Having a two month old baby is a rollercoaster of emotions, driven to the extreme by sleep deprivation.  After a particularly hard night where baby was crying constantly and not sleeping, my wife looked at me with a tear-streaked face asked me, “How come you don’t ever cry?”

Truth be told, the only reason I wasn’t crying then is because we have an unspoken rule that if one of us is crying or breaking down, the other person has to stay strong and supportive.  We can’t have both parents and the baby all crying and falling to pieces—somebody has to be in control.

But since becoming a father, I feel like I cry a lot more than I used to.  Tears of happiness, frustration, joy, despair, and hope. Manly tears.

The day my daughter was born.

From the first contraction to the final push, my wife labored for approximately twenty-four hours.  During that time, I was all business. Before the hospital, I was making her food, trying to create a space where she could feel relaxed, making sure she napped a bit.  At the hospital, I was there holding her hand, supporting her, doing what I could to help her through the contractions. I didn’t cry or even tear up, even when I could see just how hard and painful it was for her at times.

My daughter was born at 8:31p.m.  And the moment I first heard her little cries and the midwife lifted her towards us, I broke down and immediately started crying.  And not just a little bit, but full on heaving sobs. For about fifteen minutes straight. All I could do between sobbing loudly was blubber, “She’s perfect.”

The first time I felt like a failure as a father

I got home after a long day at work and was so excited to see my wife and daughter.  My wife was a bit frazzled; Baby had been fussy all day, and my wife just needed a break to rest.  I pick up my crying daughter, and I think, “No problem—I know how to calm her down.” I put her on my shoulder.  Crying.  I swayed around with her.  Still crying.  We looked outside (her favorite activity in the world).  She is still crying.  Diaper change.  Crying intensifies.

I know she must be hungry.  The thing is, though, that at this point we are still exclusively breastfeeding, which means I would have to give my crying baby back to my exhausted and stressed wife, and I don’t want to inconvenience her.  So I keep holding Baby. And she keeps crying. Finally, I have to admit defeat and give her back to my wife to feed.

And as soon as my daughter was safely in my wife’s arms, I just broke down and started crying.  I felt like such a failure. I couldn’t provide the one thing my daughter needed in order to calm down.  In my mind, I knew that I was being illogical—I had done everything correctly before handing my daughter back to get fed.  I did all I could for her, and eventually we would start bottle feeding and then I would be able to help with the feeding. But in that moment, all I felt was shame and guilt and inadequacy.

The first time my daughter reached for me

I got home after a long day at work and was so excited to see my wife and daughter.  My wife was a bit flustered when I came in. She was preparing dinner and told me, “She was fussy all day, could you check her diaper?”  Of course! So I walk over to the Rock-and-Play, and there is my daughter, lying there wiggling her little legs. And as I leaned down to get closer to her, she looked me right in the eyes…and she smiled her most perfect little smile, reached out her arms for me to pick her up, and started babbling away in her little baby noises.

I didn’t out and out start crying, but I teared up as I lifted her to my shoulder.  And I held her so close. And I had never been happier as a dad.

Whenever I think about how loved my daughter is

We have a bedtime routine in our house where I take the baby upstairs and get her ready for bed while my wife tidies up downstairs and then does everything she needs to do in order to get ready for bed.  That takes a while, so I have some time to cuddle with my daughter on the rocking chair. During this time, I love to talk to her, even though (and in part, because) she can’t understand me.

I tell her how much her mom and I love her.  How we will always be there to support and encourage her.  How much her grandparents love her. I tell her about how all her aunts and uncles and little cousins were so excited when she was born.  How all our family and friends gave us well-wishes and advice and were so happy for us. How no matter what happens in life, she will be surrounded by people who want the best for her.

And I maybe cried when I wrote this post.

Paul Menn

Paul (’10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma (’10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.

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