Ever since I had a kid, I’ve considered writing about fatherhood. I never actually go through with it, though. Sure, I’ve written some things about my daughter, or about some parenting decisions I’ve made, but nothing about being a father. There’s a simple reason for that. Being a father is such a unique experience that there’s no real way to talk about it.
At least that’s what I always told myself. I’ve read and heard many descriptions of fatherhood and none of them have been adequate. None of them match my own experience of being a father or even come close. Most are silly or absurd. Then I read this article by Anna Machin. She approaches fatherhood from a scientific perspective, specifically as an evolutionary anthropologist. It’s the first thing I’ve read about fatherhood that resonated with me. I could almost feel the neurochemical and psychological changes she was talking about. She gave me hope that maybe I could write about fatherhood.
Then, I tried to write about being a dad and ran into the same old barriers. I don’t have any scientific training to fall back on. The only way I can talk about fatherhood is talking about the lived experience of being a father. But I find that having the experience doesn’t give me the vocabulary. Being a dad is so different from every other experience I’ve ever had, that I don’t know where to begin.
The temptation, and trap, is to think of paternal feelings as regular feelings, except bigger or more powerful. I don’t find that to be the case at all. My feelings about my daughter are different in kind, not just degree. I’ve often thought about how crazy it is that I’m stuck using the same word, love, to describe my feelings about everything from my favorite food to my friends and family to my daughter. Love just isn’t a versatile enough word. Of course I love my daughter. That’s obvious. But it doesn’t get at the way that particular love is so completely different from any other love I’ve ever felt.
It’s almost like experiencing a completely new color. I don’t mean a new shade of blue or yellow or red, but an entirely new color. No matter how badly I wanted to describe this new color, I would be incapable of doing it. It just isn’t like anything else. It’s singular, unique. Ultimately, that’s what it’s like trying to describe the experience of fatherhood. I just have to accept the fact that I can’t do it. The most important experience of my life is one that cannot be shared.