We don’t hear much about them. Sure, they're the beneficiaries of a clichéd card or a useful toolset one day out of the year. But aside from a collection of Instagrammed pictures of bearded fathers holding their babies, they seem to be nothing more than elusive counterparts to the always-present mother.
They’re rarely talked about during pregnancy, hardly noticed after a birth and seldom mentioned, as sleepless nights bleed into endless days.
But, I’m here to tell you dads are important, too.
I used to fight this notion. Having an abusive and now non-existent father left me denying the importance of a paternal figure. I wanted to believe a father to be the runner-up in the parenting paradigm -- not necessary, but great to have, like a 401(k) or dryer sheets.
And yet, when I look at my son playing with his father on our living room floor, I can’t refute the undeniable fact that a father is just as important as a mother. However, they rarely get credit. Or attention. Or praise.
Sitting in a doctor’s office, hearing a nurse describe the possible complications as tears carved their way down my cheeks, threatening to destroy both of my foundations, all eyes were on me. I was the recipient of the sympathetic side nod and the premeditated apologies.
I was the one whose hands were held and whose back was rubbed as percentages became scarier and procedures became clearer. No one looked at the dad.
No one looked at the one who was terrified for not one, but two people. No one looked at the one who felt an immense amount of responsibility, yet an overwhelming amount of inadequacy. No one looked at the one who would switch places if he could, and sacrifice his own body if he could, despite being painfully aware that he couldn’t.
How powerless he must have felt, as doctors poked and prodded and discussed. How uncomfortable it must have been, for the shiver to creep down his spine as irrationality pointed the finger of blame at him.
Sitting in a hospital room, listening to family and friends gush over a tiny human only a few hours old, all eyes were on me. I was the one expected to undergo a substantial, biological and otherwise indescribable change. I was the one talked at when the necessities were explained, like diaper changes and warning signs and sleeping patterns.
I was looked to as the primary source of love and protection and continued facilitation. I felt the pressure building, as if I was a single mother instead of half a partnership. Because no one looked at the Dad.
No one looked at the one with tears in his eyes as he saw his son being born. No one looked at the one who finally felt the first pinch of relief after nine stressful months as not one, but two lives were diagnosed as healthy. No one looked at the one who, all at once, felt what I had felt, month after month.
I grew into a mother over time. He became a father instantly.
How excluded he must have felt, to be biologically incapable of experiencing what he could only stand by and watch. How ineligible he might have convinced himself he was, having never carried or birthed or fed the very human he helped create.
I see the father of my son waking up in the middle of the night, losing sleep to the point of possible insanity. I’ve seen him silently mourn the loss of a child and wait with bated breath for the other shoe to drop.
I’ve been on the receiving end of his endless comfort, only to watch the pain contort his face when he realized there was nothing he could do. And now, I watch the father of my son provide comfort and love and protection as fiercely and as often as I do.
So, to the father of my child and to all the fathers out there who are far more important than a 401(k) or dryer sheets, here’s to you. A nod your way for all that you do.