If I had to describe my experience of fatherhood in a single word I would choose surprising. Sure, wonderful, exhausting, fun, and rewarding would all have made the list, but surprise is the emotion I have experienced most, starting the instant my twin girls were born.
First was their sex—I just never imagined we would have two girls. Next was the disconcerting reality of their size—one was just 1930g (4lbs 4ozs). But the king-hit (a surprise that has lost none of its awesome power in its thousand re-occurrences since that unforgettable day three years ago) was protective love: the kind you would instantly lay down your life for. It sounds melodramatic but, of course, it’s a simple truth of parenthood. A simple truth I had massively underestimated, like so many things.
And that brings me to the fatherhood surprise that (as I suspect is true for most new fathers) probably ranks as my #2, both in terms of poignancy and frequency: the relegation of romance from the front seat of my two-person marriage to the rear of my new four-person family, if there is any room after the buggy, high chairs, nappy bag, food bag, clothes bag, toy bag …
Now, if you’re thinking, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t mean romance, he means sex, and if he was a mother it wouldn’t be high on his list of priorities either, then, please, take a breath and pause before you read on.
I do mean romance, which (if anyone has forgotten) certainly involves sex, but it also involves attention, intimacy, a predisposition to interpret your partner’s characteristics and actions in a favourable light, and dependence.
Dependence is something mothers know all about: it’s what my wife received a double helping of the day our children were born, and it’s what powered her, more than anything else, to become the super-human, 24-7 worker she was month after month. And it’s still powering her today.
Being the #1 person in the life of someone you love is astonishingly powerful stuff, and the moment my daughters were born I felt like I was one half of that amazing dynamic three times over. But the truth is the moment they were born I ceased being that person to anyone. Just another simple truth of parenthood, but one I have no problem admitting I didn’t foresee, and it has broad-sided me more than a few times.
To my mind, the consequences of this sudden imbalance in the relationships of new parents are underestimated, far-reaching, and well worth plenty of open and honest discussion; but for now let me just throw two logs on the fire.
First, mothers, a thought about the actions of your husband or partner. Needing you, and needing you to show him that you need him, does not necessarily make him selfish, weak, or out of touch with either your needs or the needs of your children. It just makes him human.
And second, fathers, a thought about the actions of your wife or partner. The responsibility of keeping everyone clean and fed and where they need to be is simply overwhelming, or at least it would be if she wasn’t super-organized and supercharged on all that ‘dependence-power’—power that she needs. If you think your job is more exhausting than hers then try hers, without assistance, for just forty-eight hours and see if you still feel the same way.
I have learned that my wife puts being organized before being romantic to avoid drowning in washing and dishes and nappies and toys and kids; not to douse passion. And the only way that I can create the romance we both need is to assist her to be organized and to feel organized. It may not sound like a recipe for romance, but it works.