Father’s Day: Nostalgic Grief & Helping Out Dads

June 13, 2016

Father’s Day elicits a weird type of nostalgic grief for me. That may sound a bit odd, considering I’m not a father (or a man, for that matter) and my father is alive and well and we’ve always had a good relationship. It’s a grief I probably don’t share with my husband, either because he could go the entire year without celebrating a single holiday and never notice. But my husband’s first Father’s Day, in 2013, as he looked at and (restrictively) cared for our 2-pound son, was really the day I realized that fatherhood came knocking loud and hard and rudely at my husband’s door, and how he took it with such stride. He was SO proud of his son, that it almost made the whole new-to-parenthood thing seem somewhat normal.

fathers day grief nicu prematurity hand to hold

Father’s Day 2013

Looking back, our 103-day NICU stay for our 26 weeker was a blur in the beginning. We coped well; both my husband and I were emotionally in good places (albeit completely exhausted). But one thing that was honestly not on my mind much, and I’m sure somewhat understandably, was how I could have bene helpful and supportive of my husband during this time. So often with new babies, the mom receives the attention and most of the sympathy. Dads are the other parent too, though. And looking back, these are just a couple of things I would give my past-self some advice on.

Elicit Help from Others…As Much As Needed!

Encourage your partner’s family or friends to take him out for drinks one night, or out to dinner, or anything that he would enjoy. My husband and I have lamented that (at least for us), when you spend a lot of time in the NICU, people tend to forget about you. Meals come for one week. Cards come for one week. Well wishes and inquiries dwindle as the weeks go on. People want to help, but just don’t know how, and when you’re in the NICU for weeks, and weeks, I think people just assume that you get used to it. (Hello! Not even close!) It’s tough, and hospitals suck. If you can’t or don’t want to leave the hospital to take your partner out, ask other people to do it. “Father-in-law, take your son out for drinks tonight, please!” Air and normalcy can go a really long way.

Don’t Be Discouraging of His Coping Strategies

Don’t be discouraging with how your partner is processing their child’s NICU stay (barring extremes). Just because it’s not the way you’re processing it, doesn’t mean that they’re not desperately trying to deal with the traumatic event as well, in their own way. Some dads may cry, or watch a ton of TV, or have (seemingly) no emotions at all. They may go out and buy a ton of video games and an old video game system and then never play it. (This didn’t happen to us, or anything, it’s just a simple example, of course.) Be there to talk with your spouse, but don’t push it.

Know That He Doesn’t Blame You

father's day nicu grief prematurity hand to hold

Father’s Day 2014

So many times have I thought to myself, if my husband had ended up with someone else, he wouldn’t have to go through this and he could have as many kids as he’d want with zero problems. It’s taken me nearly 3 years to make it a reality in my life, just to know that the dads aren’t blamin the moms. More recently my husband said to me about my condition that caused my son’s premature birth (incompetent cervix), “We have this problem. It’s not you, it’s us.” The reason I’m putting this in the list is because I feel like most dads want to co-carry these types of burdens with the moms. If we let them, you might be surprised how much of a stress-relief it can be for him (as odd as that sounds!), and maybe even for Mom, too.

My nostalgic grief over Father’s Day is a rough reminder for me that my husband has gone through enough for several fathers. But it’s also a great day to remember the pride he had the day our son was born, just two days before Father’s Day, and how much more pride he has now. So Happy Father’s Day to my husband, and all our NICU Dads who carry us.