I Am Someone’s Father
Those who know me well have learned that I am not a sentimental person. While the significance of important events and milestones isn’t lost on me, I often find myself scrambling to sign cards for birthdays I’ve forgotten about, smiling awkwardly at workplace gatherings (when we used to have them) for colleagues’ personal events or retirement parties, or suppressing a bewildered look when receiving invitations to events that I don’t understand the significance of (no offense, but how a gender-reveal party became a thing still eludes me). I am always up for a party and enjoying good times with friends and loved ones, but celebrating milestones in and of themselves is not my typical M.O.
To even my own surprise, becoming a new parent hasn’t changed that tendency very much. For Mom and me, it has certainly been an enormous change in our lives and it rightly has consumed our attention in these early stages of our daughter’s life, but I find that I’m not overwhelmed with the… sentiment of it all. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m already pushing 40 and I’ve sufficiently prepared myself emotionally for this next phase, but I don’t find myself feeling compelled to snap every photo or digitally record every moment Baby T shares with us. I am immersed in the joy of a new life and captivated by how wondrous having a child is, fully recognizing that none of this is a unique experience, and it’s probably exactly because of how banal it is that we have benefited from the love, wisdom, and knowledge of many around us.
One thing Mom and I have grappled with is how powerless we are in so many ways. Baby T was born on the smaller end of things; despite having normally progressed until Week 35, she unexpectedly measured small at Week 38, only a week before she was due. In medical terms, having such a deviation during the course of any type development is often considered noteworthy. At the time, we did not have as frequent OB visits compared to typical times because of the pandemic, which also affected the number of ultrasounds Mom would have undergone especially when there was something unusual. In hindsight there was likely little that we would or could have done differently, but these circumstances beyond our control have left the window of doubt and uncertainty ajar in our minds that still make us wonder if there might have been something avoidable that we missed.
Mom delivered a beautiful, healthy baby, but starting our parenthood off knowing that she was small made us anxious about getting her fed and fattened up as quickly as possible. But as many new mothers experience, breast feeding is a challenging process as milk production is erratic and sparse especially in the first few days after birth. These circumstances alone have been difficult, but we became existentially aware of the quietly intense cultural politics and attitudes surrounding the feeding of our babies, specifically related to the issue of breast versus formula feeding. Only in hindsight did we pay attention to how subtle yet pervasive the effect of the “breast is best” messaging is in our society, and that it can have the effect of shaming so many women who for a litany of perfectly good reasons would tend to opt towards formula feeding if not for the immense pressure discouraging them to do so. As a physician and a new father, only now do I think carefully back to my own medical school days hearing the same attitudes being conveyed to us back then and wondering why I didn’t question this teaching in the first place, especially given that there is at best mixed scientific evidence to support claims that breastfeeding leads to superior outcomes for children in any given domain, and the effect sizes of which, by the way, likely being rather marginal if they even exist. For the record, we have been engaging with a dual strategy of breast and formula feeding; we decided that while we certainly have nothing against it, we are not such zealous adherents to the Church of the Breast that we are willing to starve our child to prove a point or remain stubbornly committed to at best pretty limited evidence for its supposed superiority.
Some people may accuse me of sounding extreme or mischaracterizing this issue, but only after opening up to a few trusted friends about our experience did we come to learn of how common this apparent dilemma is for many new moms, and how some even recalled that they were likely inadequately feeding their newborns and that in hindsight they would have done things differently, or that others were quietly sneaking in a few formula feeds to ensure adequate intake until their bodies cooperated, all while refraining to reveal to anyone that they had done so. Thinking back to the prenatal and postpartum classes that we enrolled in, there was minimal to no mention of formula feeding as a viable source of supplementation, let alone a perfectly valid primary option to feed our babies. It breaks my heart and angers me that so many people seem to struggle with this “decision”, when ultimately the most important thing is ensuring that our children are being sufficiently fed; there already are so many difficulties during pregnancy and immediately postpartum that are beyond anyone’s control, so why are our mothers being influenced to believe that there is only one good way to feed our babies despite, again, there being limited definitive evidence to support this idea?
To be clear, we have no objection to breastfeeding, and the joy and feelings of bonding it brings to many women nursing their babies; if it works and any given mother chooses this method, all the power to them. But the fact that we had to work hard to pore over the available data, and cognitively deconstruct the myths, biases and false guilt about formula feeding was a true eye-opener for us. Furthermore, that we learned of so many other people just in our immediate proximity who went through something similar indicated to us that something more pernicious was at play, and that this was yet another reminder for us as people of the importance of being aware of how attitudes and agendas of larger forces can impact us in important ways (cue a Pastor Park Sermon® about the evils of capitalism #staywoke).
As a heteronormative man, the experience of becoming a parent has been extremely humbling, specifically in how it has exposed my shortcomings while highlighting how impressive Mom has been. She has been a rock. Obviously spending long hours alone with our baby has taken a toll on her, and despite that she remains steadfast and joyful and embracing of her new role as well. To witness her transformation sublimely fills me with such hope for humanity, and I simultaneously find myself imagining how devastating a world we would be in if our mothers are not around. Gender politics aside, my appreciation and respect for my spouse has only deepened in this first stage of our major role transition and I am so thankful that I get to do this with someone like her, as she has truly taken charge of this important period in our daughter’s life. As Chris Rock would say, I’m learning to fully embracing my role in playing the tambourine as she is front-and-center singing lead. Also, while I do my best to be as helpful and supportive as possible, I am mindful that there are many around us who aren’t so lucky to be a parent in partnership with someone else.
Becoming a parent has also brought new depth to a reflection that I have been mulling for a while now: my life as I lived it is over and it no longer exists, which I am perfectly at peace with. While being married is a daily, moment-by-moment decision and commitment, creating another person who shares my genes has a funny way of activating something far more primal and exposing how basic I still am, but in any case it bestows upon me a sense of responsibility and reframes my entire life in relation to her. In a way, everything I am and do at this point onwards is somehow connected to her, and now the question is whether I will honour that or not. My daughter’s existence is teaching me that I am profoundly connected to someone else, which by extension reveals to me another layer of what it means to live and participate in a broader community. Because of her I am compelled to have hope for the future, in which case it is my responsibility to be engaged in making our world a better place, though the enormity of that task requires us to work together and embrace how interconnected we are to one another and that the dreams we have for each of our children are deeply enmeshed. It is my task, perhaps our task, to make our world a more just, thoughtful, considerate, clean, fair, honourable, mature, patient, forgiving, loving place in which our children can grow.
I am not a sentimental person, and in speaking of our roles in this complicated world I am not being sentimental. I love my daughter just like everyone else loves their kids, no more, no less. In becoming a parent I find myself relating ever more deeply to my own, and the sacrifices our parents made to make our lives better. I pledge to learn from their example, as well as that of the many parents among us, and shift my gaze towards our children and their future in order for them to have hope and thrive. My prayer is that we can be a disciplined, dedicated, persistent, and hopeful community of faith and work together towards the same goal.
– Baby T’s Appa