The signs aren’t immediately obvious to the outside world. You become accustomed and accepting of my behaviour. I might be a little off, more reserved and quieter than usual but my results don’t change so you tend not to question it. I might appear stretched or stressed but you know I’ve always got it under control so you let me be.
You and I both put it down to me adjusting to the seismic shift of becoming a parent. Unless I admit that I’m struggling it’s not your responsibility to dig deeper. I’m accountable for the way I feel, my behaviour, my choices and I’m accountable for making you aware of the pressure I’m under. Your role, should I feel ready and willing to talk, is to listen. You might offer solutions or suggest I seek support but at the end of the day, I still need to choose to take the next step.
Now consider this for a moment: As a second time father am I going to openly admit that I’m struggling?
I’m not secure enough in my role as a new parent to show vulnerability and I don’t want to disappoint and let my partner or my young family down. It’s much easier to move past it and suppress the way I feel. Let's face it……. my priorities have changed! I must stay focused on the objective which is simple: To support my new family both financially and emotionally. I need to be there for my wife, she needs me to be strong, resilient and level-headed. After carrying our child for 9 months and bringing life into this world I can’t let her see how hard I’m finding this adjustment. Her mind is rightly on other things, she's facing much bigger challenges head-on on a daily basis and she has, after all, taken a step back from her career to raise our children. As I return to work from paternity leave, I have to be sure footed, clear of mind and ready to pick up where I left off. Even though I’m feeling overloaded, I need to stay strong.
As the pressure increases I retreat further into myself and begin to build barriers. On the outside I look calm and ready (I can feel 8 Mile kicking in). I must be composed and step up regardless of the pain I’m carrying. I don’t complain, my head is down and there is a smile drawn across my lips. I can't share how I'm feeling as too many people depend on me. What would they think if they knew of the battle that is raging internally? I need to silence this nagging doubt, push it deeper within and silence my biggest critic.
But why am I unwilling to accept help? This question plagued me and I'm sure others have grappled with this question too. Here's my take on it.
I must not look weak! It could cost me my relationship, my friends, my career and everything I've worked for! I’ve seen so many fathers and men struggle! Their behaviour becomes self-destructive as they push everyone they love away. I’ve seen grown men burst into tears because of the shame they feel, and that’s from those strong enough to admit they have a problem. Too often we’re lost to the struggle and the voice inside and too often we take risks with our health and those behaviours’ point of focus is to numb the pain. In reality our decision not to admit the struggle damages us, and the future of our young families. We think as new fathers it's our responsibility to push down the restless emotion bubbling beneath the surface as we repeat day in and day out "It's ok, I'll get through this."
As a new father I didn’t know where to turn, the support wasn’t immediately available and I wasn’t sure how to approach it. So I did what any dad does: I knuckled down, threw myself into work and bit down on the gum shield ready to take hit after mental hit.
The thing is I’m a dad of two (boys) and I knew deep down that this approach wasn’t going to work long term. I knew I’d only end up teaching them how to suppress their emotion, how to ignore the signs and how to push everything you care about away. It had to stop and quickly.
I’ll admit it. I cracked under the pressure! You didn’t see it as I’ve become quite the expert at concealing my emotion. It wasn’t the pressure of being a dad. It was everything around me. It wasn’t until baby number two arrived that I realised I had nowhere to turn. I was desperate and needed to unload. The pressure got too much and forced me into a corner and I finally admitted to my wife that I was losing the battle and needed to escape. Those words shocked her to her core. My decision to accept I needed help left her feeling scared, alone and confused. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cope with being dad, I just felt worthless; I was so fearful of the future!
I was ready to be a parent. As a couple we were more than ready to bring life into the world and love these little people unconditionally. That night her reaction showed me I had something to fight for. I knew It was on me and I had to find a way to teach and influence my kids from a position of strength and confidence. I had failed to see the toll my lifestyle and approach to work and life was taking on me, both mentally and physically. The beauty and emotional rush felt on the maternity ward quickly turned to fear. How could someone struggling to stay afloat cope with this new addition to our family? Within 24 hours your whole world is turned upside down. Everything you’ve worked for and the relationships you’ve worked so hard at, everything starts to creak under the pressure of fatherhood!
The balance you had is thrown into chaos! We tell ourselves it’s ok and we’ll get through it but do we really see it coming? Your role changes, but you’re expected to react like nothing happened. My eldest was born in 2017 and as this bright, beautiful little boy entered the world I sat back and took it all in. I breathed in the pride I felt. I settled into the role and we got on with it. It wasn’t hard to adjust at first!
Those two weeks paternity were perfect and then BANG! Back to work. I’d been pushing the limit of my body and mind for close to 5, maybe 6 years! And fatherhood changed my outlook overnight and I started to process things differently. I was restless. I’d crashed and burned in April (2017) just before Henry was born (a story for another day) and in all honesty, I never really recovered but instead, just pushed on. The pressure had been building and I felt it more so than ever as I lay on the floor next to my two week old son (Max, who was born in March of 2020). I felt a sense of energy surge through me. It wasn’t pleasant and I realised that I needed to make changes and fast.
As a new father you question the impact you’re having from the off and, under the stress of fatherhood and against a tide of raw emotion, you start to question the direction you’re taking. Your family come first and you’ll do anything to be there even at the expense of your own health. But once the dust has settled, do you ever really sit back and reflect on how the world has changed? Do you open a line of communication with your friends and partner on the importance of investing in what existed before baby arrived?
I’m sure, like me, you’ve tackled it all head on, focused on baby and mum and downplayed your need for a little self-care. But ask yourself this: how much are you willing to sacrifice before it starts to implode and destroy the things you care about most? In those early days are you ever really in control?
Despite the warning signs after baby number one I kept pushing on. My objective was simple: To be a positive influence on my young family. The problem was the strain had taken its toll and I was reactive in my approach. I was making short term decisions rooted in trying to ensure the financial security of my family. As a consequence I started to doubt my ability as a parent. I covered it up well but it gnawed away at me until it caught up with me on that fateful night in 2020.
When the snap came it hit me hard! It knocked me clean off my feet.
At the time I wanted nothing more than to provide for my kids and give them the life they deserve but to do so, I had to right the ship. Like a lot of dads I focused on the wrong things and stopped enjoying the things that make being Dad worth it. I let the world outside knock my confidence and I questioned my role and the impact I was having.
We all set out with the same objective: ‘To be the best dad we can be’. Some of you will have great role models and teachers and some of you won't and despite your past experience, honest, hardworking, stressed out dads will always give it their all!
As we enter fatherhood we’re unsure, we lack confidence and, too often, we let the voice of others dictate how we feel and allow it to knock us off track. We’re so caught up in providing we forget to reflect and celebrate the progress we’ve made. We forget to see the beauty in the simplicity that plays out in front of us and we conform to a way of thinking that limits our connection and potential. New fathers are regularly ignored and, as a consequence of this, the signs that a dad is struggling are all too often overlooked. In my experience the adjustment to fatherhood changed the way I saw the world. I questioned my worth and progress. What became clear once I'd finally admitted to my partner that I was struggling was that my struggle ran deeper than my role as ‘Dad’, and my entry into fatherhood had just pushed me to the edge.
As a dad of two it never stops! I love it! The ride is incredible, absorbing and delivers joy at every turn. My kids are my everything but it used to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath! It’s never going to be easy but who ever said it was going to be? As a dad who struggled, I understand that there is a darker side to it. It’s effortlessly beautiful and simple if you commit yourself to living in the moment but if you’re locked in the past and fearful of the future and unwilling to open up it’s a lonely existence made worse by your unwillingness to open up.
From one father to another, I encourage you to seek support. We both know you've accepted your struggle - after all it's what's keeping you awake at night. What you're fearful of is admitting it to someone and them ignoring you. You're fearful of the shame you attach to looking weak! What you've failed to acknowledge is that any admission of struggle is a display of courage. Others will admire you and those closest to you will love you no matter what. If not for you then look down and see the love in the eyes of your kids…. To them you are strong, courageous, confident, fearless and their Dad, the person they look to for guidance, love and attention.
No dad should ever feel alone or ignored. I believe every dad deserves to hit the pause button on the whirlwind that is fatherhood and get that shot at feeling like you’re back on track, full of confidence and ready to take on any challenge that’s thrown at you.
If you are looking for support or want to learn more about the strategies I used to help me stay on track, then subscribe below.
Aidan, Founder of TMFC
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