March 25, 2015 by Dadinator
It was late. Not adult late, just kid late. My son was a year and a half into his life and I was alone with him. The Mamanator, with child, was laid up in bed unable to move without vomiting. In fact I think I heard her run to the bathroom once or twice earlier in the evening.
The room was dark, curtains drawn. There may have been music playing, I can’t remember. This whole scene is only half-remembered half re-constructed by my imagination, details are fuzzy. I wasn’t sleeping well. A pile of bedtime books was on the floor and my hoarse voice was singing round after round of one of my songs. One of his songs really….
“It’s alright my boy
It’s alright my lad
It’s alright my son
It’s really not that bad”.
Over and over.
My son wasn’t asleep. I was walking up and down for the thousandth time carrying him around, rocking and singing over and over. I may have already recited Dr Seuss’ Sleep Book (which I knew by heart). I may have done it twice. I may have put him in bed and ignored him for a spell. I may have sat by his bedside as he rubbed my arm. These are all things I used to do.
I can’t remember. I just remember that he was awake.
Then, I remember, I was crying. I had tried to be so strong for so long, but discovered that my strength was gone. So I wept. The Lad didn’t understand, possibly he didn’t notice. I was absorbed in myself, so if he did notice I didn’t notice him noticing. He probably noticed.
I left the room.
I needed some water.
I needed to get back my strength.
I needed to toughen up.
I needed to do what I had to do.
I needed to get on with it.
I breathed in deeply. I had a glass of water. I regained my composure. My strength. I recovered. And I returned.
He went to sleep eventually.
And then I went out and tidied the house, loaded the dishwasher and climbed into bed with The Mamanator.
“How was it?”
Not my exact words, but I knew I had to be strong. Strong for my suffering wife. Strong for my son. Dads are strong.
Fatherhood can strip away your strength. Leave you weak. Exposed. Vulnerable.
And we close that up, guided by age-old instincts passed down from father to son. We lock it away and never ever talk about it, because boys don’t cry. But I did….. I cried that night in frustration and despair. I knew I had to hide it. Tears have to be dried, strength must be reclaimed.
What if I had been honest about it? What if I had talked it over, debriefed and faced up to that moment. What might I have discovered, how might I have grown?
It doesn’t matter so much now, it feels like it was a long time ago. I have talked about it, written about it, come to terms with it and I am comfortable sharing the story.
But in the heat of that moment, in the midst of that discomfort and turmoil my first instinct was to look strong. Stand tall. Be practical. BE strong.
Well, fuck strong.
I’ve had enough of strong. I am not strong.
I hope through my fathering and through my life to come to terms with moments where I crack under pressure, where there is pain, when I cry without defaulting to masculine-imbued stoicism; without the need to look strong. In these moments i hope I can be comfortable enough in myself and in my weakness to say “I am struggling” or “I am in pain” or the even less manly “I need help”.
I want my kids to understand that I am only human, that I fail and that I am weak too. And it doesn’t stop the world turning and it doesn’t stop me being their dad and loving them. Dad is human. Men are human. We are all human.
There is strength in that. In owning struggles, facing them and working through them. It isn’t easy to admit you’re hurting. It isn’t easy to admit something is hard. It isn’t easy to sit down with a stranger in a psychologist’s chair and talk about yourself for an hour. It isn’t easy to ask for help.
I want my kids, especially my boy, to understand that the strength doesn’t mean silence, it doesn’t mean locking things up and it doesn’t mean punishing yourself. I want him to seek help when he needs it, I want him to cry if he feels it and I want him to be able to discuss how he feels.
Maybe it takes strength to let yourself seem weak. Especially in front of those you love.
Maybe I just want my kids to learn about a different kind of strength to what I always thought it meant.
And I want them to be stronger than I am.