First Steps to Fatherhood: A Year Makes a Difference!

The featured image for the sixth Forty Days to Father's Day piece, featuring Casey holding his eldest son at six months old in May 2014. They're standing in the Palmer household kitchen.

I have a theory—if more fathers were able to stay with their babies till they were six months old, we’d have far fewer deadbeat dads in the world.

Just wait a minute—hear me out.

Casey holding his son in the Palmer household dining room, May 2014

Not all dads are created equal. We come from different backgrounds with different circumstances and carry different toolkits to get the parenting job done.

But not all fathers make it to the Dad Life.

Life is very complicated—we react to its curveballs in all sorts of ways. Some babies come unexpectedly and their fathers are unwilling to step up to the responsibility. Some fathers are kept away from their babies because they can’t get along with the mom, and the letter of the law doesn’t often fall in their favour. You end up with prospective fathers who are too young, too broke, or too irresponsible to be there for their kid.

I was fortunate to enter fatherhood with it all very planned out, growing our family after two years of marriage seeming like the next logical step. But even though we’d read the books, watched the videos, and taken the birthing classes at the hospital up the street, nothing ever fully prepares you for what fatherhood’s going to be like.

Fatherhood’s so EASY in the beginning, but just you wait…

Those first few months were magical, holding our son in the hospital and everyone coming by to visit and wish us well. But that really only lasts a couple of days and you soon find yourself thrust into the world with little but a few helpful hints from the attending nurses as you start your new life as parents.

A photo of Casey holding his eldest son at twenty days old in his dining room.
Look at that face. So full of hope. So convinced that everything’s going to go just fine and that he has no idea what all these parents are complaining about.

And those first six months were hard.

Here’s where the hard part starts.

After driving our newborn son home doing 20 in a 40 zone, it was like my wife and I led very separate lives.

While I commuted forty-five minutes each way to an office at the north end of town, Sarah tended to our child in the midst of of one of the worst winters we’ve had in recent memory.

And we already came from very different upbringings.

Sarah, the child of a math teacher dad and a mom who spent many years staying at home. She’s used to prompt dinners early in the evening and family trips in the summer. Me, though? I’m the child of two working Jamaican parents. We stayed at my Grandma’s after school till my mom could pick us up after work and whip something quick together at home.

You take two different expectations, mash ’em together with reality and add a baby into the mix? Let me tell you—you’re in for some challenging times.

But though I spent many nights feeling like a secondary parent and that we gave so much to this baby that we didn’t have anything left for ourselves, there was a moment where all the crying, the changing and the late-night feeds suddenly made sense.

It was when he smiled at me for the first time when he was six months old.

“And then my baby smiled at me and I knew everything would be okay.”

Now—note I chose my words carefully: he smiled at me. Not because of someone else in the room or something he saw on a TV—no. I walked in the door after a long day of work, and there was my kid, genuinely happy to see me. And that was all it took.

All the doubts, the frustrations and the negative feelings gnawing away at me those first two months melted away, replaced by this assurance that everything would work out because at the end of the day, I loved this kid and he loved me. It wouldn’t all be perfect, as I quickly learned in the seven years that followed (and counting), but it gave us a place to start our relationship from instead of me feeling like my role was just to tend to his physical needs.

And you know what? Deep down, I’m sure many men would feel the same.

If you want bonds for tomorrow, build the relationship TODAY.

As I said, I don’t know what it’d be like to live without my kids in my life. We’ve managed to keep it together since day one, and despite this pandemic, we’re trying to keep it going for a long time yet. But all this time at home has helped me connect with dozens of dads, and the story I hear from so many men who didn’t have the chance to establish the bonds they wanted with their kids in their formative years is just how much they regret that and wish they could turn back the hands of time to fix it.

A photo of Casey carrying his two sons down the street, November 2017

You only get one shot at being a father to your child—it’s best not to waste it. As hard as life can be, it’s important to remember fatherhood is about more than the dads doing the parenting. Our kids never asked to be born, and so we shoulder some of the responsibility to give them the best lives we possibly can. It’s not about what you can give them or how much money you have—it’s about being there for them and giving our kids the highest quality parts of ourselves so they can do better with their lives than we could with ours.

But it’ll never happen if you don’t give fatherhood a chance.

For all you dads out there fighting the fight, keep fighting. For those who’ve lost their way, find the people and supports to find your way back. And to those who never tried in the first place? Well…

…there’s no better day to start than today.

Until the next post, I remain,

The second logo for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad

By Casey E. Palmer

Husband. Father. Storyteller. Calling the Great White North his home, Casey Palmer the Canadian Dad spend his free time in pursuit of the greatest content possible. Thousand-word blog posts? Snapshots from life? Sketches and podcasts and more—he's more than just a dad blogger; he's working to change what's expected of the parenting creators of the world. It's about so much more than just our kids. When Casey's not creating, he's busy parenting, adventuring, trying to be a good husband and making the most of his life! Casey lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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