My husband took time off from work when my son was born, saving up all his vacation time, so excited to spend as much time as possible at home with our newborn baby. What we weren’t prepared for was that our son would be born requiring life-saving surgery within days of his birth. No amount of planning could have readied us for the fact that he would spend six whole weeks in hospital, much of that time spent in the NICU. His vacation time came and went and there was no sign of our little man coming home. He couldn’t imagine going back to work, so he took a leave of absence and sat beside the little incubator day after day, quietly standing by his son.
Our son was eventually released from hospital and his dad proudly drove us home, keeping to the speed limit and checking on us periodically through the rear view mirror. My husband had waited his entire life to be a dad and he jumped right into it finding his place comfortably. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. He woke up in the middle of the night for feedings, changed dirty diapers, and would almost clamber over top of me to be able to participate in bath time.
One day he decided he would take our son to a baby playgroup that I normally attended. He came home disappointed declaring he would not be going back. He wasn’t warmly welcomed with inviting words but instead there were whispers and stares. Not one mum spoke to him. He left discouraged, feeling judged and unwelcomed. It was our first but not last experience with "Daddy Discrimination."
Sometimes it was harmless; someone assuming he didn’t know how to change a diaper, or walking right past him to hand the baby over to me when he was fussy. Perhaps before being invited for a night out a friend would ask, “Can he handle babysitting for a couple of hours?” Other times it was more obvious; ignoring his instructions because it was assumed he didn't have a clue. When we announced that he would be taking the last few months of our parental leave, most were shocked. Some asked why? A friend even asked if he knew what he was getting into, warning him that he wouldn’t be able to handle it.
I’m not sure this kind of Daddy Discrimination is uncommon. We expect our partners to play an equal role in parenting but I don’t think as a society we treat them as equal parents.
Let me make it clear: he is a wonderful father. From our time in the NICU up until today, he has not turned away from any daddy duty no matter how messy, scary, or tiring.
I consistently turn to him, recognizing that there are just some things he does better. If there’s a boo-boo that needs to be handled, he is the one to turn to. I panic. Even with little hurts. I cry, I get frantic, I almost run in circles screaming. Daddy stays cool, and if he’s worried, he doesn’t show this face to our kids. He wipes up blood, ices sprains, and Band-Aid’s like an expert. When they are sick I look to him to keep me calm. He’s just as good at being the loving daddy as he is the bad guy. He will play Candy Land for the hundredth time and he can sip a cup of tea wearing a tiara like an expert even though he isn’t well-versed in tea party etiquette. I couldn’t ask for a better father for my kids.
To all of the fathers out there who consider their parenting duties as just a part of their day, I wish you a Happy (Every) Father’s Day. Especially to my own wonderful husband who, only a few short years into the job, has already proven himself to the best of the best. We love you and are so happy to have you in our lives.