Fatherhood at 20
The idea of fatherhood did not immediately register to my then-19-year-old self when my partner broke the news that she was pregnant. I still had a college diploma to secure, a family to financially support as payback time after nearly two decades of financial dependency, and a self to spoil before seeking to build a family of my own. Becoming a father before the attainment and acquisition of all these was never part of my plans.
At the unripe age of 19, I was going to be a father. I found this realization nothing short of daunting, a constant reminder that my life was to undergo a massive and immediate revision. No more late nights binge-watching movies, an undertaking that would be replaced by bottle-feeding my little boy or changing his wet nappy. No more saving up for a book I was raring to buy, because probably all my scholarship allowance would go entirely to his basic needs.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. At least to me, unplanned fatherhood meant signing up for a mission as a solitary soldier about to go against a battalion of paternal obligations. I was terrified and anxious big-time, what with how I thought my life would turn out for the next few years, and the adversities I would have to encounter.
Fast-forward to the reality of parenthood. It became a daily routine of sleep deprivation, parental paranoia as a rookie dad, and the frustration that came from seeing your child not growing enough compared to the chubby-cheeked infants at the health center. On many occasions, our baby would experience projectile vomits, one indication as to why he was not growing to his optimum level. He would also go into relentless crying that lasted for hours. This scenario gave way to fear so common among parents. What if he got diagnosed with autism and other speech and developmental delays?
I lost it one afternoon amid all these unhealthy musings. While feeding my son on my lap, I found myself in tears. For a person seldom used to this outright vulnerability, I realized how difficult fatherhood truly was. Since my partner was suffering from her own mental health issues that required her to have enough sleep, I had to take charge of feeding our baby and changing his nappy late at night, until he woke up again shortly after midnight.
I had convinced myself that the greatest thing I could sacrifice was my sleep, since I did not have a full-time job and so could not epitomize the noble role of a father providing well for the family. It was a shame on my part that whenever my allowance ran out, I had to swallow my pride and ask my parents for money to buy our baby milk.
From the latter part of my partner’s pregnancy until our son’s first three months, money was the biggest issue. I assured myself that I was doing everything I could, as evidenced by my steady weight loss and unsightly eye bags.
I am beyond grateful that I am surrounded by folks who are a huge help to me. My partner, despite the daily dose of seizure meds and antidepressants she had to take to combat her own mental monsters, deserves an award for being brave when she delivered our son via emergency C-section, and for taking good care of him whenever I go home late from school and part-time work. That goes for my parents, too, whose voluntary and generous assistance to tend to their apo made me feel less wary whenever we needed to attend to important academic activities. Without them, I might have succumbed to the demons I never knew existed and were powerful enough to reduce me to tears during the toughest of times.
As of this writing, my little man has turned 5 months old, and he is growing healthier and jollier. It only takes a smile or a laugh from my boy for my exhaustion to be reduced to naught. Nakakawala ng pagod.
They say life begins at 40. But it began for me at the age of 20. Fatherhood may have dumped a heavy sack of cement on me that caused hardships, but it also gave me purpose. Finishing my studies hasn’t been as important to me as it is today, for I now have a more vivid vision of my future. The journey will not be smooth sailing and the road ahead will be a bumpy one. But I am less terrified and more driven to cross that difficult but necessary path.
To my little version, Tadashi Quentin, you have a flawed human for a father. But I would ask you to remember my choice to assume the responsibility notwithstanding the struggles that I knew were an integral part of it. I want you to inherit from me only the goodness, setting aside my failures and shortcomings. Because while a father can be noble, he can also become vulnerable, awash with fear that he might do less than what is expected.
Above all, I want my son to someday know and understand that, yes, he was born out of wedlock, and that he was a product of an unexpected and unplanned pregnancy. But never — oh, never — was he a mistake.
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Jejomar B. Contawe, 20, is an incoming fourth-year communication arts student and features editor of The Work, the official student publication of Tarlac State University.
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