I’m two months into fatherhood, and what I’ve experienced is far different to anything I’d assumed. The feelings of detachment, escape and love are as real as they are insignificant.
When your child is born via IVF, conception is remote from its usual context. There is a familiar theme of removal. For instance, some of the scenes I should be playing a major part in, I will experience like I’m standing in the wings, as fascinated as the audience to see where this will end up. When asked if I would have liked to cut the umbilical cord, they couldn’t believe that I had no interest. There seems to be an accepted narrative of how you should experience the birth of your child.
The answer to this from a psychologist’s perspective is that in order to gain the important things I want from the world, sometimes my temperament will lead me to feel more anxiety than other people might. If the anxiety is strong enough, I will refuse to acknowledge that feeling, and operate under the false assumption that if I feel those emotions at full force, I’ll crumble into a mess.
Applied to this instance: that I wouldn’t have been able to support my wife in the way she needed in that birthing suite. This assumption gives me no opportunity for my mind to acclimatise to those fears and emotions, and reinforces the need for distance from an experience.
This is a complex way of explaining the connection with my daughter has grown incrementally. I did not see my daughter in the glittering twilight and was overcome with a sense that I understood what my purpose was in the world. However, I arrived home after one of my longer days at work and my wife was far more aware than I of my restlessness to have her hand over my daughter so we could hang out. When she brought this to my attention, I took a moment to reflect and became aware of this thoughtless urge to reach out and bring her to me. My anxious predisposition aside, this experience seems instinctual, that my urge for connection occurs without me having to be consciously aware. For someone who enjoys the world of the intellect and analysis, this experience feels like a type of blindness.
The intellectual experience of Fatherhood is far briefer. There are only infrequent moments where I have the understanding that this is a future taxable adult as opposed to a somewhat immobile pet we have inherited. Let me temper the above with the fact that my child is only a few months old, so her ability to interact is limited. Her expressive range, from least frequently occurring to most, is smiling, crying and grunting like an octogenarian running Heart Break Hill in the City to Surf. Digestion is a mystery and every peristaltic wave needs to be vocally encouraged. I warn any new parent that this gastronomic orchestra is to be the cornerstone of your experience, and is backed up by most parents I’ve spoken to. The fact that this is somehow not heavily advertised escapes me. You’ll be tired, you’ll be wanting self-actualising cuddles from your genetic legacy, and the most you’ll get is series of whinges and animal like grunts. It’s not endearing.
Not unlike my wife observing that urge to hold my daughter, it might take someone else to help you connect with this phenomenon.
Don’t be mistaken that my experience is all negative. However, I refuse to add to the soft focus picture of parenting as divine. Staring into the difficulty of an experience and still being able to feel the strong sense of purpose toward my daughter regardless is wonderfully poetic for me. Poetry is one of those art forms that makes beauty from suffering but specifically can make the interplay of light and dark exultant. Consider the irony of caring so acutely that its cries make you suffer to the extent that you wish you could get in a car and quietly drive to Melbourne. The fantasy of escaping a responsibility which is too important for the likes of you.
It is that persistent ability to hang on through the suffering that helps push me through the mundane moments. I started seeing the supreme absurdity of trying to attach the press studs on the singlet of a wriggling, squealing child at 3am while simultaneously preferring I was drunk at the pub with mates, and still understanding that I would always blindly choose the less fun of those two choices. I can see the theatre of this from the wings, and cheer on our hapless hero. There is not a sense of happiness or Zen-like acceptance in those moments, but the awareness of a drive that is more than yourself. My only advice to new parents is to give into that drive, even though it may not manifest in the way that you have been taught it will. Not unlike my wife observing that urge to hold my daughter, it might take someone else to help you connect with this phenomenon.
Parenting is both revelatory and a confirmation of what I already believed about the state of the world and human experience. While my anxiousness might mean that at times I am looking down at my experience rather than being present with it, this has served to give me pause that there are goals far more important than the need to be happy or without suffering. While the amplification of my emotions might lead to a sense of disconnection with my experience, it has also let me return to it with a far clearer view of the script and just what my next line should be.
That is a rare kind of certainty.