Try saying that three times fast.
All joking aside though because this is a serious post. My wife and I are expecting our first child at the end of May. We are, of course, extremely excited. And I am also experiencing the normal range of emotions for a first time father, although how any of us know what is normal is beyond me since it is our first time. Yet on top of this range of emotion is a little extra anxiety.
You see, my father didn’t have his father around for much of his youth, courtesy of my grandfather spending time in a Cuban prison for merely opposing the rise of an authoritarian ruler. When my grandfather had finally rejoined the family in the United States, my dad had grown up and was adulting all on his own.
I suspect that not having my grandfather around left a hole in my father’s life, something for him to fill by proving himself. As such, my father has always been focused on improving himself, on the next opportunity, which is an admirable quality, so long as you take it in moderation and find a suitable work-life balance, which unfortunately my father never did.
I am not doing this to shame my father. He had many great qualities and instilled in me too many good lessons to burden this page with. Yet, he wasn’t around much and I sometimes fear that that hole has left me with a deficiency, one that has allowed depression and anxiety to roost and one that I fear will make me a horrible father.
I am anxious too, because I know there is some evidence that there is a genetic component to mental illness, and I am so fearful of passing my battles on to the next generation.
And though these familiar familial fears have plagued me much of my life, I now have to confront them, and I hope by memorializing them on this page I can commit to such a confrontation. And more comforting is I know I am not alone.
I have my therapist, who is constantly reminding me that these are the lies of mental illness, something I know deep down and constantly have to remind myself of. I know that I get to choose what kind of father I am, and the mere fact I am worried about these things is a crucial first step. I know too that my father had many good qualities that he passed on to me, and so too will I have positive qualities for my child. I know that if my child does have similar struggles, I will be there to offer guidance from my own fight. I know that my daughter will never have to face her fight alone.
And I am also blessed with a partner who is supportive of my battle with a disease she may not fully understand, a partner who would never let me forget that I have a lot to offer our child.
Growth with mental illness can be a real challenge. Yet growth is a necessity for one facing the growth of his family. Something must budge, and familiar as this fear is, it is time to let it go and grow into a different role in my life. Because change for any of us is scary. It gives unfamiliar terrain for the demons in our minds to run amok with. Yet if our demons can adapt to change, so can we. And that is what I will keep telling myself when the anxiety of being a soon-to-be-new-father tries to knock me down a peg.