On November 30, 2003, my husband’s father died.
It was a heartbreaking loss. We had all gathered at my inlaws to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. My husband, daughter and I had flown in to surprise my inlaws and together with my sister and brother inlaw, we were going to throw a big family party to commemorate the event.
On the morning of the anniversary, my husband and I were jolted from sleep by my mother inlaw’s cries, “Daddy isn’t waking up!” While I tried to perform CPR my husband called EMS. The emergency rescuers worked on my father in law for some 45 minutes before transporting him to the hospital. My father in law never regained consciousness. The doctors estimated that he had actually died a couple of hours prior to my mother in law waking up. My mother in law lost the love of her life on their 40th anniversary.
Losing a parent is never easy. Losing a parent in such a dramatic fashion is even more difficult. My husband speaks very little about his father’s death, yet I know that it had a profound impact on him. For months following his father’s death, my husband functioned on autopilot; he went to work, came home, played with our daughter abit and then retreated to his home office. While I knew that he was in great pain, I was unable to get him to talk about his father or to get help in the form of counseling. Those were very dark days.
Even now, 9 years later, my husband speaks very little about his father or his death. When we spoke recently, he admitted that the void that he feels is almost unspeakable. Without my father inlaw, my husband finds himself with no male role model, no patter for fatherhood. His grandfathers are deceased. His father had 2 sisters and his mother has 3. My husband is the oldest grandchild so others look to him as a role model. There is no living male relative to whom he can turn for advice or guidance.
It really took me aback when I considered my husband’s situation. When I had my daughter, I was constantly on the telephone with my mother and sister, making sure each little “coo” was okay and that I was providing her with everything she needed. When I had my son 3 1/2 years later, my sister became my beacon, as she had 2 boys. I talked to anyone and everyone; moms at parks, moms at preschool, moms at church, women in the grocery store, friends…I sought out and accepted any and all advice. I don’t know how I would have made it without all the sage advice of the multitude of women in my life. I really could not imagine how my husband was making it on his own.
I have repeatedly suggested that my husband obtain counseling to help him cope with his feelings surrounding his father’s death as well as his feelings of being the family “patriarch”. I have also suggested that he seek out other men, other fathers, with whom he can share ideas and gain support. To date he has refused.
Dr. Bruce Linton has clearly outlined the stages men go through as they transition into fatherhood. According to Linton, an important stage is reconciling one’s feelings with one’s own father. My husband has admitted that there is much he had hoped to share with his father and now he’ll never have the chance. It’s tragic indeed.
I will keep trying with my husband. It will be very difficult for him to resolve some issues as my father in law is gone. Ultimately he has to find a way to cope with his feelings so that he can have some peace. But he will have to choose whether he wants to resolve his feelings or bury them.
After much thought, I have decided to write a series of blog posts exploring the impact that my pregnancies had on my husband. Why would I put this on Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond you might ask? Well, I just read a very interesting article by Bruce Linton, Ph.D on Pregnancy.org called, Fatherhood: How Fatherhood Changes Men and it has really made me realize the profound effect my rocky reproductive years had on my husband. Until I read this article, I would say that I was “casually aware” that my high risk pregnancies and births were traumatic for my husband. But in examining this article and the events that happened in my own family’s life as I was having my children, I see that the impact was far more profound than I imagined. (And truth be told, we are still feeling the fall out!)
My husband is a man of science, a graduate from MIT with a degree in physics. When you consider the definition of a linear thinker, he is it. He sees life from the perspective of risk management and problem solving. (Those of you who know me and my round about way of thinking may be wondering how we ever got together. I guess opposites really do attract!) If a situation arises, he immediately begins pondering how to solve the problem and be done with it. I like to gnaw on things, discuss them (sometimes ad nauseum) and then gradually work towards a resolution that “feels” right to me. Obviously, these are two very different approaches.
While I was getting pregnant, having complications, miscarrying, having a near emergency c-section with my daughter and learning how to be a mom, I was constantly talking to my mom, my sister, my friends, my mother in law and pretty much any other woman who I could beseech for wisdom. Looking back, I don’t think that my husband talked with anyone except for his father, who died one year after I had my daughter. Since then, from what I can tell, my husband has been trying to sort this fatherhood thing out on his own.
Before reading this article, I had not given much thought to my husband’s experience of becoming a father; either from the literal sense of me getting pregnant, maintaining the pregnancies and delivering the babies (more on that later!) or from the emotional sense in that as much as my world changed, so did his. But after reading Dr. Linton’s article, I can clearly see areas in which my husband has been profoundly impacted, and yet, I don’t think that he’s had the resources he may need to cope with the situations.
Does your husband have support and resources? Does he have people, men, with whom he can talk, ask questions and glean wisdom about fatherhood? If not, consider bolstering his support network now, while you are pregnant, to help him through. Like motherhood, fatherhood is a journey of untoward events for which there is seldom any warning and most certainly no “how to” manual. We women, being the gregarious beings that we are come together and share news, tales and tips. Guys are rarely like that-at least not in the beginning. According to Dr. Linton, men don’t begin creating a community of fathers until their children become school/activity aged. But I am here to tell you, a lot happens between birth and school! They need support right out of the gate.
So I have decided to really delve into Dr. Linton’s article and look at it from the perspective of my husband’s experience. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll interview my husband and let him share his story. (I’m making no promises here. My husband is my polar opposite, so not much for conversation!) In any event, my hope is that by sharing what happened to me and my husband, I can help other couples (fathers) who have to cope with high risk pregnancies and a rocky road into fatherhood.