I love my kids. I never want any harm to come to them. I hate being a father.
Children require so much attention. They are completely dependent on their parents and the younger a child is the truer that is.
Before I had my first child I wanted to have four kids. My wife and I had been married for five years before getting pregnant so we enjoyed each other without kids for long enough to know what it felt like to be together. I knew having a child would change my whole life; I was not surprised by the change in the daily routine.
The funny thing is that a newborn doesn’t really upset the daily routine too much. I would still play sports in adult rec leagues, my wife would watch, we would go for drinks after as a team and the baby would come too, just sleeping in someone’s arms or a car seat in a noisy restaurant or patio. But a baby slowly grows more independent and with that independence, it will oddly require more attention from its parents.
As my son got older and started relying on me for more and more, I started feeling a strange pressure. It felt like I was being backed into a corner and I knew I could never escape. Being a parent is a lifelong decision that you can’t go back on. At least if you picked a shitty spouse, divorce is an option. You can’t divorce your kids; all you can do is become a shitty father.
Before my wife became pregnant with our second child I expressed to her my feelings that having children is fundamentally difficult and maybe we should reconsider having more. My wife loves kids and she quickly dismissed my half-hearted objection. I knew that there was no way we wouldn’t have another child because she loved them so much, and really feels a genuine joy in raising them. Divorce wasn’t an option either for me because I love my wife. Sure, there are bad days but by and large, she loves being a mother. So we got pregnant again.
After my daughter was born I was so sure I wanted to be done. A million practical reasons flew through my head as possible arguments against growing our family yet again; ‘family’ admissions to anything are always four, we would need a bigger car, we would need a larger house, we already have one boy and one girl and another would screw up the ratios. Over time here and there I would mention one or two of these small arguments against having any more kids. She, in turn, would do the opposite by dropping small hints that she would get pregnant again.
It all came to a tipping point one night just after my daughter turned one. I went to my wife all alone and used no practical excuse. I simply told her I did not want any more children. I did not enjoy being a father as much as I had hoped. The dedication I could give to two kids is much more than the amount of dedication I could give to three. We would be able to invest a greater percentage of our time on two kids and thereby hopefully ensuring their lives would be happy. Suddenly my wife brought divorce to the table, not with words but with her attitude. We both sat there crying, each contemplating a future we did not want to have. She thought of never being pregnant again, never feeling that natural high of bringing a new human to life. I thought of everything that goes along with another person who would be relying on me for the rest of my life.
Faced with a perceived ultimatum, I swallowed my true feelings. I felt that I needed to lie to my wife to make her happy. Would she really get pregnant again with me if I said I simply compromised and we could have another child? No. I had to say that I was convinced and that another child is what I really wanted. Maybe in the moment, it wasn’t even a lie. Maybe the thing I wanted most was to not have my life turned upside down by being a divorced father of two, and the by-product of that was becoming a father of three. Maybe my brain looked for the path of least resistance and took it. Divorce scares me, but for different reasons than people might expect.
Divorce is simply a matter of two people who have decided not to love each other anymore. Couples are falling in and out of love on a daily basis, it’s not the feelings that make a relationship last, it’s the work. If I wanted to get divorced I feel that my wife and I would be very amicable about it. We would make a decision to simply not love each other in the same way as we are currently doing. That thought can literally appear on any given day, without any prior introduction; ‘I don’t want to work on loving him/her’. To me the scary part of divorce isn’t the leaving the current partner, it’s finding a new one. When I was young I believed that God had made one man and one woman that were meant to be together. A person would spend their life trying to seek out this one person only meant for them and they would be together forever. I no longer believe this. There is no set person we are supposed to magically discover. A man can find a man that makes him happy for a certain number of years and then later find a woman that makes him happy. Divorce scares me because I don’t think I can make anyone other than my wife happy.
I know that I am the only person like myself on earth. The mix of personality traits that make me up is at times, an oxymoron. I have low self-esteem but I am arrogant. I am passionate about my friends but I can come on strong and drive them away. I am fully committed but hate sticking things out until the end. Those aren’t things that are attractive to other people. My honesty is one thing that I have always tried to rely on, but honesty is really just a tool that I use so that when I need to not be honest, no one would second guess it. The best liars always tell the truth. I’m not sure if I know these things now because of what I’ve been through mentally or if they are things I always knew and I chose the easier side of a decision with two difficult outcomes.
My third child was born last July and things started to feel so much worse than they ever had. I feel this crushing feeling of responsibility that I cannot escape for the next 20+ years. I was miserable. I’m generally an easygoing and happy person, and my wife noticed a change. I’m not one to research why I’m feeling a certain way. I am a guy, I was raised in the 80s, if something is hard, I was taught to suck it up and just get through it, even if it hurts.
One day late in August my wife came to me and suggested I had depression. I thought she was crazy. I didn’t have trouble getting out of bed, my kids made sure of that, I knew I wasn’t happy but I thought that’s what life as a father meant. Through some more research, we discovered Paternal Postnatal Depression (PPND). Much like Postpartum Depression in mothers, PPND affects fathers. As I read the list of possible symptoms I confirmed I had about 20 of the 25 listed and I knew there must be some truth to what was going on with me. I’m not easily embarrassed or ashamed of what’s going on with my body and it was a relatively easy decision for me to make the call and seek out help. I’ve been receiving counselling ever since.
I recently shared some of my story with my friends on social media. I didn’t get a huge response but what I did receive was messages from people that had never heard of PPND before, or even thought it was possible, just like my wife and I hadn’t. I know more fathers out there are affected by this, and they don’t know it. They just think it’s what they are supposed to feel like or they are too afraid to admit for fear of admitting to being a bad father. Those feelings are not the ingredients for a bad father, though, to me, it’s almost the opposite. If you feel this way, it means you care about your kids, and you want to feel the love for them that they need to be shown, that’s beautiful.
Earlier I mentioned that you can’t divorce your kids, you can only become a shitty father. I refuse to be absent from my kids’ lives. For better or for worse I will be there for my children. The statistics on fatherless children are staggering. Children who grow up with absent fathers are more likely to develop a mental illness, more likely to spend time in prison, and more likely to enter the sex trade. All of this is an enormous pressure to stay and be present and have a certain degree of aptitude in raising your children. If I got up and left, not only would I abandon a woman I love—I would have left her to fend for herself, as well as three kids. I know that those kids would not be able to realize their full potential. They need me and that’s hard to handle.
Again, I love my kids.