My daughter is a few weeks old and lying on her activity mat. My husband gives me a kiss and says, “Have a great day!” and turns toward the door.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to the baby?” I know I am pouting and my tone is of the Whiny Baby variety but I can’t help it. I don’t understand how he can just ignore our perfect, tiny baby.
“Oh, right. Goodbye, sweetie!” He crouches down and gives her a quick kiss on the top of her soft, bald head and leaves for work, this time for real.
My husband is a good man and a loving father. But it infuriates me that he neglects to give our daughter a simple goodbye when he leaves and he often fails to greet her when he arrives home. How can he care so little about connecting with our beautiful baby?
My life revolves around her. I am breastfeeding and I will not return to work for another few months. My days are a blur of nursing, burping, diaper changing, and if I’m feeling perky, a load of laundry or a trip to Target. I talk to my mom on the phone a lot. I need to hear the voice of another adult and I need advice. I troll the breastfeeding boards online. I try to find time to pump, in anticipation of someday leaving the house without the baby.
My husband’s life is largely the same as it was before our daughter was born. He gets up and goes to work. He comes home from work and some nights we eat dinner together while our daughter sucks peacefully on her pacifier. The other nights we eat in shifts so one of us can hold the baby while the other eats.
In the middle of the night, I awake to the sound of our daughter’s soft whine, and wait, holding my breath, hoping the whine won’t escalate into full-blown crying, even though it always does, and then I go into her room to nurse her back to sleep. When I return to bed, my husband is blissfully unaware, breathing his deep, oblivious, sleepy breaths. I try not to hate him for being asleep.
At my new parent support group, a male therapist is our guest speaker on the topic of being a new dad. Although the group is for moms and dads alike, we are all women. The therapist talks about the unique challenges of fatherhood, which is enlightening. One thing he says really sticks with me. He tells us motherhood is about letting go of the child and fatherhood is about developing a relationship with the child. I still bear some resentment that I am the one getting up in the middle of the night but I start to understand my husband a little better.
And then our daughter starts to smile and my husband starts to engage with her a little more. She starts to laugh and he starts to give her raspberry kisses on her belly and tickle her armpits. She starts to get bigger and he puts her in the Kelty backpack and takes her on hikes more often. I start to realize I don’t need to leave him with a list of reminders and instructions for her care. He starts to take her on walks in the neighborhood, allowing her all the time she wants to stop and admire dogs, collect twigs, and explore the rocks she finds on the sidewalk.
Our daughter is almost two now. Most mornings she cries, “I need the Mama! Where are you Mama!?” imploring me to rescue her from her crib at an entirely too early pre-dawn hour. But the other day, she yelled instead, “Daddy, read the Hobbit!” My husband is a science fiction/fantasy geek and reading The Hobbit has become a bedtime ritual he shares with our daughter.
I am too tired to open my eyes but I don’t need to see my husband to know his heart is smiling.