The unbearable futility of being dad

The first few months of a new baby’s life can leave a father feeling useless and powerless to help his needy baby and frazzled wife.

Being a dad is never, ever as hard as being a mom.

Ironically, that’s hard.

Back at work after a couple weeks of paternity leave (unpaid – but that’s a whole other column), I come home after a long day of sifting through the world’s news – most of it bad – to a mother who badly needs a break, a toddler still dealing with the presence of a small, squirming, crying thing that takes away all his attention and, last but certainly not least, the small, squirming, crying thing.

Times this by five working days, add the comedy shows I do a few times a week at night , and subtract a significant percentage of the sleep I used to get before the newborn, and you have the perfect equation for exhaustion.

Telling my wife how tired I am, however, does not go well.

Because as tired as I am, I know she is more.

She was up all night with our month old baby. Reluctant to make me do the heavy lifting since I am working and she is still on leave, she will go through a sleep-lover’s worst nightmare every night, often while I am snoring next to her.

She is exclusively breastfeeding, and as a result she is the new guy’s entire universe and primary comfort, her chest serving not only as the bed on which he feels most comfortable but as his 24-hour all you can eat buffet.

As a witness to exactly how much the new guy needs and takes from her, all I want to do is help. To do more. But there’s only so much I can do, leaving me feeling spare and useless, sitting and lamely watching her feed a contender for the Guinness World Record holder for hungriest baby for the fifth time in a night.

Do you need anything? I will ask, uselessly.

No, she will answer, annoyed because I asked her that ten minutes earlier and that was her answer last time.

A typical night goes like this.

The new guy will cry.

I will wake up.

My wife, also awake, will latch him to her breast, sometimes because he is hungry and sometimes because it’s a comfort, the only thing that is certain to stop him crying.

My being awake annoys her.

“Go back to sleep,” she’ll command me.

“You have work tomorrow”.

No, I will think to myself. I am staying up for at least an hour, out of solidarity.

By refusing to go back to sleep, maybe I will somehow help her by showing her she’s not alone, my half-awake mind will think. Obviously, my thinking is flawed.

And so I will lie awake, staring at my wife and child uselessly while the former glares back at me, knowing how pointless it is for me to be awake and how it will only make me less capable when I need to get the toddler to school the next morning.

Sometimes, it’s worse.

A couple times, I will awake to find him sleeping soundly on top of her after a feed and notice she’s awake. She needs a break, I will think.

Can I take him, I ask?

I need a break, she will think too.

Serving as his mattress is not good for her back, and realigns her body, not in a good way.

And so she says yes.

I take him, and somehow he can sense it. He’s been evicted from his happy place.

Toto, he will think in whichever way newborns think, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

And so he will wail, which will make me feel desperately guilty, because he was sleeping before, and I did this, and my guilt will make me determined not to give up.

So I will rock him and bounce him and walk him around the room while he wails, until eventually I’m ready to say I’m going to go get milk and head to the airport instead. My wife – equally ready to spontaneously relocate to Peru – gives up and puts him on the boob.

I look to the future.

There will be school fees and concert recitals and reassurances that there are no monsters in the cupboard, there will be advice nervously requested by anxious teenagers, on difficult issues they’d never think of asking mom about, issues that force me to carefully consider how I’ll respond.

At some point, I will earn my right to drink from the World’s Best Dad mug I’ll inevitably receive on father’s day.

Then I return to the present and the feeling of futility returns.

Can I get you anything? I ask her again.


Daniel Friedman is Digital News Editor at The Citizen, and sometimes he transforms into musical comedian Deep Fried Man. He is a father of two very young boys.


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