Between a difficult pregnancy, grad school, and moving to DC, a husband exhibits what it means to be a true father and partner.
My husband is my partner in marriage, in parenting, and in our family value of adventure. He has bright blue eyes, an auburn goatee, and a wide smile. He throws his head back to laugh, and has an affinity for craft beer and seems know to everyone. We balance each other: he is spontaneous, I am a planner. He is the extrovert, I am the introvert. We make a good team.
Two years into our dating relationship, I wanted to get engaged, get married and be his housewife. I was afraid of the future beyond college graduation, knowing that the only certain thing within it was my commitment to him.
“Kate,” he said. “You wouldn’t be happy staying at home. You’ve worked too hard. You would get bored and resentful, and you would hate me.”
“What about having kids?” I protested. “It’s really hard for women to balance careers and children.” Stridently feminist, I was fully aware of all of the obstacles.
This shut me up, but it didn’t settle my worries. I knew I wanted a marriage with Tim, I knew I wanted children with him, but I wasn’t sure I could have meaningful work too. I had a stay-at-home mother, and it was that devotion I wanted for my own children.
We got married. We both worked at meaningful jobs. And two years into our marriage, we conceived.
I still remember the morning when I was sure I was pregnant, and Tim was sure I had a cold. I went to buy a pregnancy test while he was in the shower, feeling miserable. When it came back positive, he took my face in his hands, kissed me on the lips, and looked straight into my eyes. “Congratulations,” he said, warmly and firmly, and though he had worried about losing the freedom we had without kids, I knew it was going to be okay.
Pregnant, my time-limited job was coming to an end, and a crossroads appeared. The old fears I had came up again—could this family and work thing be done? Could I find a job while pregnant, when any discrimination would be hard to detect and harder to prove? Could I be an effective mother and employee with an infant and no gaurantee of maternal leave? Tim lobbied hard for me to keep applying to new jobs, I made a deal with him. I would stay home with our baby (nicknamed Rocketship) until I could go to graduate school, which I had already applied for. It allowed me to stop actively searching for a job in the midst of perinatal depression and a strong nesting instinct and wait for our baby.
The day before I was called by our midwife and told to come into the hospital for monitoring, The Master of Public Policy program at the Gerald R Ford School at the University of Michigan accepted me into the class of 2013. This was quickly overshadowed by the pregnancy crisis and complication of preeclamsia.
When our daughter was born at 34 weeks gestation, she cried and rooted. Tim was first to hold her. The nurses wrapped her in a blanket, and Tim held her tiny four pound body and sang to her. She quieted, recognizing his voice.
He stayed with her for hours in the NICU, until the nurses told him to go sleep. He was her parent while I was recovering from c-section and high blood pressure, and his devotion and love to Rocketship was clear and easy to see. It came in the form of the pictures he took on his phone and sent to me, who hadn’t seen her since the birth. It came in telling her about her mommy and her life, and the big world that she had been born into out of the little world inside Mommy. And it came in the form of our lives adapting.
Everyone who is a parent is aware of the changes that happen in your life when you have a child. It went beyond that. When our premature, yet healthy, baby was six months old, I started graduate school at one of the top three programs in my field. I need to take 12 credit hours a semester to graduate in two years, and I had to have a 10 week internship in the summer.
It was hard. I had more than one classmate tell me that they didn’t know how I did it. There were many times I thought I had it together, but it turned out I was still doing too much.
One Sunday, car humming, NPR below distinguishment on the dash, a sunny day and a yellow-gray vista out the windows of the car, I asked for more help. Tim thought for a moment and said to me, “It must be easy to make sacrifices for your career. It is harder for me to make sacrifices for your career because it isn’t mine.”
I blanched and paused. I froze in place, feeling my anger and resisting it all at once. “Do you have any idea the sacrifices I made for your career?” He didn’t answer, and I didn’t give him a chance. “I only applied to schools in state in driving distance of our home so that you could keep the job you love. I am focusing on applying for internships in Metro Detroit so that you can continue working without even asking for time off. Even if my dream internship doing my dream subject area is only available in DC or New York. I make sacrifices for your career all the time and you don’t even realize it.”
He was quiet for a moment and said, “You’re right.”
So he began making sacrifices. He put the baby to sleep after she nursed at night, so that I could do homework starting at eight instead of nine. He comforted her when she woke before we went to bed. He took our child when I had to go back to school for group meetings, for extra hours on Saturdays and Sundays, etc., so that I could get my homework done. He began doing the dishes and cleaning up the clutter at the end of each day. He supported me by clearing space for school and my career. While he was never happy to hear that I needed more support, more space, more time, he always gave it.
And that’s romance. That’s real support. That’s love.
When it came to my internship, he took another leap. A loving, wonderful leap.
I got my dream internship working in Washington, DC at a women’s organization dedicated to researching women’s work place issues. With our daughter only 15 months old and still breastfeeding, she had to come with me. But I knew it was not going to work unless he came, too.
This leap was to ask his boss to be flexible enough that our entire family could go to DC. We sketched out scenarios, from the least flexible to most flexible, some of which cost our family time and money, and some of which cost the company time and money. My dream of meaningful work hung in the balance.
Our ideal scenario was this: Tim could parent our daughter during the day, so that I could intern. And then I could parent in the evening, so he could work. The company would still get the benefit of his expertise and his working hours, but our family could stay together. I could have my dream internship.
It only took 10 minutes for Tim to lay out what we wanted, and we heard a big resounding “Yes” by the end of the day. We could have our adventure, three months in the nation’s capital, with our baby in tow.
Tim deserves praise for being present enough, listening closely enough, and loving me enough to realize that this internship was what I really wanted. Praise for working with me so that we could fulfill this dream. More, he had always been behind me having a career, even when I wasn’t sure myself.
When you get married, it isn’t one person’s life anymore. Life is an adventure shared—you’re married to support the other person, and they support you. Tim realized that my dream was our dream. We would both have to work hard and make sacrifices to spend 11 weeks in DC, for my career and our life.
And now we’re here, doing this. it has been a different kind of parenting for Tim. Where I can kneel and open my arms and Rocketship will come running to hug me, she runs towards Daddy and veers at the last moment. Since Daddy has become Stay-at-Home Daddy, she’s been cuddling him more. She is becoming more attached to Daddy. Running hugs aren’t far behind.
It’s a matter of the time spent, the acts of service. I love my husband because of the time and space that he gives and holds for my career. My daughter’s love for him is growing as he’s becoming more and more familiar. He shines as a partner and a father, and everyone sacrifices a little for our shared family life and adventures.
—Photo credit: Kate Ditzler, used with permission