I Was Unhappy After Becoming a Dad and I Should Have Talked About it Sooner
By Anthony King
Photo © altanaka/123RF
Jun 6, 2017
I don’t know exactly how long my depression lasted, or when it started, or if I was simply facing a mid-life crisis. But I knew I was terribly lonely and unhappy, despite being a married father of one.
It might have been the insomnia, lack of appetite, and crippling loss of resolve I felt each day as a dull, nameless ache in my being. My wife and I were into our third year as first-time parents, and the relentless, demanding grind of working dead-end jobs, shelving my musical ambitions, mixed with the absence of sexual intimacy, lack of sleep, poor diet and complete loss of a social life, left me feeling utterly wasted.
I couldn’t name the deepening sense of dissatisfaction I was experiencing while I was trapped in a vortex of adult responsibilities.
My sense of identity was slowly eroding as I struggled to stay on top of my daily obligations: groceries, laundry, dishes, long commutes, diapers, naps, daycare, pick-up, drop-off — you get the picture. But I couldn’t name the deepening sense of dissatisfaction I was experiencing while I was trapped in a vortex of adult responsibilities.
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It was finally my turn, in the circle of life, to live up to the demands and expectations of fatherhood. Like my father before me, I believed I was expected to handle my role as a provider with stoic fortitude. I never shared my personal struggles with my guy friends. When I did socialize, I kept conversations light, drank modestly, and left at a responsible hour so I’d have the energy to put my restless three-year old daughter back to sleep at 3 a.m.
As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t supposed to open up about my frustrations, or talk about my feelings. I never went to a doctor about my insomnia or lack of appetite. I thought about it, but never visited with a therapist. Instead, I got really good at avoiding any meaningful conversation with anyone, even my wife. And that’s where I went wrong.
No one forced me to keep my feelings to myself, but I adopted this macho standard without scrutinizing it.
It was opening up to my wife that restored my sense of hope and helped me regain perspective on my life. Being honest with her about my most vulnerable emotions was, without a doubt, the hardest conversation I’ve ever had. But it saved me, and my marriage.
Late into the morning, while our teething daughter slept, we sat on the concrete third-floor balcony of our modest, two-bedroom apartment, talking mutedly as I shared with her the frustration, loss of purpose and identity I had kept carefully hidden from everyone under a polite, restrained exterior.
She didn’t judge me or patronize me. Instead, she listened. She opened up about her own fears. We confessed the bitterness, disappointment and resentment that, like the slow millennial drift of continents, had been subtly pushing us apart.
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Why did it take me three to years to finally open up about my profound unhappiness? The truth is, I dreaded actually vocalizing my feelings because I couldn’t admit my own weakness. I hid my depression from my closest friends because I didn’t want anyone to know how isolated I felt.
The growing disparity between my youthful dreams and my working class reality left a chasm in my life that nothing could fill. Oddly enough, it took sharing my feelings to realize that talking about your fears is the boldest, most gutsy thing a man can do when he’s at his worst. Admitting you’re a human being means stripping away the falsehoods and misperceptions we cling to out of habit. No one forced me to keep my feelings to myself, but I adopted this macho standard without scrutinizing it. I was always free to adopt a new standard of manhood and strength for myself. My expectations of life were deeply entrenched in romantic teenage fantasies I had been stubbornly clinging to. I didn’t know how to evolve emotionally from young, carefree bachelorhood to middle-aged father and husband.
Since that unassuming, momentous conversation, I’ve found new dreams to chase, discovered hidden talents, changed careers, and grown closer to my wife. I’ve learned to appreciate that men need to talk about their emotional well-being as earnestly as women do. Sensitivity doesn’t make a man effeminate; it makes you a human being.
Of course, we’re not all as fortunate as I am to have someone we can confide in. Although men and women are affected by depression, men are at a significantly higher risk of suicide. Men are also more likely than women to suffer from substance abuse. It’s even estimated that as much as 10% of men globally suffer from postnatal depression.
Since that unassuming, momentous conversation, I’ve found new dreams to chase, discovered hidden talents, changed careers, and grown closer to my wife.
We owe it to ourselves, as men, to talk about our vulnerability more openly with those we trust. We can choose to share our thoughts in our times of weakness, rather than shutting down and denying our emotions the credibility they deserve.
If you are struggling with self-esteem or depression — or there is a guy in your life who is — you may not even be aware of it. There are physical symptoms, however, that may suggest counseling is in order:
- Lack of interest, enthusiasm
- Decreased energy and motivation
- Loss of interest in hobbies, recreation, sex
- Poor concentration
- Substance abuse
- Sexual dysfunction
- Suicidal thoughts
If you do suspect something is off with someone in your life, you might urge those closest to him to spend quality one-on-one time with him. Feeling needed and appreciated can help restore confidence and self-esteem in anyone. Get in touch with your family physician or a mental health professional for advice on how to best support him.