I think that it is quite instinctive for a mother to know what to do when she becomes a parent. This is due to the fact that a mother has to endure nine months of both physical and spiritual changes—developing a bond with her child before the baby is born into the world.
Speaking as a dad, I think most of us don’t really know what’s to come, especially when it’s the first time. I try my best to be as good of a partner as I can, especially through the tough moments of my wife’s vomiting, not to mention her hormone-induced emotional rollercoaster—all the while recognising that I will never know what it’s like to experience the process first-hand.
My first day
When the day finally arrived that my wife went into labour, I realised that calling childbirth hard work is really an understatement. The experience of seeing what my wife went through was very painful, and it was definitely worse for her. Helplessly, I watched her scream between contraction, using intense breathing pattern techniques to try to stave off the pain. I watched her almost give up the lifeline of taking an epidural, a kind of painkiller, because of the unbearable and seemingly never-ending agony.
After hours of struggling, she was finally able to deliver a beautiful baby—a baby that was more than worthy of the love and care of a mother who had gone through all that pain.
What about the father?
My new role
What is the father’s actual role? Is it for him to just be a spectator in the child’s life, shelling out cash when needed, and leaving the real parenting to the mother? I think that while the mother has a special role to play, I, as a father, have a job to do as well. My task is to be the child’s life coach—whatever life wants to throw at him/her, I will be there to teach the child how to go through it. How did I get to this conclusion?
One day, after coming home late from work, I sneaked into the room to find my seven-month-old sleeping in the most random pose, her tiny frame somehow managing to conquer the bed. I noticed her chest, her breathing, her angelic sleeping smile when it suddenly hit me—she has a purpose in this life. She might grow up to be an individual that will someday have an impact on the world. Whatever impact it could be, it would be influenced by how I raise her from this point forward.
This was quite an overwhelming thought as, being a first-time father, I found that there were lots of things that had to be adapted and adjusted, especially in my own lifestyle.
7 things I learnt as a new father
1. Time doesn’t stop.
Compared to when I was still single and in college, or when I started working, I could still run away from “reality” and have a break and be as crazy as I could. However, I realised that having a kid makes it almost impossible to have this kind of break, making time away a rare luxury, because working for the future of my daughter has become my top priority.
2. Play time is a necessity for my baby.
When my baby was between two to five months old, she slept for almost two-thirds of the entire day. The rest of the day was taken up by pooping and being breastfed by her mom. Every day, the cycle would continue like so.
This also meant that the baby’s sleeping time also equalled more time for us parents to get things done such as: chores, assignments, pending office work, planning, etc. Little did I know that when my baby reached six months that she would add one more item into her daily life, which is PLAY! So I would have to muster all the energy that I have left at the end of the day just to provide that to my baby in order for her to live!
3. Being messy is also not part of my life anymore.
For example, since I was in college, my car would be the last thing that I would take care of in terms of cleanliness.
Now that my daughter has started to put everything she can get her hands on into her mouth, I really have to make sure that everything is cleaned and sanitised.
4. Changing diapers is not bad at all.
I kind of enjoy it. Knowing that my daughter consumes nothing but breastmilk, the output of that cute little thing can be quite monstrous. Every day is a training day for me to learn the trick of washing, wiping and changing. I have mastered my approach based on her preference (yes, a seven-month-old baby has her own delicate preference!). It’s the end result that I love the most when she subtly giggles to acknowledge your hard work and is ready to play and cuddle! That, to me, is worth all the effort.
5. The bond between the baby and the mother during breastfeeding is very strong.
I had to unexpectedly deal with my own emotions, and even my expectations of the baby, because my baby tends to seek out my wife when she needs things instead of me, who obviously cannot breastfeed her. Sometimes it even makes me feel like I am not needed as a father, except during play time. And also paying time. (Laughs!) I am learning to accept the fact that I cannot do everything, and that’s why I need my wife to be my partner in my child’s growth.
6. Mothers are naturals.
In my experience so far, it seems like parenting comes naturally to a mother, but I find that I, as a father, have to work on it. An example is when my kid falls down. Who gets up first to help? The mother or the father? The mother will jump out dramatically, worrying and fussing over the child. The father will just say: “Oh, it’s just a little bit of blood. She’ll be fine.”
7. My baby actually knows more than I think she does.
She can sense the atmosphere in the room. For example, I can never argue with my wife the same way I used to do in the past, now that my baby is around. I kid you not, she is my wife’s biggest backup. This happened a few times when we were driving to a friend’s place and got into an altercation about some ideas that we didn’t see eye-to-eye to. As I raised my voice, my kid gave me a very long stare. A stare that meant that I really should end the conversation right away and restore harmony in the car. (Heart melts!)
I might be foolish, I might be impatient, and I might not know where I am heading with fatherhood. However, I believe that being a father to her is my rites of passage to getting to know myself better and the cycle will continue once she has her own child one day, just like how my father sacrificed most of his adult life in raising me.
Qhairyl is a training junkie. He loves sharing lessons he’s learnt with youths. He is currently a coach for the Leaderonomics Club in school curriculums. To engage with him or to find out more about Leaderonomics Clubs, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The frustrated father
Joseph and his eldest daughter, Eliza. Photo courtesy of Eliza Tan.
Fathering a child is the easy part.
When my daughter was born 17 years ago, I thought that I have made it. Finally, I am a father and life from now on will be beautiful. Fast forward to the present—Eliza will be starting her first year in university in two months and yes, life is still beautiful but the process of getting there is often frustrating. To me, Father’s Day is a moment to make sense of the frustration of parenting. It is not the absence of frustration which makes Father’s Day special, rather it is the presence of faith in the midst of frustration which causes a father to feel motivated during this annual ritual.
However, there are two challenges which seeks to diminish our faith as fathers.
The challenge of career success
In general, when the first child is born, there is not only an increase in the father’s responsibility but it is also a period of career growth for the father as an employee, employer or business owner. While the child is growing, so is the father’s career. Here is the paradox: your career grows the fastest when your child needs you the most.
Hence, for this Father’s Day, take time to evaluate your life priorities. I am not saying that you should quit your job and be a full-time father but I am recommending that you review your life investment choices.
The challenge of character development
Joseph having fun with his youngest daughter, Eunice. Photo courtesy of Eliza Tan.
A father is naturally wired to provide for the family—working hard to ensure that our children are financially provided for. Fathers feel proud when they provide enough for their children’s education. However, parents’ frustration has more to do with the child’s character than his or her grades in school. Most fathers have no problem with being a great manager in the workplace but they abandon this leadership role when they enter the house.
Hence, for this Father’s Day, take time to evaluate the consistency of your life—am I caring only for short-term gains at the expense of long-term growth for my children?
While it is normal for Father’s Day to be spent with a special family meal, do not neglect to spend some time to reflect on the internal state of your leadership—make sure that you are not just fathering a child but leading him or her in the way he or she should go. Let this Father’s Day be the first day of your commitment to manage your career from the proper perspective and to develop your child’s character personally.
The greatest complain for a father is to be an absent one.
Joseph with Eliza (2nd from left), his wife, Debra, and Eunice (far right). Photo courtesy of Eliza Tan.
The greatest compliment a father can receive is when our children appreciate our presence. It takes more than just a day to be a father.
Joseph Tan is CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. While his passion is to work with performance-focused leaders to capture the hearts and minds of their employees through a strengths-based and accountability-driven approach, he is also a firm believer that leadership begins at home. If you would like to enhance the engagement level of your organisation (or your home), e-mail for more details. To get in touch with him, email email@example.com.
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