The Night Dad Dressed in Drag

by Vincent OKeefe

EVERYONE'S TRANSITION TO PARENTHOOD IS CHALLENGING, BUT I feel mine was especially traumatic. One day, I was a childless English professor whose most pressing concern was handing out final grades; four days later, my daughter, Lauren, was born a few weeks prematurely. I hadn't even had time to read What to Expect: The First Year, and believe me, I knew absolutely nothing about what to expect. Adding to the pressure was the knowledge that in six short weeks, my wife, Michele, would be returning to her OB-GYN residency at the hospital near our home in Toledo, Ohio. She would be the sole breadwinner and I would be the primary caregiver. She worked brutal hours, sometimes more than forty-eight straight, and despite her specialty, we quickly learned that there's a big difference between delivering someone else's baby and taking care of your own. On top of that, we had no relatives in our area to help us.

After three and a half weeks, our problems grew even larger due to the onset of colic, the common but dreaded condition characterized by long bouts of inconsolable wailing. (The baby was often upset during these periods, too.) The only way to comfort Lauren was to breast-feed her frequently for long periods of time—sometimes as often as every two hours—around the clock. Thank goodness Michele was there for those first few weeks.

As week six approached, however, I was getting increasingly anxious. How would I ever be able to console my colicky daughter? Shortly before returning to her job, Michele started to pump her breast milk, and I started trying to bottle-feed Lauren. Unfortunately, she was fervently rejecting the bottle, which of course was my only option as a stay-at-home dad. To calm her, I tried carrying her on my chest for hours, giving her pacifiers, and taking her for rides in our minivan. Nothing worked, at least not consistently. I even tried to soothe her with the sound of the vacuum, which worked pretty well—but only for as long as I kept the vacuum running. After Michele went back to work, my misery intensified. Lauren would cry for hours on end before finally succumbing to exhaustion. But even then, she wouldn't sleep for long. If I didn't find a solution, I was going to need to be committed.

Finally, one night, after an especially horrible ten-hour stretch, I was at my breaking point. My wife had been gone all day and was on call that night, and there I was again: at home and alone with a screaming baby. A new appreciation for the plight of stay-at-home mothers washed over me. As I held Lauren and threw my head back in exasperation, a fuzzy, pink blur in the corner of our bedroom caught my eye. Hanging on a hook near the bathroom was my wife's bathrobe—a very short, plush robe that smelled like vanilla. And at that moment, I got an idea.

In the throes of deep, deep desperation, I slipped into my wife's bathrobe. I was aware, on some level, of how absurd this was—but I couldn't have cared less. I sat down with Lauren in my arms and held the bottle against my chest at a breastlike angle. And suddenly, a pause in the screaming. A sucking noise. And finally, blissfully, the sound of a baby beginning her meal. I was stunned. I was elated. Incredibly, this simulation of my wife's scent and shape did the trick. Needless to say, it was not my manliest moment—but it didn't stop me from repeating it in the future whenever necessary.

Vincent O'Keefe is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad in Lakewood, Ohio. He and his wife have now successfully weaned two daughters.

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