New York - Nick was trying to cut a piece of squid with a butter knife in his right hand as he rocked our baby to sleep with his left while seated in a self-consciously hip tapas joint during a recent family vacation in Spain.
“This is harder with a baby,” he said.
“What is?” I said. “Life?”
“Yes, dear.” I nodded. “It is.”
“But we’re getting pretty good at it,” he said.
“We’re definitely getting better,” I said.
These days my husband is a good dad. A really good dad. I knew he would be - or rather, could be. We spent more than a year before the birth of our son discussing how we’d have an equal partnership once Charlie came along. We were a team, we insisted. We’ll split our parenting duties right down the middle.
Well, after I spent 36 hours in labour, partly with a failed epidural, that 50-50 thing went straight to hell.
My husband wanted to be helpful. His intentions were in the best of places, but the truth is that he had absolutely no clue how to do that. And that made him feel helpless.
In the dead of night, about three weeks after we became parents, I waddled to the bathroom clutching our wailing son to my leaking breast. I was begging him to eat as he beat at my nipples with his tiny hands. I cried as I tried to lower myself onto the toilet because my perineum tear still throbbed if I did more than lie on my back.
Suddenly my husband was in the doorway, rubbing his eyes.
“Why aren’t you helping me?” I cried.
“You didn’t ask me to.”
It was true. I hadn’t asked him to. I’d wanted his help to come naturally. I’d wanted him to read my mind, to know when to take the baby from me, to send me out of the house to get some fresh air, to take a shower, to eat food with a fork instead of my fingers. That was where I failed. My husband needed me to tell him what to do.
It made me uncomfortable at first because asking for help, especially from men, doesn’t come naturally to me. But I forced myself to do it. I made myself ask for help.
I said it over and over again, day in and day out: “Help me pick him up. Help me walk down the stairs. Help me get the stroller into the car. Help me. Help me. Help me.”
I asked him to try to pick the baby up before he started to cry, to be the one to try to get him to eat at 3 in the morning, to clean out my breast pump parts with hot water, to empty the Diaper Genie before it started to smell, to make sure we had spit towels in all of the strategic locations where a baby might vomit. I asked him to anticipate what the baby may need before he even knows he needs it.
“I can’t read his mind,” Nick said once, in the middle of the night.
I gave him a hard look. “We don’t have a choice,” I said. “He can’t ask for help.”
There were nights when I pretended to be deeply asleep - so asleep that I couldn’t hear Charlie crying - so Nick would have to be the first one to get up.
In order to help him feel less helpless, I had to be a little helpless - something else that didn’t come naturally. I like being good at things. Very good at things. But I needed to make Nick feel like a damn champion at being a dad.
The New York Times