What I Learned as a Struggling Catholic Dad

Last year I married my best friend and the love of my life. We traveled to Italy for our honeymoon, received the Sposi Novelli blessing from Pope Francis, and ultimately enjoyed a year’s worth of love and laughs as a newly married couple.

We were overjoyed when my wife became pregnant. From following through on all the pregnancy appointments, to making sure she was eating right, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise—I did everything and anything necessary to be supportive. We journeyed through together. 

Then labor happened. It was a gradual progression of excitement, anxiety, nervousness, and uncertainty. I helplessly watched my wife in pain; I heard her scream; I saw a lot of blood. But through God’s grace, and thanks to the nurses and doctors who took great care of us, we welcomed baby Gianna Rose to this world. 

And this is where my challenge began, as a husband, and as a father.

Struggling as a Husband

I prided myself as someone who is patient, empathetic, and supportive. But my experience as a new father has revealed my shortcomings in these areas. 

My wife struggled with breastfeeding. Our baby had trouble latching and my wife wasn’t producing enough milk. Instead of being sensitive to the fact that my wife was hard on herself, I downplayed it and reassured her that we had formula milk, and that everything would be okay. I had good intentions to make her feel better. But I didn’t acknowledge that she may have been feeling like a failure as a mom for her lack of milk. In hindsight, I could have been more supportive.

I didn’t show empathy to my wife. I failed to understand that she may not always be able to articulate how she’s feeling.

When I thought my wife was irrational, I didn’t show patience or kindness. Instead of asking what she needs or what I can do to help, I would let my frustration control the tempo of our conversations. 

Mothers go through things in postpartum that men will never experience. The hormones are hard to identify with. After carrying a child for nine months, they now have to recover physically and emotionally from giving birth. They have to fight through the constant stress and broken sleep in caring for a human being. And this is all happening while they try to re-establish order in their lives. 

Conceptually, I understood all of this. But in the moments that when I needed to apply this understanding, I failed. And this resulted in arguments, tension, and unpleasantness in our marriage. 

Struggling as a New Dad

Every time I look at my daughter, I’m filled with joy. I experience the purity of unconditional love. Whether she’s sleeping, smiling, or crying, I’m in awe of this living being that God has given us.

Yet I was completely unprepared at the start. While I read a lot about the labor process and how I can be supportive, I didn’t go through any resources on how to care for a newborn. This was shortsighted on my part. 

I also lacked assertiveness. I waited for my wife to teach me the basics of baby care, such as changing diapers or holding the baby upright after feeding. This put a burden on her: to train me on how to be a father, which was unfair for her.

I was handling all the chores at home, and I thought I was doing enough. But I could have taken it to another level by getting more involved with baby care. I had absolute faith and trust in my wife, that she knew what she was doing as a parent. But this overlooked the fact that she’s a new and learning parent as well. 

I also missed opportunities for bonding with my daughter. Instead of being present and active when I was around our baby, I would browse through my phone, preoccupied with my job. In my mind, if I succeed in my career, then I could better provide for our family. But career ambitions cannot take away from being fully present with my child.

Absence of Spiritual Life

It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of being a parent. From preparing our daughter’s milk for bottle feeding, feeding her, burping her, holding her upright, changing her diapers, putting her to sleep, washing bottles, and the list goes on. The cycle repeats itself every few hours. This is on top of existing life responsibilities. And, of course, finding time to rest is important.

But what about time with God? As someone who claims to love God, I readily pushed Him aside during the transition to parenthood. It certainly doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Physical presence at the church has been optional, and that we’ve socially distanced ourselves from our faith community. 

The time and energy that I once had for prayer and reading scripture has become limited by my stress and fatigue of being a new father. Of course, if I had relied on God to give me strength, energy, wisdom, and confidence, then I likely wouldn’t have struggled as a parent. 

Spiritual life is everything. It’s not a switch that I can just turn on when I pray. Spiritual life is the totality of all aspects of what I do and how I live in my day, from my family, my work, my responsibilities, and so on. I can cultivate this through a deep and meaningful relationship with God. And this means giving God my time, so He can help me navigate through my mistakes as a husband and a father.

Lessons and Reinforcements

We only get to be a new dad once. I’ve struggled early on. On the bright side, there are many more opportunities for improvement. 

I share some quick lessons and reinforcements, based on my personal struggles. Hopefully, these can serve the current and future Catholic husbands and fathers.

Constantly love God and place Him in the center of our lives. God will provide us with the qualities we need to be loving husbands and fathers. Let go of being in control and let God lead you to holiness.

Love your wife with all of your heart. Choose to love her and understand her, even when it gets difficult. Her experiences as a mother are likely far more demanding than what you experience as a father. Be patient, kind, empathetic, and assertive.

Love your child and look forward to every moment that you get to experience together. Be present, active, and responsive to your child and make sure they receive and experience your love.

As Catholic husbands and fathers, our true vocation is our family. Praise God for blessing us with our family, as our job is to help guide them to heaven. 

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Rodney Noriega is a new Catholic dad. As a parishioner of St. Paul Parish in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, he strives to inspire other Catholics on how to strengthen our relationship with God. His World Youth Day pilgrim experiences in Brazil and Poland, along with serving in young adult ministry, has galvanized his commitment in truly living out the faith. A husband to Mary and a father to Gianna, he loves his family very much.

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