The 7 Unexpected-nesses of Fatherhood

A father-son selfie.
A father-son selfie.

It’s 4:30 am and somehow I couldn’t go back to sleep after feeding the baby. So a long black night it is, and some rare time for blogging.

When I was preparing for marriage, one of the common refrains I heard was about how one can never fully prepare for husbandhood. We just take it as it comes. As we prepared for Xu Heng’s arrival, we heard the same refrain—this time a bit less, but no less prominently. I suppose, with the inherent perils and unknowns of something as dramatic as a pregnancy (trust me, it IS quite a dramatic process watching your wife’s tummy balloon and actually start moving), it’s hard to give attention to what one might actually need to prepare for AFTER the delivery. And so, in some ways, I think most parents feel less prepared and more helpless for parenthood than for marriage. Honestly, I think if your marriage is tougher than your baby, something really needs careful attention here.

And so I have found myself in the midst of circumstances I never foresaw or expected as a new father; and what has brought us through these past couple of months has really been an attitude (or at least I try) of mutual support, communication, encouragement. It’s hard. Bloody hard.

1. I never expected it to be so tough. Honest. With all the smiley, happy photos on Instagram, one might be forgiven if he thought that parenthood was all smiles and roses. Even with some preparation about how difficult it is, the full extent of it cannot be truly known until one is in the thick of it.

2. I never expected joy to be so elusive. Joy? Meaningful? Enjoy times with the baby? Bonding? All common advice and at some level, “clichés” shared by well-meaning friends. Only those who have been through the journey itself know how joyless and despairing it can be when baby wails non-stop for three hours inconsolably. The reality is, in the first few months of baby’s life, suffering outweighs joy, sacrifice outweighs reward, helplessness outweighs meaning, frustration outweighs bonding. Thankfully, it’s not always that way and it will not always stay that way. Or maybe those who have gone before me might beg to differ.

3. I never expected to be able to survive on so little sleep. Those of you who know Weili and me know we are both disciplined sleepers. We are early to bed (usually about 10:30 pm) and early to rise (about 5:30 am during term time). 7-8 hours is a must. I never imagined I could survive on less, but well, I suppose now I discovered I can! ‘Nuff said.

4. I never expected that I could fully empathize with “Shaken Baby Syndrome.” I remember when I was still in school, and we studied about “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” snooty me thought to myself, “GOSH! That is TERRIBLE. I would NEVER do that to my baby.” One thing I learned: Never say “never,” and always check-in with one’s emotions. Fatherhood has a great habit of humbling egoistic men.

5. I never expected my baby’s poo could shoot powerfully about a meter from his teeny a**hole.

Yup. Damn far. Some say he could one day bomb a country.

6. I never expected joy this intense. When we first shaved his head two days ago, I kept laughing uncontrollably every time I looked at him. I couldn’t believe how cute he was with that hair! But more than that, I felt so much joy seeing my son coo and smile. Joy so intense, I don’t think I’ve felt it anywhere else before.

7. I never expected love this deep. I never knew how much love my heart could contain until I held him in my arms and when he first smiled at us. Oh heart, burst. Burst with joy.

Xu Heng, Papa and Mama love you so much. In ways you will never fully know.

And you know what? You have made us a better son and a better daughter.

— Zheng Liren

Today’s guest contributor, Zheng Liren, is a social worker and guidance counselor in Singapore, who stumbled upon Existential Psychology after picking up an Irvin Yalom book and a Viktor Frankl book in a local library and hasn’t been able to put down existential writings since then.

Read more stories by Zheng Liren

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