Why new dads don't always love their baby
Fatherhood can be boring and demoralising, according to a new genre of confessional literature written by men who are willing to admit feeling indifferent towards their young children—or even positively disliking them.
A growing number of fathers are breaking with convention and speaking out about how a new baby does not always bring great joy. “I wrote my book because of this persistent and disturbing gap between what I was meant to feel and what I actually felt,” said Michael Lewis, author of Home Game, An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, published this week.
“I expected to feel overcome with joy, while instead I often felt only puzzled.
I was expected to feel worried when I often felt indifferent.
I was expected to feel fascinated when I actually felt bored.
“For a while I went around feeling guilty all the time, but then I realised that all around me fathers were pretending to do one thing and feel one way, when in fact they were doing and feeling all sorts of other things, and then engaging afterwards in what amounted to an extended cover-up.
“Fatherhood can be demoralising. I usually wind up the day curled in a little ball of fatigue, drowning in self-pity.”
Lewis is just one father who has broken ranks recently to overturn what he says is “a great conspiracy of silence” between men not to admit to each other or to their wives the truth about the “potential misery of fatherhood”.
He admitted that, for the first six weeks of his daughter Quinn’s life, he felt nothing more than “detached amusement”. “The worst feeling was hatred,” he said. “I distinctly remember standing on a balcony with her squawking in my arms and wondering what I would do if it wasn’t against the law to hurl her off it. The reason we must be so appalled by parents who murder their infants is that it is so easy and even natural to do,” he said.
“Maternal love may be instinctive, but paternal love is learnt behaviour. And here is the central mystery of fatherhood: how does a man’s resentment of this ... thing that lands in his life and instantly disrupts every aspect of it for the apparent worse turn into love?
“A month after Quinn was born, I would have felt only an obligatory sadness if she had been rolled over by a truck. Six months or so later I’d have thrown myself in front of the truck to save her from harm. What happened? What transformed me from a monster into a father? I do not know.”
Ben George, editor of the literary journal Ecotone, agreed that it is time for fathers to find the courage to stand up and talk honestly about “the dark moments of fatherhood”.
“The strong, silent father type became déclassé a good while ago,” said George. “Gone are the days when it was acceptable, maybe even desirable, for a dad to be remote, enigmatic, impenetrable, emotionally inaccessible, unknowable.
“The job requirements for today’s father seem to have proliferated. They are unique to this age, achieving a precarious balance between manliness and sensitivity,” added George, who asked 20 fathers to write essays revealing the unvarnished truth about fatherhood for his new book, The Book Of Dads, to be published later this month. “We need to admit that dads frequently experience the desire, at times, to be anything other than a father.”
One contributor to the book is Darin Strauss, the bestselling author of Chang and Eng, a book based on the life of the famous conjoined Bunker twins, which he co-adapted into a screenplay with Gary Oldman. “It’s different for women,” he said. “When my son was a minute old, my wife held him up and asked, ‘Don’t you love him so much?’ I didn’t really understand how she could ask such a thing. That purple squirming howler? ‘He seems nice,’ I said. Men, I think, need to be won over.”
Steve Doocy, the Emmy award-winning broadcaster and author of the forthcoming book Tales From The Dad Side: Misadventures in Fatherhood, believes he knows why fathers are so different from mothers. “New mums are better at parenting than new dads, but there’s a reason why: they are programmed to mother,” he said. “There is a mega-mother industrial complex made up of thousands of magazines, books, classes and TV shows that instruct women on how to raise the perfect child.
“Across the gender aisle, fathers are usually clueless about what to do. There are no special father TV shows, zero Maxim articles on ‘9 simple cures for nappy rash’, and certainly no practice-dad toys like dolls,” he said.
“A man doesn’t have much of a foundation in fathering. It’s more on-the-job training—and it starts the day he becomes a father.” - guardian.co.uk