Times are changing and stereotypes along with them. Dads are clearly present in the lives of their children, but are (still) all too often seen as slackers, bumbling or incompetent when nothing could be further from the truth. They are there for their children because they want to be a part of their children’s lives, but are men truly supported in learning about their roles of becoming a father in the same way that women are taught about becoming mothers? Is the role of active, engaged fathers coveted, and are men are seen as more than financial providers who are also capable of nurturing?
Her dad is usually the first man a woman ever learns to love. At least that’s the theory anyway. My daughter however, doesn’t give her affections to anyone easily, and 7 months in I’m still working hard for her love.
After a marathon 54-hour labour, largely without any pain relief, my wife gave birth to our little girl Afia, via emergency caesarean section. The exhaustion and trauma of the whole thing meant that she was effectively bed-bound for the first few days postpartum, and housebound for the next 5-6 weeks thereafter. I happily assumed ownership of all the less glorious tasks of caring for a newborn (e.g. nappy changes and night feeds) and maintenance of the household so my wife could focus on her recovery and bonding with our new baby. We also restricted the number of visitors in those first few weeks and requested they either brought a meal with them or donned a pair rubber gloves to scrub the bathroom when they did eventually come to visit.
For me, those early days, especially my two weeks of paid paternity combined with a few annual leave days I had saved up from work were beautiful, but it was over far too quickly. Getting to know my daughter, figuring our her different cries and watching her learn about the world around her was an amazing experience. Going back to work obviously meant we had much less bonding time together, and at 6 weeks old when she rejected the bottle completely, any role I could play in supporting her feeds came to an abrupt end.
We then effectively only had about 2 hours of awake time together during the week – the period between when I got home from work and when we put her to bed time. I took ownership of the bath and bedtime routine so we could have some exclusive daddy-daughter time together, but at some point, I really did start to feel as though she was rejecting me too as she did with the bottle before. It’s natural for baby to be more attached to their primary caregiver, but I think I just started to become a vaguely familiar figure to her. When I was home on the weekends, Afia would start to warm up to me by the end of the Sunday, but then pretend like she didn’t know me by the Tuesday.
Fast forward to the present and I think she has definitely developed more of an attachment to me over the past month or so. I’d like to think that my steadily growing repertoire of stupid faces and dad dancing has in some way contributed to making me somewhat memorable during my day-time absences. I tweeted the other day that for the first time, Afia giggled, almost jumped out of mummy’s arms and practically flung herself at me when I came home from work. Mummy is still her favourite of course, but operation ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is now well under way!
I read yesterday that O2 have announced an extension to their paid paternity leave to 14 weeks, and think it’s an amazing and positive step towards encouraging more of a balance for parental leave options. I also wonder how much more of a bond Afia and I might have built if I had the opportunity to stay at home for longer after she was born. Who knows, maybe if we do have another child, extended leave policies for dads will be far more commonplace. In the meantime however, dad dancing will have to do!