As things are quickly becoming shockingly real – that I’m really going to be the father of two human beings – I’m finding myself increasingly reflecting on what actually it means to be a father. To be a dad. In less than 48 hours, there will be two little ones that will rely on me for all the basic necessities of life, then to be a role model. Are we sure that’s that’s a good idea? After all, this isn’t a real daddy blog until I bare my inner thoughts and insecurities about how good of a parent I’m going to be.
So many people have told me that I’m going to be a great father, even six plus years ago when children weren’t in my immediate future and I hadn’t even yet met my wife. It’s not like these people saw me interact well with kids, because I’ve never really been around many kids – in fact, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve held an infant in my entire life – most of these being within the past week! I’ve always been a shy, introverted person, and I don’t particularly know how to play with very small kids very well. One of the daddy books I read mentioned that if you ask mothers-to-be to describe a scene with their children, it usually involves the children as infants and doing things that provide their basic needs, like feeding. On the other hand, if you ask a father-to-be to describe a scene with their children, it most often involves the children as three to five years old and the fathers interacting with them in a teaching/learning or exploring setting. I thought this was particularly interesting, because this is exactly how I envision myself with my own kids. I’ve always been much better “playing” with older children, because I tend to go right into teaching or exploring something – and three to five years old is when that can really begin. The first small child I’ve really interacted with is my nephew (Molly’s sister’s son), and, despite going on vacation with her family for the past four years, only this past holiday vacation did I really “play” with him for the first time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he just turned five – I think this was the first year I really knew how to “play” with him – and most of our interactions were building with Lincoln Logs, playing on my phone, and teaching him (or rather him teaching me) how to play with a handheld video game he got for Christmas.
So why have I heard “you’re going to be a great dad” from so many people? I truly and utterly have no idea. I do know that I’m really looking forward to learning how to play in an age-appropriate manner with my own kids and how best to promote their developmental milestones. And I definitely don’t think I’ll be so shy with my own as I am with others’ children.
What even makes a “great dad?” Or even a “good dad?” The traditional male role tells me it’s to provide financially for my family. Well, that’s not going to happen until at least after I finish my graduate program and (hopefully) begin an epidemiology residency. Not to mention the fact that I’ve never exactly fit into the traditional male role, nor do I strive to, in an particular way. My daddy books and more modern/liberal society tells me being a good dad is being interested and involved in your child’s learning and activities. Well, those are things I would expect of any parent, not necessarily just a father. So are there things that will make my relationship with my kids different than Molly’s relationship with our children? I sure hope so. After all, she gets special mommy things such as breastfeeding that serve to create a special mommy-child bond. What are the things I can do to be a “great dad” that will help develop a special daddy-child bond?
Last November, I terminated with the counselor I began seeing when I was having a difficult time with my anxiety about something going wrong with the pregnancy early on. At my last meeting with the counselor, she challenged me to think about if I had any role models for what type of dad I want to be. I put a lot of thought into in, and I realized that I really don’t have one. I have a lot of ideas, bits and pieces of things I’ve picked up here and there from my dad and others, but I don’t have a singular role model, per se, of the type of dad I’d like to be, at least when my children are very young.
I don’t remember having much of a relationship with my own dad when I was a kid. However, now that I am an adult, I now have a great relationship with my dad. Watching my relationship with him change as my transition from female to male has progressed has been incredibly rewarding, and simple words on a blog cannot express how much I value my current relationship with my dad. After my family accepted that I was going to transition with or without them, they decided to support me; ever since that point, my dad has been one of my biggest advocates. I still remember the first time he called me “son” in front of me – it is simply impossible for me to express the joy and acceptance I felt. I remember the sights and smells of the exact moment, and that moment is one I will hold with me for the rest of my life. I believe it was that same year that he rented Breast Men, a movie about two doctors who created breast implants, and invited me to watch it while my mom was out holiday shopping. What father-son bonding! I truly cherish every second of our relationship now. The point is that I have a great role model of how a man may parent an adult but am relatively lacking in a role model of how a man may parent a young child. Actually, when faced with the challenge of coming up with a father role model, my first thought was of one of my transman acquaintances, because he often posts photos on Facebook of he and his adorable family doing fun things. But I don’t really know him at all. Sure, I’ve read some daddy books, but I know books are no match for a real-life role model.
My dad recently sent me an email about how stress is something in everyone’s life that won’t just go away, and the best way for each of us to deal with it is to change how we view and cope with it. That it is OK to be concerned with things that are happening in the present, but worrying over things that may (or may not) happen in the future serves no real point (recognizing that there are, of course, circumstances where worrying may be justified). This was a huge eye-opener for me, because when I have a long To Do list, even one that lists only “simple” things like cat litter, garbage, recycling, dishes, laundry, etc. I tend to get overwhelmed. It’s not the nature of the items on my To Do list, it’s the sheer length of it. For whatever reason, I feel like there’s no way to get it all done because everything must get done now. Nothing can wait. So this advice couldn’t come at a better time, because I have about a million and one things To Do before the babies are born in a few days (and they’re not even “simple” things – I wanted to make significant progress on my school work and potentially apply for a job – very different than just changing the cat litter). After getting this email from my dad, I realized that I need to learn to prioritize and let go of things that aren’t immediately pressing. If the garbage doesn’t go out this week, it’s OK, there’s always next week. If I can’t make as much progress on my school work as I wanted to, it OK, it’ll get done somehow. And always putting Molly first (the second piece of advice from my dad) will only help keep all of that in perspective.
So perhaps that is exactly what I can do to be a “great” dad. I can remember to not get too stressed out about the little things. I can remember to slow down, take a deep breath, and proceed calmly. I want to be a “great” dad, and although I’m not as sure I will be as others may be of me, I do know that approaching situations calmly and not sweating the small stuff should help me provide a real-life “great dad” role model my kids can be proud of.