PND & BLOKES. A HOW-NOT-TO GUIDE

I want to talk about blokes getting post-natal depression.

They didn’t used to, but now they do, recent studies reveal. Apparently 1.3 percent of dads are now sufferers.

But, before I commence my rant, a disclaimer.

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See, I’m very much of the “harden up, sunshine” school of psychiatry.

I believe in more pain, more gain. I was appalled, at my daughter’s primary school athletics day, to see year five kids belt out the first 100m of the 400m, then walk the rest. And no-one even yelled at them to get stuck into it! I asked the teacher and she said kids these days have “no culture of pushing themselves. If it hurts, they just stop.”

That bodes well for the future, I thought.

My neighbour is a therapist and when a patient visits I’m tempted to put a “cheer up!” sign on their windscreens.

My daughter, now almost 13, was appalled when we were playing street ball with local urchins and one of them put his head in a plastic bag. I solved his problem by telling him he would die if he didn’t take it off, but it was really up to him. He took it off.

I think teens should help with the dishes and show some respect. There’s way too much X-box going on.

And I think there are probably a whole lot of problems that could be cured by the phrase “it’s not all about you, princess”.

Look, I do know depression and anorexia and a lot of mental pain is horribly, horribly real. But there’s also way too much navel gazing and self-absorbed rumination going on out there and it’s not healthy.

My daughter, Googling to decide if she wanted to become a Buddhist, came across the phrase “desire is the root of all unhappiness”, which she repeats at annoyingly apt moments. I reckon she’s right. (The Buddhism looked a little boring, she said, so she didn’t bother, just so you know).

Charity workers are happier than lottery winners. There’s more pleasure in giving than receiving.

See, we men don’t give birth to babies so we aren’t wracked by hormones for nine months and then some. Our bodies aren’t completely changed, our organs mashed against our ribcages by our growing babies. Our genitals aren’t mutilated by an agonising birth that can often take days. (One female friend once memorably confided “It’s like me ****’s been hit by a Mack truck …” )

We don’t have to get up every three hours to breastfeed and we aren’t left home alone with a screaming baby while our partners go back to work. We aren’t forced out of the workforce by our decision to have a child.

What does happen to us is wifey/girlfriend doesn’t think we’re the Centre of the Universe any more. We have to get our own cups of tea. We aren’t allowed to spend all Sunday playing golf and we have to come home after work and “help with the baby” instead of going to the pub.

When we leave the house we have to wait for all the baby crap to be assembled and it takes bloody ages. Poor us.

We get interrupted when we’re trying to watch TV and as baby grows we have to spend countless hours reading and re-reading stories about duckies and hiding behind things to make chubby toddlers laugh.

And guess what? If you throw yourself into it, accept you can’t do what you used to do, these days will be the best days of your life.

They are a source of joy without end.

There’s no greater pleasure – or responsibility – than guiding a young heart and mind into adulthood.

You can’t play golf. But you can go for a run with your teen daughter, talk about fitness and strength, watching as a summer storm blows in and you run through the gusts and rain to the car together, lightning lashing the horizon. She would be scared, but you’re there, so it’s an adventure. She still shies like a colt at wind whipping the bushes. As you drive home, dripping wet and weirdly elated, she says “Dad, I love you, that was just the greatest afternoon.”

There’s just nothing that’s better than that in life. Nothing.

I remember the first time she tasted ice-cream, the time she smelled onions and garlic in hot olive oil and said “that’s my favourite smell,” the time she got attacked by leeches in the bush and was laughing and crying as they were scraped off, the times we sing to loud hard rock in the car: “I love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Dad!”

You can create moments like that for her (or him, or them) and yourself over and over, every day.

Every precious package of intelligence and warmth you share, every second you help your child through a problem and see their pleasure at success, every time your genuine approval strengthens their sense of value (particularly important for fathers of daughters) is a gift to your child and to you.

That’s the wonderful bit, the happier and more well adjusted you can make them, the happier and better adjusted you are.

Post-natal depression in dads? Lord, give me strength!

I’m not a psychologist (although I’d clearly be a bloody good one!) but I suspect someone needs to harden up, take a long look in the mirror, get over themselves and get on with the most rewarding thing they’ll ever do – be someone’s father.

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*Philip Barker is a partner at Sydney creative agency, SoDUS. He is a former magazine editor, publisher and managing director. His wife is lovely, his daughter is hilarious and his cat is old and a bit sick.

 

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