To All the NICU Dads…

You are just what that tiny baby needs. With tender fingers and strong hands and with sweet words in a deep voice, there is no one like you.

Don’t forget how important you are.

Modern Fatherhood

I said something to my husband last week that I almost immediately regretted. And the more I thought about it, the more stupid the sentiment behind it was.

He was frustrated with the kids, and I was frustrated with the kids and with him. I spouted off, “I don’t think you’re capable of taking care of both of the kids by yourself.” (Is there any wonder where M gets all her attitude?)

Nope, not my finest moment. I apologized, and he graciously accepted. But, the statement made me think about the man I chose to be the father of my children and of our roles as parents. For now, I work inside the home, and my husband works outside the home. What I was taking for granted was that he defers to me on the day-to-day raising of the kids not because he’s inept but because he respects me. He knows that I am the one talking to their teachers and scheduling therapy and putting them down for naps. I spend many hours a week alone with the kids, so I do know their always changing patterns and tendencies. But, his deference should never be mistaken for an inability to care for the kids or for his lack of involvement.

After all, he is the person who was much better than I was at changing palm-sized diapers with his pinkies. He was fearless in the NICU with those tiny babies, and that is the man I want my children to emulate.

This week, I’ve seen so much discussion on TV and online about modern fatherhood and how involved so many dads are. My own father has resented the image of dads on television shows and movies. He was never bumbling, and he was always present in our lives when we were little. He is still a guiding force for his adult children. Because of his example, a deal breaker for me in finding a partner was a man who didn’t want children or who wasn’t interested in being an equal parent. In a country where men have little to no guaranteed paternity leave, where they are disparaged for staying home with their children, and where changing tables are almost exclusively in female restrooms as if fathers don’t change diapers… I should know better than to fall into a stereotype that demeans both my own father and my children’s father.

So, I made a promise to myself. I will not say disparaging things about my husband in front of the kids, especially when it comes to his role as their father, because I want them to see parenting as a partnership and to have strong relationships with both of us.

(And as evidence of his capability as a father, my husband, bless him, is putting the kids to bed while I write this post.)

So, as Father’s Day approaches, I just want to add my voice to the chorus of people praising involved fathers. Our society often portrays dads as bumbling when in reality so many fathers are excellent parents. And my husband happens to be one of them.

 

The Portrait of a NICU Father

Today has been a disappointing day for my husband, for professional reasons, and it brings to the surface something that I’ve had on my mind lately.

This blog is usually about me and my babies and our struggles. But, that’s a lie. It’s been unintentional, because my writing is from my perspective. But, to even give the illusion that this journey has been anything less than a partnership is to give the wrong impression. The idea that I am somehow a fighter with all my pumping and sleepless nights is wrong, because I was never in it alone. I wasn’t alone in the  hospital. I wasn’t alone during all those high-risk appointments. I wasn’t alone in the NICU. I was never alone, because my husband was always present, even when he wasn’t physically there. He was always supportive, always positive, and always encouraging. He was always my friend. Even when the stress of the situation tore at us, I never doubted his loyalty to our cause.

It makes me angry when the world treats him as anything less than a hero. Furious, really. Because they do not know him as I do.

He is the extraordinarily gifted athlete who never brags. He is the faithful employee who demands little praise. He is honest, except when he thinks he will hurt someone’s feelings. He is more than nice; he is kind. I use my husband as a marker for my own impressions of people because he likes nearly everyone, and if he dislikes someone, I know to steer clear.

My husband is the man who built an entire deck, fence, and pergola from scratch with only occasional help from his father and his father-in-law. He designed it, and he made it happen, while our son was in the NICU and during his first stressful months home. How did he find the time and where did he find the willpower? That is the man he is. If he starts something, he will finish it, and not only will the final product be functional but it will be beautiful too. Sometimes, it’s a shame his job requires so much of his mind and little of his handiwork, because he is gifted at much more than just finance.

My husband is so smart, but he will never tell you so. He is handsome, but he doesn’t see it. He is talented, but he’s always looking to improve himself. He is fiercely competitive and yet compassionate too.

But, the most amazing thing about him is that he is the sweetest father. His son worships him, and it’s by no accident. His daughter squeals when she sees him. They adore him, because kids are smarter than adults. They know a treasure when they see one.

How did my husband handle the burden of working in one place with babies in the hospital in another town? I won’t sugarcoat it because it was terrible. But, he managed the balancing act better than I could have ever imagined. During this last year, he performed incredibly at work, even with a toddler at home and a baby in the NICU. Do the people at his company even know that he succeeded beyond all expectations while his home life was in crisis? I expected so much out of him–too much, some might say–but he never buckled. He always kept moving forward, because that’s the kind of man he is. He doesn’t complain, and he doesn’t pat himself on the back; he just gets the job done.

I don’t know about other NICU fathers, but I am quite sure I’ve underrepresented his role here. And I am sorry. In sorting through my own emotions and struggling through some of the baggage the NICU left me, I failed to write about how I fell in love with my husband all over again. We don’t have many date nights, and sometimes we hardly have time to talk. I hope it won’t always be this way, but how can you not admire a man who will reach fearlessly into an isolette to change a tiny baby with his fingertips? Because here’s the truth: my husband was better at the NICU than I was. When I shuddered to touch the baby, when I faltered, when I could not find the strength to go on, who was there to encourage me? My husband. He was the one who never declined a chance to touch or hold his baby. He was all-in, from the very beginning. He taught me how to touch J during my first visit to the NICU. He taught me how to change those terrifyingly tiny diapers. He told me not to be afraid to love that baby. He was brave and tender, all at the same time.

During moments of crisis, how was I strong? Because I had the support of a lovely man.

How the world judges him, I can’t change. But, I hope he knows his value when he’s home with us.