Yes fathers also experience "Dad Guilt"
It was a typical workday in the summer of 2016. I was under duress to leave the house and jump on that parking lot known as the 210 freeway to get to my then community-based mental health job in Pomona. Within seconds after pulling out of the driveway I realized I had forgotten something (to this day I don’t remember what it was) and turned my car around and headed back home. I quickly dashed inside the house and found this missing object before leaping out back to my car to reluctantly ready to hit the road. Seconds before heading out I quickly glanced at my six month old son who was rocking in his electric swing as he took notice of me running around like a fox with its tail on fire. He then quickly began to giggle in the most adorable manner which I remember still to this day. I gave him and his aunt who was taking care of him at the time a quick "bye" before heading back out into the traffic rat race that was typical of my work week. Halfway through my journey an immense sense of guilt smothered me as I briefly recalled that image of my son in his swing and that infectious giggle that rang in my ears like an earworm song. I then began to think to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I knew I had to get to work to ensure I was maintaining my livelihood to help support my young family economically, yet I couldn’t help but think I should be at home playing with him and simply being a dad. I did spend paternal bonding time with him three months after he was born, yet those three weeks were simply not enough. I just remember spending most of my workday distracted and unfocused as the guilt of not being home with him began to emotionally tighten its grip further and further as the day wore on.
This wasn’t something new as I felt this way several times after the births of my two older sons years earlier. I missed the trips to the park we took along with the random moments of play at home and those priceless giggles and smiles when I made silly noises and sounds for them. Sure there were evenings spent at home as well as weekends with no work related responsibilities and that time that allowed me to solely focus on being a dad. However, the theme of it all being never enough continued to play on repeat in my mind. I truly felt that "dad guilt" that is seldom discussed. The catalyst for my writing of this blog was me recently coming upon a blog by a writer who discussed the pressures of "mom guilt" which is something I am also very familiar with in conversations with the Mrs as well as other female family members, friends, and colleagues who as me, also have associated it with returning to work after the birth of a child. What pinched a nerve in reading this blog was the writer's minimizing the idea of dad guilt as being a "non issue" in that men don't deal with such guilt the way women do. I wonder if the author had spoken to any fathers about this, or was she writing from a point of view based solely on mere assumption. I immediately thought of my experiences, those of other fathers who've commented on it in several father related discussion boards / social media outlets, and also stories from fellow dads within my family, friend, and colleague social circles. I often think of truck driver fathers expressing guilt when they have to be on the road for weeks at a time while their spouses and other caregivers are left alone to take care of their children. I think of even touring performers or their crews who are traveling across land, sea, and air for months to entertain their fans at shows, while their kids are left wondering when will dad come home. Sure, these and other men may be getting paid well to do their jobs and duties, but that income that could even be in the high thousands or millions is not going to buy back time lost with their children. So what can fathers do to address any underlying "dad guilt?" First it begins with spending quality time with their children rather than a quantity of hours of meaningless time. It is more sincere for a father to sit down and play Candy Land with his children for 15 minutes rather than spending hours in a crowded amusement park where overstimulation can inhibit his ability to connect with them. Secondly, is the importance of a father being able to separate his work obligations from family time. I know this is difficult for many fathers, especially those who own their own businesses. But if those work emails and calls can go unanswered for 30 minutes or an hour while he spends time enjoying a meal with his family, then this can go along way in conveying to them that his time with them is sacred and should never be interrupted. Thirdly (I didn't even know this was a word!), comes the importance of a father with the utmost sincerity reminding his children through his words and his actions how much they mean to him. This can be quite helpful especially when he is away from home for those previously mentioned extended periods of time and that despite not being physically present with them, he still holds them close in his heart. Despite what is said or even written in blog posts, social media outlets, and etc, "dad guilt" does exist. I am hoping as a society we can be more collectively mindful of this to help promote a healthy dialogue to address it, rather than minimizing it. I am hoping simultaneously more men can come forward and acknowledge their experiences with this in any conversations whether it be with their doctor / healthcare professional, or even in casual conversations with family, friends, or colleagues. In raising a collective awareness of dad guilt can we undertake efforts to help men work through this emotional stressor and find a balance that will ensure they continue to become the best fathers they can be. Let's also not minimize the emotional hardships fathers experience when raising their children as it only amplifies the distorted notion that men's issues are indeed "non issues" that in one way or another feed their reluctance to work through their issues.