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To all dads: Parental leave is an opportunity, seize it!

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My son is nine months old and that's how long I've been a dad! Sometimes I still can't believe it. The feeling of being a dad had to sink in first. It definitely wasn't there from the start. Of course, I immediately did all of the tasks that new dads do: changing diapers, soothing belly massages, cuddling, comforting, and feeding. Yet, there was an invisible wall between what I did and how I felt. I can vividly remember a minor disagreement with my wife. She asked me straightforwardly if I wasn't the "baby type". During a vacation in July, she pointed out differences in the way we treated our son. Our best friend was also present, making the differences even more noticeable. Unlike him, I wasn't able to immerse myself in Rubin's world as easily or effortlessly connect with him. My wife obviously sensed the barrier I already mentioned. This conversation transpired at the beginning of my paternity leave, when Rubin was already five months old. That was the moment when I became aware of the discrepancy. I found myself feeling a mix of hurt and surprise. Until that moment, I was sure that I had been doing quite well. And that was true. I did know how to satisfy his needs, but being a dad means more than taking care of your child. Now I know what my wife meant back then. I was too distant and too pragmatic in the first few months. I simply lacked the capacity to enter his realm of childlike wonder.

Why was that more difficult for me initially than, say, for my wife? Unlike her, I only met my son when he was born. The pregnancy, the baby growing within, the upcoming parenthood – it was all very abstract to me until the birth. My perspective shifted dramatically upon his arrival. Many things instantaneously gained tangibility, and yet some things remained uncertain. Establishing a connection with him took time. This dynamic is also partly influenced by my personality. I’m generally not somebody who makes new friends quickly. That's just how I am. And it played out similarly with my son. I just needed time to grasp his essence and understand his individual traits. 

We are past the getting-to-know-you phase now, and that invisible wall is gone. I can not only interpret his different sounds, but I also know which need is behind which cry, reliably providing comfort. But I also realize that I'm his role model, entrusted with the duty of setting an example. Every day, I have to step into his shoes and perceive the world through his eyes to truly comprehend what he needs.

This process of enlightenment has been a gradual journey over the last few months, and fortunately, I've managed to do it. This is all thanks to my parental leave. For me, being a dad means working on myself, starting fresh every day. After the first few months spent at home, I've come to recognize the immense value of being a full-time dad. I've grown more self-assured, I know the daily routine inside out, from dawn till dusk, and I've fully immersed myself into the world of babyhood. Balancing this with my job wouldn't have been feasible. I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to fully dedicate myself to this role. This is why I wholeheartedly urge all fathers to capitalize on their parental leave. This time is yours; seize it. There's no better time to truly grasp the essence of being a dad.

Written by

Bernd Roschnik

I'm Papa Bernd. My name is slowly starting to match my age, even though it will be a few more years before I'm Grandpa. My son was born in March of 2021. Getting there wasn't always easy. My desire to have children was only fulfilled indirectly in a fertility practice. I could not have done all this without my incredibly strong and brave wife. Being a dad has held a lot of highs for me, but also some lows. Never in my life have I been so happy and so overwhelmed at the same time. But every day I gain more security and become more relaxed. I am particularly happy that I can spend a lot of time with my son and that we are already a real team.