told Zelda added her own vocal stylings to storytime. Daycare is not a bad thing; she’s getting great social skills and exposure to other people.

Even though going back to work was hard, it’s not all bad. My place of employment actually has lactation rooms with privacy curtains, a sink, a fridge, and comfortable chairs. There’s even hospital grade pumps with necessary tools to borrow if you don’t have your own pump. It’s a nice place to go, and considering the stories I’ve heard of women pumping in broom closets, I know I’m fortunate. I’d rather be feeding her myself, but at least I have the option to pump. One woman, when she heard Zelda was in daycare and I was pumping at work, clucked her disapproval and said, “You must be really stressed.” Yeah lady, I am. but you know what? I’m doing what I’ve got to do. Just like all the women in that book I was reading.

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Pump, pump the jamz.

I recall a conversation with an acquaintance a long time ago. We were talking about kids and future plans. I mentioned I planned to work and have kids in daycare, whenever the time came. Her reply was, “I’m not going to put my kids in daycare. I’m going to be a GOOD Mom.” I never forgot that. It’s a double-edged sword: damned if you put kids in daycare, damned if you’re a stay-at-home mom. There’s no in between, no grey area.

The first day was agony, but it started to get a little easier after that. I can hardly wait to get home in the early evenings so I can give her all the kisses and hugs we missed during the day. Even times like this moment, where she’s fussing and crying, I still am so incredibly glad she’s here. Maybe I can’t have it all at once, but I can definitely give my all for her.

Trying to Love My Postpartum Body

By Angela

Okay, Zelda is almost 8 weeks old, so I’m officially out of my postpartum period. Truthfully, though, I’ll probably consider myself “postpartum” for a really long time.

One of the elements I’m trying to come to terms with postpartum is how incredibly different my body is. It makes sense, if you think about it: new chapter of my life, new role, new family member, new body to go with it. I’m extremely fortunate. However, I find myself struggling to accept this changed body.

kmpostpartumRemember when Kate Middleton made an almost immediate post-pregnancy appearance after having her first baby in 2013? In my overwhelming ignorance of pregnancy, childbirth, and the details associated with it, I recall being confused about how she looked. She’d just had a baby! Why did she still have a bump? I wasn’t the only one who was shocked. If anything, the whole event was a shockingly vivid picture of how in the dark so many of us are concerning pregnancy and childbirth.

It also highlights how weight-obsessed culture can be. I’ve also noticed there’s a tendency to highlight postpartum weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge accomplishment. However, the line between encouragement, sharing an accomplishment, bragging, and outright shaming is thin. And that thin line is important, as it sends mixed signals to people who receive these messages. Am I being too sensitive? Maybe. But when you do a Google image search of “postpartum weight loss,” these are the first three hits:

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Mixed messages, indeed.

I took the weight gain with pregnancy in stride. If anything, I was disappointed I took so long to show. I grew fond of my bump, and near the end I caught myself looking at my body in awe, like I couldn’t believe that I was capable of growing and carrying another human being inside of me.

Theoretically, I knew my body would be changed. I think, immediately postpartum, I was so relieved to not be pregnant that I didn’t think much about weight. We were so wrapped up in trying to survive I didn’t care. Then, maybe about three weeks ago, I started caring.

maternityjeansI’m pretty sure the catalyst was trying to move from my maternity pants to my regular ones. I can fit into my pre-pregnancy pants, but it ain’t pretty. Then I realized t-shirts and blouses that used to be somewhat big on me were now tight. The mirror, formerly a vessel admiring my pregnant body, suddenly grew cruel. It pointed out a new flaw every time I looked. Stretch marks. Loose skin. A double chin. And somehow, inexplicably, I started to panic a little.

The changes weren’t just in weight. My breasts, formerly large and in proportion, changed dramatically. They swelled monstrously and began to sag. My nipples got bigger and turned brown. I chalked it up to the price paid for feeding my baby. I accepted the truth that they’d be like that from here on out, but luckily some friends that already had kids assured me my breasts would change back to a semblance of their pre-baby state eventually.

My ladybits are changed, too. I couldn’t muster up the strength to look at them until maybe two weeks ago, right before my 6 week OB checkup. I knew I’d had a minor tear during delivery and gotten a couple of stitches, so I didn’t feel any sort of rush to peek. When I finally did look, I was pretty shocked at how much they’d changed. I’ll spare the details, but I will say that having a baby is a trauma on the body. With the rhetoric and the mystery surrounding birth, we tend to forget that. It takes time to heal. I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw. I haven’t looked again.

I’m over the moon in love with Zelda, and any price is worth her cooing and smiling at me in the morning. But I’m not in love with my postpartum body. This means I’ve got a laundry list of tasks, starting with a diet change. I do love my sweets, but I’ve got to lay off them for a bit. I need to walk more. Dust off the old Wii Fit. Be more disciplined. As for the other changes, well, I’ll have to learn to accept them. It’s not necessarily fair to compare my body now to the body it was. Somehow I need to get it that to stick in my head and move on.

Any time I’ve faced a challenge in my life, I’ve tended to face it head-on. So my new challenge is clear: try to love my postpartum body. I won’t look like I used to, but that’s okay. Once again, I’m reminded of the words a friend told me: the person you were before essentially dies, and a new person emerges. I thought she was referring to headspace only, but I think it applies to the bodyspace, too. The changes are a physical testament to the person you’ve become.

It’s the body of a mother.