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Focus on Fathers

Growing Into Fatherhood

Natalie Rawlings Kraut
Plantation FL USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 6, November-December 2003, pp. 223

A child of the 60s, my husband talked about being an enlightened, pro-breastfeeding, feminist male. He waited more than 20 years for the right set of circumstances to make him a family man. Like all expectant couples, we made plans. Among those plans was the idea that I would return to work part-time when our child was approximately three months old, and he would care for her while I worked. My husband was neutral on the idea of breastfeeding, and my attitude was, "I'll try it and see how it goes."

And then we had Emily. It was an easy, unmedicated, hospital birth. Emily transformed me completely. The plans went out the window. Suddenly, successfully nursing became critically important. Though the birth had been easy, Emily and I struggled to nurse. Against our wishes and without our knowledge, Emily was given bottles in the hospital. It took the intervention of a lactation consultant to set us on the path to success.

Along with the nursing difficulties, there were the normal adjustments to parenthood, which seemed tougher for my husband, perhaps because he'd been alone for so long or perhaps because he was relying on his training and experience as a clinical psychologist to help him.

Our extended family was not always helpful. My husband would have long phone conversations with his mother, discussing what to do about evening fussiness. My mother-in-law advocated formula feeding and letting Emily cry it out. My husband would defend my practices of near-constant nursing, rocking and holding, but as soon as he'd hang up, he would ask, "Well, why don't we just give her a bottle? Why don't you just train her to sleep through the night? Why can't we give her a pacifier?" It felt as though we were arguing for the whole first year of Emily's life.

New Year's Day 1998 was a very big day for James, as that was the day he got to feed Emily her first solid foods. Feeding solids became his parental job, and he relished it. I can't say Emily was immediately enthusiastic, though somewhere around the nine-month mark she decided that mashed carrots were delicious.

Sleeping became an issue. A light sleeper, my husband also needed a good night's sleep if he was going to sit in a chair and listen to his clients all day. He was sure Emily could be trained to sleep. I was dismayed at the idea of leaving our child alone in a crib all night. Eventually, we went to see a colleague of his who runs a family center affiliated with a local university. My husband needed someone with letters at the end of her name to tell him that what I was saying about sleep patterns was age-appropriate and normal.

James tagged along somewhat grudgingly to the 1998 La Leche League of Florida Conference in Gainesville. Our daughter was one week shy of her first birthday. Just before lunch, he came to the door of the session I was attending and signaled for me to leave. I went out into the hall and he apologized. He said he was sorry that he had fought me on my instincts, that parenting this way had integrity and most importantly for him, the children he was seeing wall-to-wall at this Conference seemed to be turning out okay. He said it was all his cultural baggage that had held him up.

Emily's first steps came a few days after her first birthday. Suddenly, my husband had a little buddy. Changing diapers and bringing me the baby in the middle of the night had always struck him as grunt work, but hanging out with this new little pal was a blast.

Women becoming mothers experience hormonal and body changes. Going from man to father is not nearly as obvious or intuitive. If you are a woman who is watching your husband, partner, or boyfriend struggle with becoming a father, I hope that this story gives you hope. If you're a man, I would urge you to listen to your heart. The deep love you have for the mother of your child and for your child will lead you to make decisions that are right for you and your family.

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