Out In The Open

'I wanted to run': The vulnerability of fatherhood

Niigaan Sinclair shares how fatherhood sparked a crisis in his life after his first child was born, and how it changed his vision of masculinity for the better.
A man with short dark hair in a white button down shirt and a blue vest with flowers on it crosses his arms and smiles for the camera.
Niigaan Sinclair is an Associate Professor in the Department of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. (Submitted by Niigaan Sinclair)

"I wanted to run. I wanted to take off... I can remember the first night she was born...the hockey game was on. I remember just looking down at this little set of eyes. I was more comfortable looking at the hockey game then looking at her," says Niigaan Sinclair, an Anishinaabe associate professor at the University of Manitoba.

For Niigaan, becoming a father profoundly changed his vision of masculinity.

"For the most part it was because I felt completely inadequate to hand [my daughter] anything, teach her anything…"

He says he was "in crisis" about a year after his first child was born, experiencing panic attacks, not sleeping, having a difficult emotional time of it all.

Niigaan struggled to figure out what his role was.

"As a man I really didn't know what I was to do. And, I certainly didn't understand that changing diapers was an integral part of being a parent.

"When I was growing-up, the vision of manhood was always one of adventure and departure and certainly not tasks in the home."

But he also says he was 'lucky enough' to have a few men around who took their roles as fathers and uncles, staying at home, seriously.

"I wanted to be a person who could be present for her. It's hard for me. I get scared and I want to run.

"What took me a long time to understand -- and it still takes me time to understand -- is that being with her is how I get the love that I want to give. And that's hard because you have to really sit there and go, 'I'm ok here. I'm ok as a man in 2017, growing. It's ok to cry...whatever I'm feeling in the moment.'"

Niigaan has two children now. And he believes being a father is the single defining thing for him.

"I don't have to come in perfect. And the fact that I'm not perfect is probably the most perfect thing of all...

"I don't have to give them the perfect teaching. I don't have to give them the five things I think are the most important about being an Indigenous person. And what it is to be Indigenous, to be Anishinaabe is to learn that together."