The importance of being a proactive father

If you are a sports fan or not, you may have recently heard criticism about Daniel Murphy, a baseball player for the New York Mets. The digs weren’t about his fielding or streaky hitting. Rather, they dealt with Murphy’s taking a few days off from his job to be with his wife and child after the birth of their son.

I admire Murphy for his choice. Moreover, I look forward to a future where more fathers are involved in their children’s lives, literally from day one. This was my own experience, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Being a father has been the best experience of my life. It is more important than any job I have every held, or ever will. And by being involved right from the start, I was able to develop a bond with my daughter that I might not have otherwise.

Let me explain: I was a stay-at-home father.

The situation provided me — someone not then experienced with children — with the responsibility of caring for a newborn largely on my own. It was an incredible opportunity.

From the time we brought our girl home from the hospital and all through those early years, I changed most of the diapers and brought her to almost every appointment with the pediatrician. When she didn’t sleep (every night for the first few months) or didn’t feel well, I stayed up and cared for her. We lived in playgrounds and pointed to the passing buses.

I was with her on the lazy spring day when she stood crouching over a dandelion for 15 minutes straight, fascinated by what she saw. I was there for her first word. I was there when she stood up in her crib, frightening herself before quickly learning how much fun standing can be. The list of our shared experiences is happily endless.

If I hadn’t had the blessing of this full immersion into fatherhood, I think that I might have looked to my daughter’s mother for a lot of the answers. How do I change a diaper? What do I do when she’s crying? Is it time to call the doctor? Many men may have this insecurity about caring for their children, and it isn’t necessary.

Don’t get me wrong. Participating early on doesn’t require being a stay-at-home parent and changing most of the diapers. And a man who becomes more active in his child’s life when his son or daughter is old enough to start playing catch can be a fantastic father. But I would think that many dads lack confidence in important areas of parenting, and that mom is the go-to person. For instance, how many fathers are comfortable talking to their children — especially their daughters — about where babies come from and the questions that follow?

When couples stay together, this being ill at ease with our kids may not matter a lot. In many happier families, mom does some things, dad does others, and parents and children alike are cared for, safe and loved.

But what about when adult relationships end? On top of every other stress and strain, many fathers feel that they don’t know how to care for their children without mom being there to help.

During my own divorce, I never had these doubts, which was good because divorce is hard enough without them.

More importantly, my daughter and I are close. And, I have every reason to believe that we always will be. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Maybe Daniel Murphy wouldn’t either.

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.