I have said before that one of the things that has really interested me is the ways in which men's parenting styles differ from that of women. I think why this has interested me so much is that these differences really become apparent when you're an at home dad.
There is a fascinating study done at Yale University by Dr. Kyle Pruett and Dr. Michael Lamb that focused specifically on how moms and dads operate around small children. What I love about this study is that it offers no indication of who does parenting better, simply that when men are presented with a particular situation, we interact slightly differently with our children to achieve the same result. A basic example would be something akin to when a child needs to be picked up moms will hold their baby facing them, dads, however, will more likely hold the baby facing out. The result is the same - the baby gets picked up. Dads just get there slightly differently. Here you can find a nice concise summation of the study's findings.
One of the most interesting observations of this study to me is that motherhood is initiated biologically at delivery, but for men, fatherhood is mostly social, not biological, and consequently our initiation as fathers is personal and varied. What does this mean? I read that as we really have to learn to like our kids, whereas with moms its pretty immediate.
Consider the birth of my oldest son. Getting him out of the womb was a bit of a chore. He wasn't coming out very fast and the sensors screwed into the top of his scalp indicated he wasn't doing too well, so they brought out the doctor's version of a shop-vac and sucked him out. Once he was out he was fine-- 10 fingers, 10 toes, healthy weight, etc. They then plopped him down on my wife's chest and started wiping him down. The moment they did so my wife started bawling, completely overjoyed to finally have him in her arms. Now, I was happy too, but I was happy for completely different reasons. I was happy mostly that my wife was okay, that she was finally through this painful experience. I was happy that delivery was finally over with. I was happy that our son was alive and healthy. I, however, was not going to cuddle with it. I use the word "it" because that's what he was to me. It was all wet covered in slime and blood. It's color was all wrong. Its body didn't look like the plump little darlings in all the parenting magazines. He was kinda skinny looking and the vacuum they used to suck him out had made his head kinda oblong - he reminded me of the creatures in Aliens. There was no way I was going to pick that thing up, and I certainly wasn't going to snuggle with it.
"Do you want to cut the umbilical cord?"
The doctor asked me this rhetorically as she was handing me some surgical shears from one of her hands and in the other hand she had... stuff. I politely refused. Good golly, those came out of my wife's innards! Those were organs! Did she really expect me to start snipping into what were, up until very recently, my wife's guts? Gross.
"Isn't he beautiful?"
This is the question posed by my tear streaked wife that had just endured hours of labor and 9 months of pregnancy. I answered the only way I knew I could.
I lied in a small voice, "yeah." I smiled. I was happy, just not like her.
Now I love my children every bit as much as their mother does. And, by way of reassurance, I wasn't nearly as freaked out at the birth of our daughter (I even cut the umbilical cord!). But it does illustrate this difference. Being a mother was instantaneous for my wife. I had to learn if I could even be a father. Clearly there are parenting skills that we all must learn. That's not what I'm talking about here. Its the emotional bond that connects us to our kids. A relationship, that fathers don't innately have at birth, and its different for all dads. I've known dads that have been initiated into this relationship almost as fast as their wives, and I've known dads that didn't until their kids could throw a ball.
Every dad is different and I don't want to disparage any parent who hasn't found his calling as a father. However, I will say this: my relationship as a father to my children is the single most profound connection that I have and almost as important to me as my relationship with my wife. And just like my marriage, my relationship as my children's father takes work. If you feel you're lacking in this area, get your hands dirty - literally. Do the diaper changes, the midnight feedings, staying up with them when they're sick, all the awful things that we hate to do as parents, and often try to pawn off on our partners. You have to work at your marriage because you vowed that you'd treasure that relationship for better or worse "in sickness and health", and it takes work to be able to do that. Marriages start great, and then you have problems to work through. For dad's kids are similar, but opposite. Its starts as a whole mess of problems, and then if you get through it, its a whole mess of awesome.
So ladies, be patient. This relationship might take a bit. And fellas, get crackin'.