Fatherhood Diaries: primal instincts
Fatherhood sometimes gives rise to primordial instincts; feelings that do not typically find grounds for expression in our comfortable and sheltered lives. Such raw emotions surfaced on Saturday. I returned from my bicycle ride around 2pm. Sunshine called a couple of hours earlier to tell me that our 13-months-old daughter, Despina, has been unwell, having tested positive for influenza type A earlier that day. Despina has been having a rough time lately with multiple ear infections–she’s only been off antibiotics for two weeks these past four months. I got home and immediately held her. She could barely move. She was resting her tiny head on my chest without any energy; pale and helpless. The baby was exhausted, and I was shocked to see her like that. She couldn’t keep anything inside and was also having a fever. I kept holding her, still sweaty from the cycling and covered in vomit, listening to a screaming internal voice saying that I should protect her, care for her and do whatever it takes to make her feel better.
Those like me, lucky enough to be showered in privilege, rarely feel helpless; a good education landed me a decent job with the means to shelter my family from many of the ills of this world. You can understand, then, how the pervasive and overwhelming sense of helplessness I experienced holding a sick, otherwise energetic, child, was as novel as it was humbling. The next few days were exhausting, adding to the accumulated tiredness of having her sick for months. Eventually, the main symptoms subsided; however, irritability, unwillingness to eat, and needing to be constantly held, persists to this day.
Caring for a sick child is an all-encompassing affair. This is unfortunate given that we also have to care for Johnny and perform reasonably well at our demanding jobs. Needless to say, in the midst of all this, our relationship with Sunshine was deprioritized. Tiredness, irritability, plain old sadness, worry, and lack of energy, left little space for anything else. Days went by with us lost in professional and domestic work, caring and worrying for Despina, and feeling guilty (and sometimes over-compensating) for not giving Johnny the attention that he both needs and deserves. This situation is far from ideal. I am well-aware that all relationships need effort from both sides; nothing is static or can be taken for granted, relationships much like plants need to be watered or else they dry up and perish.
Paradoxically, while our communication dynamics are not brilliant (we are tired and often snap at one another) our bond seems to have strengthened. There is unity in struggling for a common cause; comradeship in being all-hands-on-deck trying to get through this period and get the baby back to health. There’s also great sense of togetherness in the hope for better days. Sometimes, especially in the middle of a crisis, acknowledging a difficult situation is enough. Despina’s health troubles, although perfectly manageable, really took a toll on us. Sunshine is sleepless for months having the baby on her chest, breastfeeding all night long, while I have been trying to juggle domestic affairs with a very stressful period at work.
What gives me solace is seeing that the baby is already better and the weather is improving. The latter part is important as three years after the pandemic started, there is still no improvement in air ventilation in classrooms, which is why every household with school-attending children face a variation of what I describe above. I’m hoping that the situation will improve as we move into spring and classroom windows will remain open.
Until then, let’s all brace and hope for the best, showing understanding to struggling parents.
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.
Fatherhood Diaries fatherhood sick relationship