The dark side of Papa-hood
Sorry, but there are no pictures to accompany this post. The thoughts expressed here have been stewing (festering?) in my head for a few days, which mostly means that they're starting to get crammed together. But, let me first say, the reason for this somewhat-less-than-upbeat post is that I wanted to prevent WIS from becoming a place where the reality of raising a three-week old is censured and only sugar-coated fuzzy thougths are permitted. So here we go . . . a dose of brutal honesty.
I've been discovering that, as Janelle really only has one way to indicate her interaction with the world around her (she cries . . . really, really loudly), my response to that single-response varies from moment to moment. There are a number of times when I can take it, breathe just a bit more deeply, and talk to Janelle in an effort to calm her. There are other times when I feel like she's thrusting a screwdriver into my brain. This is particularly the case at 2:00 am, which seems to be the time she wakes up each night just to be awake. When all I want to do is to get some sleep, it seems then she is most determined to scream and cry and demand that one of us get up and spend ninety minutes or so dancing with her or singing to her or whatever.
I suppose all of this was to be expected. Certainly I can picture that knowing smile across my own parents' faces as they think to themselves, 'We told you'. (Luckily for everyone involved, they would never actually say those words aloud, but kids can always tell when their parents are thinking them.) What is a surprise to me, however, is how quickly all the amazing, overwhelming feelings of Papa-hood, which I have expressed elsewhere on this blog, dissipate and leave just one, very ugly thought in their place: 'I wanna chuck this screaming baby across the room!' It brings tears to my eyes admitting to everyone that I feel this way (and that my tenderness to my beautiful little girl vanishes as I'm feeling like this). Of course I would never ever throw Janelle across the room, but I have handed her to her mother with less care than she deserves, and to me that's just as bad.
All of this is just a bit abstract, I suppose. To be specific, last Saturday morning (at 2:00 am) I was overwhelmed by the desire to get as far away from Janelle as quickly as I could. Andrea had to take her away from me because I was not as careful with her as I should have been, and I stormed out of our bedroom and slammed my fists up against the linen closet door. I then slumped down in our hallway in the dark and wondered how I let myself lose control of my thoughts and feelings as quickly as I did. I'd always said I wouldn't be 'that type of father' (the one with the temper, I suppose), and yet, to my terror, this is the person I sometimes feel I'm becoming. Janelle deserves better than this. Andrea deserves better than this.
Here, I guess, is the point of my thoughts on 'the dark side of Papa-hood': when I let these feelings fester inside me, afraid of what might happen if I express them in public (for example, on a blog available for all the world to see), the sense of guilt and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness start to become intolerable. I can see how family life has driven better men than me to do things I find unimagineable (we'll leave these for you to imagine). But by releasing these feelings — owning them and then letting them go — I find myself broken and without confidence in my own abilities and instincts as a Papa. And in that moment, when my only thought is, 'I can't do this anymore', I find a Gentle Hand encouraging me onward to hold the child that is much too precious to be entrusted into my hands. I hear a Comforting Voice calling me to trust in a strength that is not my own. And I find myself standing up under the conviction that the True Father loves my daughter more than I could ever love her, and he loves me just as much.
Fast forward twenty-four hours: now it is 2:00 am on Sunday morning. Janelle, once again, is wide awake and crying, demanding to be cosseted when all I want to do is sleep. But this night I put on Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo Ole' and spent the better part of an hour singing softly to my little girl. It calmed her down and she eventually fell asleep, but it also showed me something of what being a Papa was going to demand of me for the rest of my life. Janelle may need me to show her that I love her at times when I'd rather be doing something else. But an important part of what it means to love someone is the willingness to lay aside what I'd rather be doing in order to tend to the needs of the person being loved.
I suppose that this, in the end, isn't very 'dark-side-y'; you'd be justified in suspecting that reality has been ushered out the back door as the sugar-coated niceties are welcomed in through the front. But I actually find this very scary. I am not a great enough man to lay myself aside for the sake of my daughter. And I have my doubts whether I ever will be. But I trust in Andrea and the rest of my family, and in my friends, and especially in my God, that the gap between who Janelle needs me to be and who I am will be bridged by the work of his grace in Janelle's life. I suspect, as she gets older, that my own Dark Side will require me to ask my little girl's forgiveness on numerous occassions. She's too young to appreciate it now, but at only three weeks old I already find myself begging her to overlook my faults as a human being. And as I own my weaknesses as a Papa, I pray that the good times my daughter and I share together are sufficient for her to know that I love her, regardless of how bad I am at showing it.