When my wife and I had our first child, I remember thinking that I wished that we could have twins, so I could hold one sometimes (I have since withdrawn that wish…). I thought to myself that attachment parenting really meant attached-to-the-mama parenting.
It seemed to me that when our baby wasn’t nursing on mama, she was sleeping. I got to be a champion burper though, because I kept volunteering to do it so I could get more time holding her. Every time our daughter cried I would try to be the comforter, but when you have no milkies, it’s a lot tougher.
As our baby grew, I tried to find more ways to connect with her, and it wasn’t until she was a toddler that she really started to want to hang out with me and do papa-stuff. Even then, she still wanted to be put to bed by mama, and if she was hurt or upset, only the mama would do. I was feeling kind of like a second-hand parent, wanting to play a bigger role.
By the time we had our next baby, our oldest was five. Since mama now had her hands full with the new one, she became my helper and I became her playmate. I was able to take almost a month off of work after the birth, and she and I did all of the shopping, cooking, and cleaning during that time. We spent many hours hanging out in the laundromat washing dirty diapers together.
The pivotal father-daughter event for us was teaching her how to ride a bike. At first I tried taking the pedals off, to make a coaster bike so she could learn to balance, but she wasn’t having any of it. She’s as stubborn as I am, I thought. So we started going to a nearby school to practice on the track, and I think I clocked about 20 miles with her before we even got close to her riding by herself. Around and around we went, with me bent over and holding on to the seat. If I let go when she was doing well, she could pedal by herself. If she looked back to see if I was still holding on, she promptly started wobbling and then crashed (there’s a lesson in there somewhere…).
And then one day, she just got it. The look on her face when she realized that she could do it was priceless. It was like a gift from her to me.
That day really helped me to understand how different the role of the father is from that of the mother; all this time I had been trying to learn how to “mother”, and it never felt natural to me. I’m still learning how to father even after five kids and 20 years, but now I know that part of it is teaching what I know. It’s not all silly jokes and rowdy rough-housing (although those are important, too).
Dads, if you feel left out, or are confused because you don’t know how to mother, just relax. Your time will come.
Be yourself, enoy the difference, and before you know it, you’ll have a little “mini-me” following you around, too.