By Evo Steele*
Marriage and fatherhood bring out the best in some. But for many it's an unbearable weight, and so they leave.Why is this?
1 April 2010
“Oh, you know your wife won't be interested in anything apart from that little one,” the maternity nurse blurted out during my first solo newborn bathing lesson. “So, I may as well take off until he's finished high school,” I joked back. The laughing promptly stopped. She excused herself and left.
My first lesson in the secret society that is motherhood. Had I touched a raw nerve? Is it that common for new dads to do a bunk after having kids? Some simple research reveals it may well be.
In his essay, Why men leave – a hidden epidemic, Dr John Travis suggests that the birth of a child can trigger a withdrawal by men with tenuous emotional relationships or poor bonds with – wait for it! – their mothers, that Oedipal elephant in the room.
He suggests an “unbonded” man like this can manage pretty well in marriages for a while, but when “mommy” gives birth and shifts her focus from her man-child to her newborn, the nurturing they need is lost. Jealousy and alienation kick in and you know what happens next.
There could be something to this Freudian stuff. But there could also be deeper biological answers. Look at all the mammal species where the male doesn't share in the parenting. Powerful instincts urge them to sow their seed in pastures new. Sure, there are species, especially birds, that do pair for life and share the parenting admirably. But the point is still valid.
Now add to this cocktail of psychology and biology, sleepless nights, very short tempers, raging hormones and emotions, and you have a less than harmonious household. Men have gone to war and found peace in the quiet of the trenches. Jokes aside, some seek jobs abroad, or turn to booze, other women and assorted distractions – just leaving by another name.
Of course, we mustn't forget sex, or lack of it. Modern men pretty much know the days of conjugal rights are dead. But for some, the weeks of abstinence become months, and the months drag into years of interrupted sex – when tiny feet will patter into the bedroom at an awkward moment.
At the opposite extreme, you get husbands who struggle to find the ‘mother of their child' sexy like before. Memories of the birth, breasts-as-food-not-fun, physical changes… you get the idea.
It's impossible to get into the head of every man who contemplates leaving his wife and young child. Surely, it's never an easy decision. Yet the silver lining in the divorce statistics is that, for every man who leaves, there is another who stays. He may experience the above instincts, toils and emotions, but the laughter and love of a child – his child – makes it worth sticking around.
Divorce statistics: www.nationmaster.com/country/be-belgium/peo-people
Why men leave: http://wellness.thewellspring.com/WhyMen
Oedipal Complex: http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Oedipal_complex
*Evo Steele is a Brussels-based journalist.
This article first appeared in the March issue of (A)way magazine. Republished here with the author's consent. ©Evo Steele. All rights reserved.