The Difference Between “Playing House” and “Being Dad”
In April of 2014, my wife got her dream job of being a nurse in the emergency room department at a level 5 trauma center in Salt Lake City. We were pretty excited that she would get to be at a top notch and challenging place for work. I did not think it at the time, but getting that job was not just good for her, it was the best thing for my not-even-yet-conceived-baby-boy and me.
About a year or so later the cutest, squeakiest little boy James was born. I was amazed how my wife and him instantly had a powerful bond. To be honest, I really felt left out. It’s like my wife was meeting a long lost friend with my son and I was making awkward conversation at a cocktail party. I was hoping for the deep emotional bond that I had heard about. I didn’t get it. I felt like I still had to get to know him. As the weeks went on my heart was slowly melted down from its original form and put back together to function and feel in ways that I had not felt before. I learned to feel love so strongly for my son that I would tear up often just thinking about him. At one point I jokingly said to my wife, “Wow! I love this little guy soon much! In fact, if what I am feeling for him is ‘love’ then I am not so sure what me and you have, Babe.” As is per the usual, I giggled to myself and my wife held back any sign of laughter as to not endorse my lame jokes.
When my son turned 10-weeks-old, my wife prepared to go to do her first 12-hour night shift since James was born. It was a pretty emotional day, so emotional, it got its own Facebook post. 😉
I was not worried to watch my son. After all, I had been there every day of his life helping my wife.
Boy was I wrong.
It was about an hour into me flying the parent’s plane solo and baby James started to cry. It sounds silly but I realized that the training wheels had been taken off and I had to figure out what was going on by myself. I had a huge realizeation that whenever James cried, my wife knew what was wrong, and while I would do the work of changing, feeding, or burping him, I never thought through his needs on this kind of level. I was ‘playing house’ not ‘being dad.’ The first night alone was trial by fire. I realized that having to really think through how this cry sounded and how he was feeling caused me to feel and connect with my son on such a deeper level. I observed over time how the the already deep love that I felt for my son transformed to have another deeper dimension that I had been missing this entire time!
So to every mom who is reading this, I would push that you let your husband have long periods of uninterrupted time with the baby. Plan it in. Get together with friends and leave Dad alone with the baby so that he too can develop this deep connection with the newest member of the family. It really will change his life. I see friends all the time that as soon as baby starts crying they hand him off like a hot potato. I really do pride myself in knowing what each of my son’s cry mean and being involved in actually being Dad instead of just playing Dad.
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