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Culture Spotlight

What it means to be a father in 2019

Helpless, confused, paranoid, terribly sleep deprived, and a whole lot of poop—being a dad in 2019 means stewing in a boiling pot of emotions and terrible news, and trying to overcome all of that.
Warren de Guzman | Jun 14 2019

As a relatively new father, I feel I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I feel terribly unqualified. I lack experience. My son was only born in late 2017. I also feel I have bad paternal instincts. I don’t know how to calm my one-year old son when he is crying. I don’t know how to hold his attention during teaching moments. I don’t know how to stop him from watching too many videos. I don’t know how to get him back on healthy food after treats from well meaning loved ones. I don’t know how to get him to quiet down in Sunday Church. The little guy has me helpless. Should I be celebrated as a father this year?

 

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My loving wife is quite supportive. She tells me she’d be lost if I wasn’t around to handle diaper changes in public places. She says I’m a master at keeping him interested during storybook time. She laughs because every time I’m not looking, our baby is making the wackiest faces just to get my attention. She claims I do a great airplane maneuver during meal times. She loves the way we play with blocks, and how creative I get in building and showing our son crazy looking animals and robots.

When I do mess things up in her presence, she recommends some helpful articles and websites to help me improve. She’s got a handful of quick tips to throw my way each time she sees me struggle with the boy. She is also armed with a menagerie of stuffed toys, baby books, handy snacks, and quick remedies for every baby situation. Despite doing most of the work, she says I definitely deserve to be celebrated as a good father.

Photograph by Nick Wilkes on Unsplash

When I talk to other young fathers, I find most of us really don’t have any of the answers at all. Our fatherhood is largely based on a cross of well-intentioned planning and daily fire fighting. All manner of scheduling is often thrown out the window on the regular. The most interesting development we’ve shared is our retreat into stoicism. Simply put, we’ve been forced into accepting what we can and cannot control. All arrogance and ego born from youth and machismo have been chained and subjugated to the whims of a tiny human being. Resistance is futile. You must submit to the randomness of baby defecation and the complex emotions which accompany giving birth and being born.

Fatherhood 101 is about being malleable enough to handle anything and everything, while preparing for the future. I often ponder these thoughts with my colleagues on our rare nights off from fathering duties, made possible by our loving wives.
Only when I talk with fathers of different generations do I find unique insight on fatherhood. Older fathers and grandfathers often lead with fathering being all about “bringing home the bacon.” The fathers of yesteryear don’t know anything about ordering diapers with wetness indicators. They also believe infant formula is better than breast milk, a product of aggressive and effective advertising campaigns in the 70s and early 80s. They also have no idea what its like to be fondled by tiny hands searching for a breast to suckle on in the middle of the night. But they can claim success in providing food, shelter, clothing, and transportation.

Education is also a trophy they brandish proudly. Their duties as fathers begin and end with family finances, with a little barbecuing and other household chores on the side. They sit back and relax at the end of the day, everyday, when the work is done. I don’t argue against their methods. They produced my generation after all. However, I haven’t done much relaxing since my son was born nearly two years ago. I’ve found the definition of fatherhood has evolved beyond putting money in the bank. Is this true for my entire generation? Or is it happening in different stages across the world, egged on perhaps by loving wives with jobs?

When I meditate on my transition into fatherhood, I am often confronted with the physical aspect of it. The phrase ‘dad bod’ comes to mind. Apparently society has decided fathers get a free pass for having pot bellies, flabby arms, and saggy cheeks. Fathers however are also saddled with the painful realities of ageing, including higher levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides.

Personally, I’ve been saddled with a slip disc that prevents me from carrying my toddler. God, how I wish I started fatherhood earlier. As a 20 something, I could match my young son’s energy and run around in the garden with him for hours and hours, playing with the garden hose, stomping on dried leaves, chasing around our dog Bigote, and causing general mayhem all around the house. I could toss him up and down in the air like a paperweight and revel in his glorious and effervescent baby giggles. I would tumble around with him on the grass or on the courts, chasing after stray balls and frisbees. I would take him around on a bike, the wind blowing through our hair as we streak down hills without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, I’m pushing 40 and I can’t even get out of bed in the morning without pain running down my back and legs. My wife says I am too hard on myself. But she is supportive, and hopeful my efforts to get back into shape will be worthwhile.

My worst fears regarding fatherhood are born from news and current affairs. I believe I can attribute most of my ailments to the news as well. Part of the stress comes from my daily responsibilities as a reporter. But a much larger portion of the stress comes from the news itself. The terrible tidbits of meaningless violence, wanton destruction, malevolent corruption, and unjust situations served up on a daily basis through the news raised one very important question for me as a father.

Photograph by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

Do I want to bring a child into this world? A world of unpredictable devastation from climate change as a result of still unchecked and unsustainable consumption. A world of incessant political bickering bordering on outright calls for violence and civil war. A world of thieving politicians, persecuted journalists, imprisoned opposition leaders, and dead drug victims. A world of widespread vilification and condemnation over genitalia, faith, and race. A world of spontaneous war zones in churches, schools, concerts, and social media sites. A world of international brinksmanship, economic sabotage, cyber espionage, cross-border land grabbing, and worldwide garbage trading. A world of fear, uncertainty, death, and destruction. This question, these realities nearly convinced my wife and I not to have children. But we still did. We have a son.

The clich├ęs are true about fatherhood. You will pace up and down the hospital hallways while waiting on either euphoria or misery. Luckily for me, my wife and my son survived the ordeal of childbirth after 24 hours of labor. Seeing my wife smile with our newborn baby on her bosom was magical. It erased all of my fears and doubts in a single shining moment of unadulterated happiness and relief. The shine did not fade for days, despite the sleep deprivation and massive financial bleeding.

Holding our new born seemed like the answer to all of the worlds problems. My son will change the world! My son will save the Philippines! My son will end poverty! My son will feed us all! My son will reverse climate change! My son will take back the Spratlys! My son will colonize the moon after winning an NBA championship! My son will cure cancer! My son will stop fake news!Of course reality later set in. I realized I would have to wait for my son to talk before I could talk to him about the nine-dash line or carbon emissions. I also realized my financial responsibilities with my wife now had to include a little person with zero income. I took comfort in having prepared with my wife for such eventualities. But considering the new plans I had for my boy, our financial reserves now looked terribly small. I became paranoid, worried about every single little detail of every single matter involving my son. The sleep deprivation also persisted. It persists to this day. Even now as I type these words about fatherhood, I am actually deprived of sleep. My wife is also awake, holding a teleconference in the other room. All our money goes to food, diapers, housing, and savings and investment. It also goes to doctor’s appointments and vaccines. Vitamins are on the list too. Milk for baby is also there, and it is quite expensive. All of our activities before parenthood have disappeared from the face of the earth. All disposable income is no longer disposable

My point, after all that, is being a father is hard. There is no cookie cutter strategy to it. In fact, I doubt many fathers can describe what they go through, or have gone through, in a succinct manner. All I have on this topic, I got from my wife, my fellow fathers, and my own experience as a father and as a journalist. I’ll try to bring it all together.

I would not be a father without my wife. Parenting is terribly difficult, and I am very happy I don’t have to do it alone. Being a father requires further education. Everyone has something to say about it, but nobody has a monopoly on good parenting. Even bad ideas can make for teaching moments. Being a healthy father is equal to, or even better than being a wealthy one. Not only is being sick expensive, it also means less time with your family.

Fatherhood has given me my most precious possession of all, family time. I always strive to be a better father, because family time is painfully slipping through my fingers every second of everyday. The world is a scary place, and when I became a father, it got even scarier. I can’t control it, but I can control how it affects my son. At the very least, I can shield him from the worst the world has to offer, so he can offer the world something better. I do not know if I am a father worth celebrating. But I do know fatherhood is something that should always be honored.