Everything I Was Too Afraid to Be: On Fatherhood and Mental Health

Recently, I had the good fortune to meet a fellow mental health advocate in person. Gabriel Nathan (Gabe – just like me) is the Editor-in-Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries and a man who lives with depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts. We talked about a great many things, but the topic that fascinated me the most is that he is the father of twins.

“How on earth can you manage mental illness AND a child — let alone two?” was my first thought.

While it is a difficult task, it is a rewarding one. When asked what makes parenting so rewarding, I expected him to give the typical answer of how being a dad is the greatest and most meaningful job in the world. And probably something about how great it is to receive love and affection from his children.

However, he recalled the instances when their personality shone through as the most rewarding factor.

He described his kids as “skeptical, sardonic, boundary testing, impish, and sly,” and it is when these aspects of their character are at a peak that a smile widens across his face. Their shrewd independence, their ability to fly in the face of the traditional, and their attitude of indifference towards society’s special occasions — more specifically, the first day of school — are the very things he admires most about his children. He explains, “They are everything I was too afraid to be, and maybe that’s what’s most rewarding. My children are ballsy, which is a pretty significant achievement because their father is an anxiety-ridden, depressed, obsessive fraidy-cat.”

What Is Day-to-Day Life Like for a Parent Who Lives with Mental Illness?

Parenting, as wonderful as it may be, does include some marital strain. While he loves his wife intensely and completely, Gabe does reveal that there are philosophical differences regarding parenting between the two. While his wife may be more concerned with their diet and sleep patterns, Gabe’s daily focus tends to be on the bigger picture. An establishment of roles and playing upon each other’s strengths as parents are a key part of loosening that strain and working together to avoid clashing.

While I was interested in the parenting process, I was equally intrigued by how Gabe handles working and parenting, when parenting seems like a full-time job all on its own. Fortunately, Gabe does most of his work during the day while his children are off at school.

When they come home, he tries his best to turn away from the work and turn his focus towards his children, a balance of life and work he is appreciative to have. While some previous jobs were not terribly respectful of that, his current position allows him to balance his duties as a father and is ideal for the working parent.

Even though he turns off his working mind while he is with his children, he does not keep them exempt from his work. Regarding his children he explained, “They know that I work for a website that tells stories about people who struggle with recovery and how they think and feel, and I love that. Teaching them about mental health through OC87 Recovery Diaries is a real privilege.”

Mental Health Issues and Fatherhood

All in all, the question I was most eager to learn the answer to, was “How has having children impacted your mental health?” While postpartum is often discussed from a woman’s point of view, Gabe has yet to read a story from a man about postpartum depression or how fatherhood has affected their mental health.

Society has built the idea that fathers are supposed to be strong and impenetrable, a hurtful stereotype that has caused far too many fathers to avoid talking about their mental health after the birth of their children. Gabe revealed that his mental health was never great, but it has definitely declined since his emergence into fatherhood.

Gabe gives the following advice for those struggling with their mental health under the immense pressure of being a father: “If you’re a father and you’re struggling with your mental health, do the best thing you can ever do for yourself and for your family: see a therapist. Talk. And, when you think you’ve talked enough, do it more.”

As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, I was particularly impressed with how matter-of-fact he was when saying all this. I’m not that confident I have control over my own life, let alone being able to care for little ones.

But Gabe carries on day-in and day-out and describes his life as good. And, for a man who defines himself as an “anxiety-ridden, depressed, obsessive fraidy-cat,” I consider him every bit as “ballsy” as his children.

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