It was summer of 2014 when I got the news about looming fatherhood. I’d like to think that I understood that my life will be changing quite a bit. But for the most part, I was still a happy camper. I’ve always wanted to become a dad. one day... And now this day had a date on it! Little did I know how not ready I was for this life change.
I was as prepared as I could have been for all the new responsibilities like changing diapers, soothing a crying baby and taking care of my wife. I was even mentally ready for the sleepless nights and the fact that I will feel helpless at times.
But nothing or no-one prepared me for what challenges I’m about to face in my own head.
My perceptions of a real man before becoming a dad
I was raised in the spirit that being a manly man equals being the leader of the family. It meant being the protector and the provider for the family, always having the last word and for some reason also being logical, calculated and even stoic and emotionless like Steven Segal in 1990’s action movies.
Granted, I’ve never been physically dominant macho man – I’m 5’9 and 155 pounds. However, I took a lot of pride in my career and I was quite successful in it. I’m also competitive, calculated, hard to impress and I’d like to think an emotional rock. I don’t believe in setbacks and I fight for causes I truly believe in. And I was content with myself. Sounds quite manly, huh?!
When we were still expecting, I knew for a fact that my “fathering” will not be concluded with procreation, bill paying and simply showing up for supper. I wanted to be more and have more active role in our baby’s life.
Then again, I’ve never imagined myself to be the Michael Keaton’s character from the 1980’s movie “Mr. Mom” either.
Becoming a dad
Eventually my priorities changed quite a bit and one thing lead to another and I quit my job to stay home with my family when our little one was 10 months old.
Becoming a dad represented a turning point in my identity as a man and it made me rethink my masculinity. On one hand, I felt that this new status in manhood reflects my growth in maturity and responsibility. Although I wasn’t the one pushing the baby out of my body, I helped to create our beautiful little baby-girl and this made me feet as manly as ever.
On the other hand, it made me more “soft”. Ever since I became a dad, I am more emotional than I’ve been before or maybe it’s just that I’m more comfortable with showing my emotions. I haven’t always been in good terms with being vulnerable, so this new side of myself surprised me.
My understanding of what it meant to be a “real man” and the definition of engaged fatherhood had too many differences. I started questioning my own masculinity. Which disturbed me, because I’ve always been comfortable with who I was.
Here are some of the battles I had in my mind:
- Do I want to be a stoic and traditionally manly man or a nurturing dad and a husband? Why can’t I have both?
- Should I be an equal partner to my wife and do some of the traditionally more feminine chores around the house?
- Is it manly to cry and show your emotions?
- Is it OK to be overtaken by fear of the unknown at times?
- Is it manly to feel helpless and not to know what to do?
- Am I weak for leaving my successful career to stay home with my family? Am I just looking for excuses to not do what I’m supposed to do (i.e. make money)?
Having being so focused on my career prior to baby, it was difficult to feel manly to want to stay at home and cuddle and rough-house with our daughter.
The bread-winning had been a symbol of my power in our relationship. I saw this as my responsibility and my role. However, I was working overseas for months at a time and I just couldn’t justify being away from my family for that long. So, I quit.
I’m still not full-time at-home dad (aka Mr. Dad). I work at home part-time on my new project. But I still willingly and often perform similar care-giving duties – I change diapers, I cook, I vacuum and do dishes, I do groceries and I go to baby swimming lessons with her. And I enjoy most of these things most of the time.
It has taken some time, but I’ve learned to accept these changes and come to terms with them. I don’t feel it has made me less of a man. Instead, I think it has made me more human. I’m also redefining what masculinity means to me:
- A man understands that emotions are part of who we are and they make us human, but he refuses to let emotions control his decisions and therefore his life.
- A man has fears, but he isn’t ruled by them.
- A man understands that being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, but essential for human connection.
- A man does what is necessary. He has guts and courage to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions to stay true to who he is and protect his loved ones.
- A man is willing to sacrifice comfort for what he feels is right.
- A man takes responsibility for his actions and decisions.
- A man takes pride in how he lives his life. He’s not ashamed by who he is and he isn’t worried about other people’s opinions.
- A man is a leader in at least one area of his life – in his career or with his friends or with his family.
For me becoming a father was more transformative experience that going through puberty or committing to monogamous relationship with my wife. And it definitely has been the most humbling experience.
It’s been quite a journey and I’m constantly rediscovering and redefining what it means to be a man, a husband and a dad. I don’t remember any other time where I’ve thought about these things as much as I have recently. I’m more in sync with my values and I don’t regret my decisions. I embrace the new challenges and I feel more content with my life than before.
Tanel is a husband to his high school girlfriend and a proud dad. He's also passionate about becoming a better dad and a husband day-by-day. His mission is to help other soon-to-be and new dads transition to fatherhood and navigate the pressures they face in modern world.