Editor’s note: A married father of two, Robert Duffer edits the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project. His writings have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Public Radio, Time Out Chicago and other favorites like Giftware News. He blogs at robertduffer.com and is on Twitter @DufferRobert.
There’s a phenomenon that seems common among fathers, though few ever mention it outside of an old dad-to-new dad talk: the lack of storybook love for their newborn child.
We’re acculturated to expect a watershed moment of unparalleled love upon holding our child for the first time, afterbirth and all. There are plenty of men who experience this, I’m sure, but more share the experience Oren Miller wrote about, first on Blogger Father, then again on the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project. Instead, dads like Oren and I felt awe, wonder, fear and guilt.
"When my boy was born, I resented him," Oren wrote. Then follows the monstrous shame of our failed expectations.
And he wasn’t the only one. In some serendipitous quirk of the blogosphere, Lorne Jaffe wrote a piece for the NYC Dads Group on the identical topic.
"I was guilty because I didn’t love this innocent creature my wife and I had created," Jaffe admitted, "and as the days went on, I became obsessed with trashing myself for both not adhering to the cliché and desperately trying to figure out when I’d fall in love" with his daughter.
Here were these raw moments of honesty that we don’t hear about in the humblebrag of parenting blogs, because that kind of vulnerable admission opens you up to all the shame throwers. But it didn’t happen, in either case. Instead the response was overwhelmingly positive, supportive and grateful.
"How do you love someone you don’t even know?" Matt Treadwell asked in a similar entry linked in the comments on Oren’s piece. He went on to thank Oren, "A great piece on a difficult subject, one many dads are reluctant to discuss."
And what a relief to know that you’re not a monster, or you’re not deranged, that you’re not deficient as a parent, that it takes time for some dads. But it’s not just dads who experience this, and more accurately, are willing to admit to it.
Elise wrote, "How wonderful to read about this topic from an unapologetic perspective! I had a very similar experience, as a young mother, when my son was born…I did not feel a connection or a passionate sense of lifelong love…Several parents admitted never having shared their experience because they were so ashamed. Parenting is an enormously daunting experience filled with profound ups and downs. If we can remove shame, misunderstanding and guilt from the experience, perhaps we can face it with a greater capacity to learn and grow."
This is the kind of honest, probing conversation we envisioned when the Good Men Project started. It’s not just about the challenges inherent in being a good man; it’s about people doing better. Oren and Lorne were fortunate enough to pinpoint that moment when the flood of love came for their child, and it has never ebbed or receded. This should reassure the most anxious new parents, who are so immersed in the act of loving that they might not be able to feel it. It’s there, growing.