Feeling oddly threatened by a new baby
Featuring crying dads, ASMR bee removers and a cute puppy.
The New Fatherhood is a newsletter from Kevin Maguire exploring the changing nature of being a father today. With tools, tips and hacks to help you become a better dad, and a community of forward-thinking parents who are looking to do the same. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. My aim is to make this one of the best emails that you get each week. You are one of the 1,245 dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
This week's issue is a little different. Since I shared my story about battling paternal-post natal depression I've been contacted by people all across the world. There's two emails I wanted to share with you all today: one from another father going through something similar right now, and one from a wife who saw her ex-husband struggle with it. I'm sharing these conversations, with their permission, to continue the discussion. Some names have been changed for reasons that will become clear.
Just a quick note to say “hello” and I hope you’re all doing OK.
Your writing about paternal post-natal depression really hit a nerve. My ex-husand suffered from this (amongst other things) after our daughter was born. Even though I spoke to health workers about it, they simply did not want it on their radar, and were very clear in their opinion that the father's health and wellbeing was not their concern. It was definitely a huge part of us not being able to stay together. He wouldn’t get help—and people were unwilling to help him—and I felt incapable to help under the circumstances. I’m so glad that you were able to get help, and your wife provided you the support you needed.
I understand that this email isn’t actually going anywhere. I really wanted to send you a message as soon as I read your newsletter. But I had to I take a lot of time to digest it. Then I felt shame for not being strong enough to help my ex-husband. Lots of emotions. Lots of memories. O’eck. But, it’s started a lot more conversations, and I’m happy to say it’s more (and rightfully so) recognised now.
Your newsletters are really powerful—they’re having a lot of impact, and I’m so pleased to recommend it to my father friends (and curious mums!)
I’d like to think that if you were still in London we’d be able to catch up over a cuppa—and I’m so glad to be able to read your writings.
That’s the end of my rambles,
Love to you all,
Thank you so much for sending me this email, and so lovely to hear from you.
First, I'm so sorry to hear about everything that you went through.
You wouldn't believe the amount of emails I've had from people telling me something similar—either men who went through it themselves, or wives who watched a partner go through it.
When someone is dealing with any type of depression, it's not just hurting one person. It has some sort of a blast radius that hurts everyone around them.
I will tell you over email what I would have told you if we were sitting having a brew: Please don't blame yourself. You were strong. You looked after your daughter. But there was a limit to what you could do on your own. It took me admitting to myself I had a problem, and telling my wife I needed help, before anything else could happen. If she would have told me “go get better”, before I admitted it to myself, I'm not sure things would have worked out the same way.
It's such a cliché. But change comes from within. You can't force it on anymore, no matter how hard you try. I'm lucky I found things written by others that helped me make sense of what was happening to me.
I really hope this newsletter can start real, powerful conversations around this topic, and one day we look back on waving away dads' mental health issues in the same crazy way we think about the treatment of post-natal depression 50 years ago.
Thanks so much for setting this up. Just read your blog on learning to love your son and your honesty in sharing your experiences is incredible.
I think that there is something in being a dad to a son in particular that can be quite challenging and it has left me feeling vulnerable at times. Like you I’ve got a daughter (mine’s 2.5yrs) and recently a son too, (1 month!) I found everything came quite naturally with my daughter, we’ve got a great relationship, she’s the absolute love of my life and we love spending time together. I’m always bigging her up and every time someone compliments her I love it!
With my son, I’ve felt a bit different though, and its certainly brought up some old insecurities and vulnerabilities that I’ve not dealt with, and that on reflection my dad never dealt with either. A lot of it is image-stuff and feeling oddly threatened by a one month old baby! Which sounds ridiculous to type out – (but I guess that’s why these things fester because we are too scared to admit them!)
I think that part of it is in being a son – they’re more comparable to you. Which is definitely something that people love to do – particularly in the early days.
For example, quite a few people talk about how big he is and that he’s got big hands and big shoulders (I have neither but my wife’s side of the family are some serious units!) So I feel insecure about that and feel the desire to talk negatively about him / verbally put him down to reassure myself. It’s 100% the relationship that my dad had with me—I cannot remember him saying a single positive thing about me growing up, but remember plenty of sarcastic comments to cut me down.
So I can tell that this will be a bit of an ongoing challenge for me, (amongst all the other challenges of fatherhood!), to confront some of my insecurities and demonstrate to my son a better model of fatherhood than I had.
I already feel that The New Fatherhood community can be a really useful tool / ally in this journey
Thanks for getting in touch. And thank you for your honesty. I'm so moved that you read the article and were inspired to respond.
I've found that, in my experience, when we open up and are more vulnerable with others, they will meet us in that place and feel more open with their vulnerabilities too And I recently discovered it's not just me who thinks this. It's a real thing: it's called the vulnerability loop.
It's one of the key things that inspired me to start this newsletter. I was talking to so many male friends who were telling me how useful it was to them—and I realised how much it was helping me too.
I thought: maybe—just maybe—it'd be possible to do this at scale … with more people, in more places. And when I get an email like yours, it makes me think that maybe, together, we can.
I see so much of myself in what you've shared here. "Oddly threatened by a one month old baby" does feel strange to type. But it feels even stranger to feel right? I was confused by so much when my second came along, and I believe a lot of it was wrapped up in having a son second time around. I will tell you, one of the most important jobs we can do: to be aware—and to break the cycle—of negative behaviours that have been passed by generations of parents before us.
Whilst you might not have all the answers yet, I can tell you, without doubt, that you're asking the right questions. Happy to have you along for the ride.
3 things to read this week
I stumbled across Happy Crying Dads last week, a subreddit filled with "stuff to make dads cry tears of happiness." A wonderful antidote to the doom and gloom in the news, filled with surprise gifts for dad, or a colour-blind father seeing his childrens’ red hair for the first time.
Another week, another killer article on parenting from The Atlantic, meditating on how this growing narrative of loss will affect our students, emotionally and academically: "When students feel empowered, they care more and work harder. Next time you hear the phrase “learning loss”, think about whether we really want to define our students by their deficits instead of their potential."
This one's a little old, but it was new to me. Remember Jar Jar Binks? Of course you do. But did you know that the backlash around the character almost drove the actor to suicide? As a father he now is thankful to still be here, and sees his son as his "gift for surviving".
The "all up in my feelings" edition
That last tweet is a father of four testifying in front of Missouri state legislators last month, delivering a moving speech about his transgender daughter as he urged lawmakers not to pass a ban on trans student-athletes. It's well worth 3 minutes and 26 seconds of your day.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Introducing Erika Thompson, a bee removal expert in Austin, Texas who "puts hives before honey" and removes swarms of bees without chemicals, mostly just using her hands. It's truly awesome to watch, and also has some chilled ASMR vibes too.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last week I shared "The Last Time Meditation", a simple brain hack that makes managing stressful parenting situations way easier. Whilst there weren’t many comments on the post, loads of you of emailed to tell me how much you loved it. So thank you!
I also asked "what are you watching with your kids this weekend?"
"City of Ghosts on Netflix (it's not scary and talks about the history of L.A.) Beautiful animation. So smart! But already only 1 episode left!" Paul
"We were making good progress through Star Wars Rebels which is great. But I have refused to watch it on the small temporary TV. (26" - which is tiny these days, but would have essentially been an IMAX back in the days of yore). I have given in and started watching Clone Wars with my son. It does a way better job of that period than the films did." Anthony
"We’re on watch through #2 of Waffles & Mochi with the 2.5yo which is like Sesame Street meets Salt Fat Acid Heat. Not bad!" Eric
"Disney+ has gotten us through so much these days. But actually, one show that my kids are fascinated by is How It’s Made. Started showing them episodes after my oldest kept asking, “Daddy, how does ______ work?” Every episode entrances them, from the spacey, new age music, to the seamless movement of machinery." Hunter
One more thing before I go: I shared a tip on Instagram this weekend about Common Sense Media, a site I religiously use to inform what shows and movies we watch with our kids. I will Google "[SHOW NAME] + common sense media" before anything. I tend to subtract 2 years from the suggested age, because I think the reviewers on the site are a little more conservative than we are. Here's an example page for City of Ghosts (which I recommended last week, and will continue to do so!)
This week was about your letters, so this cute puppy in a mailbox is allowed. Don’t @ me. I'm going to be doing a few back-end newsletter things in the next day or two, so expect cool new things next week. Thanks to Carson, Adam and Ben for sharing last week's newsletter far and wide. Let's keep building The New Fatherhood together.