I was scared of being a father well before I was one. I worried about it when my wife and I discussed having a child, I was worried about it when she was pregant and I was especially worried about it when I held my tiny, wriggling fragile daughter in the hospital room after she was born.
The first nappy change was mine. My wife was incapacitated with exhaustion and new stitches, and so this small, reed-thin, writhing new person was handed to me.
I placed her in a hospital issue cot/incubator, a little glass box on wheels, thinking that she could shatter like that glass with one wrong move. Exhausted, I kept inadvertently kicking the little wheels with my shoe, moving the cot around. A changed the nappy after a struggle. Thankfully, no-one was looking at me. No-one could tell I was a bumbling idiot with no clue.
There were two ways to view that nappy change:
A success — I did it, even though I didn’t know what I was doing, or,
A failure — I had gotten away with it once, but not knowing anything would catch up with me eventually.
I chose the latter.
I worried continuously that I did not know what I was doing, a feeling that’s common to all new parents — even if it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in the midst of it.
My general worries about parenting were marbled with other worries about my disability. How would having cerebral palsy impact my parenting? On top of not knowing what to do, there would be loads of things I couldn’t do.
But, gradually, I got used to things. My wife did too. We talked, we worked out routines and strategies for our unusual interabled parenting situation.
Our daughter is now 18 months old and — most of the time — I feel confident in my parenting abilities, even if I’m still often making it up as I go along!
I’ve been working from home since March due to the pandemic and have loved the extra time with her — although I still look forward to times when I’m not working when I’m able to properly play with her. In fact, I love being a dad so much that I would be a stay-at-home dad in an ideal world. Quite the change from thinking I was not ready, and might never be ready, for fatherhood.
What I have found is that my daughter does not care about my limitations. Picking her up is difficult, carrying her now almost impossible, but she’s so stubborn and independent that she doesn’t want me to pick her up anyway (on the rare occassions I do, she wriggles and kicks her legs to be free).
What she does care about is my time and attention, and those I can give without worrying about my physical limitations. I’ve found that I don’t get bored playing with her, even though a lot of the time it’s never-ending games of peek-a-boo, or games where I chase her around the room pretending to be a monster. I always knew she wouldn’t get bored of playtime — I was delighted to find that it was the same for me.
My wife and I have spoken about an ideal scenario in which she is the main breadwinner and I’m a stay-at-home dad. My wife loves working and her job is part of her identity, but my day job is just that — a job. At the moment, though, I earn more and in any case, we really need both of our salaries to get by. The dream is being a stay-at-home dad will remain a dream, for the forseeable future, at least, and maybe forever.
But at least I know now that my worries about fatherhood were unfounded. Being a dad is the best job I’ve ever had.