Joseph Mack, regarding his 6-month old baby girl, Allison Ashleigh

Paternal Bonding: Daddy's Baby

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Northstate Parent  [Original Article]

"The moment she was born, I experienced an amazing feeling that I have never known before. I felt excited and very much in love. Looking at her now, I feel a warm sensation in my entire body. The desire to protect her is overwhelming," stated 27-year-old first-time Shasta County dad, Joseph Mack, regarding his 6-month old baby girl, Allison Ashleigh.

Becoming a father can create a twinge of anxiety in even the bravest of men. As a combat Marine serving in Fallujah, Iraq, Joseph Mack didn't hesitate to go into battle. As a new father, he felt trepidation at holding this child he lovingly calls "teeny-tiny-baby." "I was so afraid I would do something wrong and hurt her," he smiled, bouncing the blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel in his arms. "It took a while before I felt confident enough to change a diaper effectively or comfort her when she cried. When she is not happy and I'm the one comforting her, it feels like I'm doing my job as a dad. That's what I'm supposed to do."

How fathers bond with their children is a subject of vast importance. Research has shown that when fathers are satisfied with parenting, contribute financially to the family and are nurturing during play, children have better cognitive functioning and language skills. Also, children display fewer behavioral problems than those raised without paternal involvement. Parenting is a tough job, and most mothers will tell you that although it is not impossible to raise children on your own, having a partner who is involved, responsible and well-bonded to the child, makes the job a bit easier. The old saying "anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy," is the operative idea. Men who are bonded to their children tend to be more connected to their wives, which in turn strengthens the nuclear core of the entire family.

My husband Rich and I raised our two girls, Tara and Ashley, who are now adults and out on their own. I would often tease him and say, "If you ever die and leave me a single mom, I'll get you." We knew that parenting was a difficult job and having both of us pitching in helped tremendously. Those moments when I would watch Rich with the girls, laughing and giggling on the floor, or soothing a fevered brow, made my heart melt, and I would fall in love with him all over again. I could see that he felt about them as I did. I could sense that they were deep in his heart, just as they resided deeply within mine. If you ask Rich how he feels about his girls, his eyes can tear up as he tells you that his family is the most important thing in this world.

"Last night, as I stood watching my kids sleep, I felt an overwhelming sense of warmth flood my body," sighed Rob McCandless (39), also from Shasta County, and father of Amanda (6) and Justin (4). "Being a parent has made me grow up. It made me realize that the sense of being responsible for someone is overwhelming and challenging, but it is absolutely the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced in my life. The moment each of them was born, I felt like king-of-the-world. I knew, in that moment, that my mission in life was to raise these children to the best of my ability. It has been the best roller-coaster ride of my life and nothing could ever convince me to get off of that ride. I love it."

Some fathers bond immediately with their children. "The first time I saw my son Kane (2) on a sonogram, I felt an indescribable dedication to him. When he was born, all of a sudden he was the be-all and end-all of my universe. He became the end to justify any means," said an enthusiastic Timothy Baugh (27, of Shasta County), father of two, Kane and 7-month-old, Katherine. "It constantly amazes me that I am capable of loving both my children with this much intensity. I'm sure as they continue to grow, I will continue to be amazed by that feeling."

Not all fathers have instantaneous sensations of love, dedication and protection. Some dads take time to bond. "I remember standing in the delivery room looking at this squalling, wrinkly little guy and asking myself what all the fuss was about. I kept waiting to feel the tears and heart pounding that some of my friends had felt, and it did not come," said the 29-year-old first-time dad from Tehama County, who wishes to remain anonymous because he has never admitted these feelings to anyone. "My first thought was something must be very wrong with me. My second thought was that I must be a bad father and I was going to totally mess up this kid for life. To this day, my wife jokes about me standing there looking like I was in shock, but what I was really feeling was numb and overwhelmed. It took me several months to begin to feel like this baby was my son and that I was truly emotionally connected to him."

Fathers bond to their children in their own way and in their own time. Bonding happens for a father when he is given the chance to nurture and care for the child. Bathing, dressing, changing diapers and comforting a crying child are all potentially bonding moments. Sometimes moms need to get out of the way and allow a new dad to get comfortable, make a few mistakes and learn to be the confident man that he can be in other areas of his life. Sometimes a dad needs to take a risk and step into doing new and uncomfortable things for his child.

Some children do not have a father in their lives. Sometimes this is a temporary absence such as military service, or it can be a permanent situation. A loving, bonded paternal presence in that child's life can help fill that void. Often the love and care of a committed stepparent, grandfather, uncle or other healthy male figure will offer the paternal support that helps a child with the language, cognitive and behavioral skills that research has shown are supported by "father" bonding.

Whether a father takes to being a daddy like a duck to water, needs a little more time, or even requires some professional help to overcome his hesitations, realize that paternal bonding is very important to a child's development and deserves any effort required for it to be achieved. Given time and effort, before you know it, those feelings will come, and that little person will be permanently implanted into your heart. Yes, this means you will sweat bullets when they start to walk, go to school for the first time, learn to drive and even (gasp) date, but there is nothing in this world like loving a child.