The day before we sat in the NICU conference room listening to a doctor tell us our son would likely never walk, talk, or cognitively develop past the age of a five or six year old.
The next day was Father’s Day. I did nothing to celebrate my husband.
I was embarrassed when we got to our son’s crib. One of his primary nurses made a sign shaped in a heart with our baby’s picture. It said “Happy Father’s Day!” I had done nothing. No card. No gift. Not even a lunch date planned in the hospital cafeteria. I don’t think I even told him “Happy Father’s Day” that morning.
Our baby was two weeks old and very ill. In fact, a few short days later he coded and had to be transferred to the local Children’s hospital. We obviously had a lot going on, but I still regret that I did nothing to celebrate the fact that my husband was the father to my precious children.
His very first Father’s Day was very memorable for him. He thought it was better than his birthday because everywhere he went people said, “Happy Father’s Day!” We went to his favorite sushi restaurant and gifted him with memorabilia that had the word “Dad” written on it. I have the sweetest pictures of him and our new baby on that very first Father’s Day. He was so proud and it was fun to watch him fully enjoy his new day.
I wish he had that same experience when our second son was added to our family but I botched it up good. I am going to make up for it this year but in the meantime I’ll share some super simple things I learned about how you can celebrate your NICU dad.
Ways to Celebrate the NICU Dad – In or Out of the Hospital
#1 Take his picture. This seems obvious but sometimes with so much going on we forget. I love the pictures I have with my husband holding his boys, even the ones when they were itty-bitty and still in the hospital. He does too. He looks so big and strong and ready to fight next to their little tiny bodies. I’ve framed several as gifts for him to keep on his desk at work.
#2 Affirm his role as dad. As a NICU mama it is so easy to just become absorbed by all of the emotions surrounding your baby that you forget the other people in your family. I think it’s very normal and necessary for survival. However, don’t forget to tell your husband verbally or in a card, “You’re a good dad.” and “You’re doing a good job.” if you’re still in the NICU. And if you’re a ways out from your NICU experience you can reminisce together, “You did a great job in those early, stressful NICU days. I know that was hard on you too.”
#3 Feed him. That’s a big part of our daily role as wives and moms. Load him up with more food on Father’s Day if you can. Our men love to eat. At home, give him pancakes for breakfast. Take him to his favorite restaurant. Share a meal together as a family. If you are still in the NICU, take a moment to eat something together, just the two of you. I joke that we didn’t even go to the cafeteria for a lunch date but if that’s your only option while your child is still inpatient, then by all means, do it.
#4 Encourage him do something he enjoys. Whether it’s time to spend outside the hospital walls, working out, watching sports, or something completely different. Give him full permission to indulge in something he enjoys either with or without the kids. If you’re still in the NICU, that could mean letting him go for a run outside the hospital or watching a game on his tablet while holding his preemie.
#5 Don’t get all worked up over finding the perfect gift. That is the hardest one for me because I am not naturally a good gift giver. I’ve come to learn that sometimes the gift jumps out to me and sometimes it doesn’t. If all else fails, see #3 and buy him his favorite food!
This year Hand to Hold is offering a free printable for you to give your NICU dad on Father’s Day. Simply download and print out this 8×10 image for framing. In the blank space, you can ask your NICU nurse to place your baby’s foot or handprint, or you could place a sweet picture of baby and dad in the spot. Either way, it’s sure to be something he’ll treasure! (Click the image below to open the downloadable version.)