No one tells you what is expected of you as a working dad before you become one. Being an engaging, loving father is both a precious, incomparable gift and a great and unyielding sacrifice. The look on your children’s face when you walk in the door after a long day’s work makes every moment of the struggle completely worth it, however no one prepares you for what you will have to give up. And ultimately, you give up a large part of who you are. In order to be the type of father who raises capable, responsible children, men have to leave behind some of the things that make them who they are.
The person that you have spent the last ten years of your life building and honing yourself to become is suddenly gone once you have a child. You spent countless hours learning to be the fun guy, the serious guy, or whoever you identify as, whether you did so purposefully or not. In high school, you were the nerd, the class clown, a slacker, a jock, or anonymous. And regardless of your status among your peers, you spent those years chasing popularity, looking for a good time, and of course, trying to date girls. Your college years were spent attempting to find a vocation underneath the sheets of a coed dorm room at the bottom of a liquor glass. Though you had to find a good job after college, you spent as much time finding yourself as you did finding an occupation. You learned what you liked and disliked. You found out who and what was worthy of your time in those years. Your entire life prior to marriage was dedicated to self-exploration and understanding and sculpting your own personality. And, once the kids come, that personality is lost. The relinquishment of your identity is a worthy sacrifice, but acquiescing to such a different lifestyle can be difficult.
The journey of self-exploration that will lead you to the woman that you want to marry will also lead you to the end of your identity. Because you have learned your own needs and desires, you can choose a woman who fulfills you. But, your journey to understand yourself will be halted once you take the hand of your wife. That journey will be replaced with a singular quest to keep her happy. Marrying a woman generally shifts your focus from your own selfish needs to her needs and her personal desires (at least if you want to keep your wife). Your partner needs your love, the security that you give her physically, emotionally, and monetarily, a good listening ear, and occasionally sound advice. She needs your attention. No one tells men that life as a bachelor is over when they get married. There is a common misconception that married life and the single life are congruent. Men actually believe that their married life will be a fun extension of their single life. These men are sadly mistaken. The married life offers several distinct advantages over life as a bachelor, but there several disadvantages too. A good woman brings a friendship and constant companionship that is unparalleled in male friendships. Marriage incites a nurturing and love in a woman that can not be duplicated in any other circumstance. In fact, women have a capacity for empathy and sensitivity that most men do not realize that they need before they get hitched. However, that sensitivity is also the primary cause for drama in the relationship too. Men are not ready or equipped for the types of emotional battles that they face once they get married. Friendships amongst men consist of talks about ballgames, work, and women. No argument between guys is beyond repair with a few beers and/or a good fight. Men can have a fist fight on Friday morning and go clubbing together on the same Friday night. Male friendships are not fragile, and are not based solely on emotional connections. Relationships between guys are simpler. Real connections between women are scarce and more complex. They rarely have transparent friends with whom they can survive big arguments and the level of intimacy and vulnerability that women have dwarfs those of men. So, the union of these women to their husbands have certain inherent expectations that most men do not realize exist. Men are expected to have the same type of emotionally driven relationship with their wives that their wife wants with her female friends. They have to be careful with what they say and how it is said. Women, especially when in relationships, can take offense to seemingly innocuous statements made by their significant others. And then, men are expected to adjust what their idea of fun is. The days of bar hopping, sporting events, and chasing tail are replaced with movies, grocery store trips, and antiquing. A married man is expected to participate in and enjoy the activities that make his wife happy. The success of his marriage depends on his ability to shift his focus from his needs to her needs. Marriage forces you to change your ideology about having a good time.
And, a wife generally precedes your trek into into fatherhood where even more selflessness is necessary. As a husband and a father, there are new responsibilities that demand a drastic change in your temperament, your behavior, and your personality. Children demand constant attention, nurturing, stability, and discipline. You have to transform yourself from the fun guy that loves to stay out all night and drink into the accountable, reliable guy that the family can depend on to support them emotionally and financially. New dads are never fully prepared for the transition into parenthood by anyone. From the moment that the child is conceived, his father becomes an afterthought. For the first nine months of the child’s life while in utero, the father is forgotten as the mother takes center stage. She is glowing and beautiful. You are the errand boy. You have to run to the store for spicy dill pickles and mint chocolate chip ice cream at midnight. When she has morning sickness, you clean up the mess because the smell of her vomit might actually make her vomit again. Her hormones are completely out of whack and she blames you for it. She gets a baby shower, you get a hospital bill. That is the nature of pregnancy. Daddy does the work and Mommy gets adored. And then, the baby comes. The arrival of the baby marks the official death of the old you. The guy who could stay awake for days on a drinking binge now has to stay home and change diapers while caring for a woman who just grew a human being in her uterus. Your own parents will ignore you in order to see their new grandchild. Everyone cares for the new mother, and you will have to be even more attentive to her needs and the needs of your baby. But more so than just having to set new priorities for your new life, you will begin to lose who you were before you met your wife and had the children. You begin to lose the guy who was happy with just some quiet time and a good book. You lose contact with some of your closest single friends, the big football game gets replaced with kids shows and playtime at the park, and nights out with your buddies become nights in with the family. The change is so subtle and gradual that you end up in awkward conversations with the people who you once knew best. You can not understand why there is such an emotional disconnect between the both you and your wife and how you relate to the people that you hold most dear. When you get time to yourself, you will not only miss your family, but you also will have no clue what to do with your free time.
Being a husband and father changes who you are. The things that you enjoyed as a single man have to be left behind if you want to keep your woman and raise a family. But though the change of lifestyle is necessary for the welfare of your family, the loss of your self image is still challenging for any man. You spend so much time tending to the emotional, financial, and physical needs of your family that you have no time to just be yourself. You lose a large part of who you planned to be as a person. Becoming a family man is one of the most rewarding ventures that you will take on in your life, however it comes with a price of which every man should be warned. And, that price is your identity.