my father-in-law inadvertently gave me some good advice during his “oh, god, are you sure you want to do this?” speech when we informed him of our plan to get married. he said that when you’re married you’ll always feel like you’re sacrificing much more to your spouse than you receive; it’s rarely true, but it will feel like that. and having a baby is much the same. no matter how many nights sarah gets up to change henry’s diaper or how many mornings she wakes up at 5 to feed him, i focus on the nights where she fell asleep on the couch at 9:30 while i do the dishes and the laundry, and then feed and change henry at 10:30. most nights i’m lucky if i’m asleep by midnight. but most mornings, sarah’s lucky if she can sleep to 5 without a 4am diaper change.
early infancy is definitely a mother’s game. she carries and births the baby. she gets the time off with the baby. she has the breast milk to feed the baby. she has earned her relationship with the baby. but one thing i picked from reading “the happiest baby on the block,” is that while the desire to soothe the baby is instinctive, the knowledge of how to do this is not. while the mother has earned her role, she is not a magical being who holds the secrets of the baby. so i read the books and learned the techniques, too, and with the same passion and energy that apply to anything else i’m really excited about doing. very quickly i got very good at taking care of the baby to the extent that i could.
the one really obvious thing i can do as a father that is very gender neutral is change a diaper. in the first few weeks of henry’s life, when sarah was so exhausted from breastfeeding and vigilance, the one relief i could provide her was changing his diaper. i got so good at it that she started calling me the “diaper wizard,” which is way better than the “lazy, video game playing, internet surfing wizard.”
the reason for all of this, though, is because i want to do it. i desperately want to be as useful to my son as sarah is, within practical limits. i want to have the time with him. i want to see him smile, hear him laugh, and have the incredible satisfaction of providing for his needs. i have learned that people most love the things that need them the most. and my love for my son has grown with the scope of my care for him. no wonder so many men feel alienated from their infants when they are unable or unwilling (or disallowed) to care for them.
being a good dad also helps with those in-laws who might still be on the fence about me. 🙂