I think all parents feel alone sometimes. Which is weird, right? We bring life into the world. We nurture it and help it grow, and yet sometimes after the jobs are worked and the dinners are cooked, the talks talked and kisses kissed, we go to bed and feel The Lonely creeping in.
For me, the sense of isolation originated from my realization that everyday decisions suddenly had a lot more weight to them. Simple things became big things. The “what ifs” ate away at me until I started questioning every decision I made. Unfortunately, since I was also ridiculously busy, the only time I had to question my adequacy as a parent was while I was trying (and failing) to fall asleep.
The insomnia that plagued me during my daughter’s first year had little to do with her sleep schedule. I was a wreck with worry. My day was packed with high-intensity joy, but my nights were shrouded in anxiety. It was so strange to me that such a universal thing like parenting could send me off into a private orbit.
My saving grace was my wife. She was and is fantastic. But my nervous nature, combined with her adjustment to motherhood, was a heavy weight for her to carry. I think that may be why she pushed me to write. When she said, “You should start a blog. I love your writing,” she probably really meant, “You know all this stuff you ramble on and on about? You should write that shit down so I can get some sleep.”
So I did. I wrote about how happy I was to be a dad, but also about how frustrated I felt. I wrote about the decisions we were grappling with. I wrote about how little I knew about being a father, and how I was struggling to grasp what it meant. And while the writing was both cathartic and empowering, there was a second and completely unforeseen benefit of starting my blog: I found myself amid a community of like-minded dads who also like to worry out loud. And celebrate. And expound. And rage. And break down. And word-vomit.
Now, I know men who have been through, are going through, or are about to go through what I am experiencing every day. We are alike, but also incredibly diverse and different. Gay dads. Single dads. Married dads. City dads. Country dads. Liberal and conservative dads. Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist, you name it. I even know a couple Canadians now. (They have dads in Canada! Who knew?)
When it comes to male friendships, there has always been a certain amount of chest puffing that I think gets programmed into boys and men from birth. When guys are around each other, there is this mask of manliness that we get used to wearing. Within my dad community, that mask comes off. The dads I’ve met through blogging have gotten to know me in a different context. An honest and, at times, vulnerable context. The crazy thing is, it doesn’t make me feel week or less manly. I feel stronger—even when I am at my weakest.
This brotherhood of fathers gives me the important perspective that good parenting is done in the aggregate. Amid all of the great things we do as dads, we’ve all made a million mistakes. Each of us has to define his own experience. We all have to define fatherhood within the contexts of our respective lives, but we don’t have to do it alone.
Our community sustains me in ways I never knew I needed sustaining. And it has made me a better man, a better father, and most importantly, a better sleeper.
John Kinnear is the father of two tiny humans. He writes Ask Your Dad Blog.