These days I am constantly exhausted. My work days are longer than they should, my nights are sleepless, my Monday and Wednesday evenings are dedicated to learning french, and my weekends are full. Busy-ness is not something to feel proud about. We should not fetishise what is a essentially a failure of prioritization and an inability to say the occasional ‘NO’. That said, being busy is not a first for me but the accompanied feelings of guilt and inadequacy are.
When I am at work I feel guilty for not being with the baby and not helping at home. When I leave the office at a reasonable time, I feel guilty for not staying longer. If I go early to bed on Friday nights, when we take the baby to his granny, I feel like cheating my friends with sleep, instead of going out with them. When on Saturdays I wake up at 5:30am to go for a bicycle ride I feel bad for not spending the morning with Sunshine and then make desperate efforts to compensate for my absence. On Monday and Wednesday evening that I have french lessons (to improve my job prospects) and come home long after the baby is asleep, I beat myself up for not seeing him and for not helping Sunshine with his bath and bedtime routine, which as he grows older and stronger it’s increasingly challenging to complete alone.
I have always led a busy life and I usually thrive in high-stress situations. Or I used to. Now, I constantly feel a sense of inadequacy, of not being able to do much, or not as much as I would like, at least. Rationally, I know that I am doing OK, well even. When I am home I try to take care and play with the baby. I try to communicate with my wife and show both my affection and appreciation for everything that she is doing for us, albeit with varying degrees of success. I maintain regular contact with my close friends, and I give everything I’ve got at work, not least because what we do matters and affects people’s lives. But the feeling of inadequacy is persistent and looms over everything. It is with me day and night — particularly at night — and I constantly feel like I am cheating everyone.
This sense of ‘cheating’ is reminiscent of the impostor syndrome that many experience when entering the walled gardens of academia. Those of us who grew up in normal families with parents who had to work hard for a living, don’t typically carry a sense of privilege and entitlement that generates a feeling of deservedness for being in any select or exclusive environment. Instead, the university’s elitist structures often make non-privileged people feel like cheats, who, despite their hard efforts and their well-earned achievements, perceive themselves as ones who have cheated their way in. In my past academic life I kept that feeling at bay through measurable evidence of progress and through the positive feedback that I received. Fatherhood is not the same. Contrary to work and academia, fatherhood — at least as I experience it — is a private affair, literally taking place behind closed doors. There are no evident markers of success besides the smile of a happy baby who looks well taken care of.
The birth of my child has been a social event that prompted many of our friends and family members to come closer to us, sharing our joy and helping us cope with the new situation. But social as it may be, at times it is also lonely. The loneliness is a product of not having sufficient time for ourselves to re-calibrate and reflect on our lives. Middle-class and privileged concerns as these may be, and I know they are, are nonetheless important and have been affecting our lives. I don’t have a wise advise to give this week. I’m quite exhausted, hence the delay in posting this article. The baby is teething and has flue-like symptoms for a few days now, which kept us awake for consecutive nights. Sleeplessness has taken its toll. Next week I’ll be more cheerful, promise.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.