Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 11:03 am
My son was six months old when my mother asked, “Why are you getting up in the night? That’s your wife’s job.”
I was 24, a full-time college student, and nearly a full-time server when my mother asked me this question. My wife, Mel, worked full time. Our son spent five days a week with my mother-in-law. We had a lot going on.
I was complaining to her about how little sleep I’d gotten the night before.
Tristan wouldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time. He only slept if someone sat up and cradled him in one arm, like a football.
Mel and I split the night in half. I couldn’t sleep sitting up, and I worried that if I drifted off I’d drop him. It was a lot of long nights gazing at the TV with bloodshot eyes, a baby boy cradled in my right arm. I fell asleep in classes, hallways and buses. Sometimes I woke up in strange places.
I couldn’t imagine placing this responsibility solely on Mel.
Mom and I were talking over the phone. She was in her mid-50s at the time. I was a little shocked by her question. Mom’s a strong woman who was abandoned by my father when I was nine years old. He later died from drug addiction. She raised three children as a single mother. I’d assumed she’d be proud to have a son who was willing to get up in the night, but I was wrong.
I didn’t really know how to answer her question, so I said, “I don’t know. I just do.”
She let out a grunt that seemed to say, “Let her know who’s the boss.”
I viewed getting up in the night as one of my many fatherly duties, same as changing a diaper. But obviously my mother didn’t see it that way.
From what I understand, when I was a baby and dad was still around, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. She raised children in a different era, when the obligations of child-rearing fell squarely on the mother. She’s a baby boomer, raised in Provo, Utah. I have to assume that she was sheltered from the feminist movement — or perhaps she sheltered herself from it. Maybe she found it dangerous. I don’t really know. But what I do know is that raising a family in 2014 takes a lot of long hours outside the home, and being parents means seizing any opportunity to be with your children, even if those opportunities are in the middle of the night.
Six years later, I still get up with my children. We have two of them now. I work in education, which means I have a white-collar education, but earn a blue-collar wage. I am an academic counsellor at a traditional bricks-and-mortar university, sometimes I teach for that same university, and I teach two, sometimes three, classes at a time for an online university.
I get up early, and when papers are in, I come home late. Some days I don’t see my kids.
Mel’s busy too. She pregnant, a full-time mom of two, and a part-time student. I often come home late to find her in sweat pants, hunched over a keyboard, eyes bloodshot, both children asleep on the sofa, a movie on the TV.
Getting up in the night is sometimes the only chance I get to solve my kids’ problems, hold them for a moment, or hear the sweet words, “I love you, daddy.” Although I complain about being tired, I often think back on the way my six-year-old son tightly grips my arm as I lie in bed with him after a nightmare, and smile. And I think about my four-year-old daughter curled up in a ball at two a.m., crying and shivering, and how satisfied I feel after seeing her stretch out beneath the warm quilt I laid over her.
In those moments, I feel needed.
I feel valued.
Some days this is my only chance to do something more for my children than just bringing in a pay check.
If I were to answer mom’s question now, I would tell her that I get up in the night because sometimes it’s the only chance I get to feel like a father.