Rafael became a dad at 23
Rafael was 23 when he became a dad. Carefree, he munched on life without worrying about the next day and without imagining for a single second becoming a father. So how do you accept that your life will never be the same again, how do you take responsibility for the arrival of a child without having chosen it and how to reorganize your daily life when you have just entered the life of a young professional? Rafael returned to his story and the birth of his son Zachary. He shares with us without taboos and with emotion his testimony on the arrival of his little boy, his construction as a father and the precious bond he has forged with him.
Can you introduce yourself ?
My name is Rafael, I am 34 years old, I live in Montreal. I am the father of a boy named Zachary who is 11 years old. I have worked in the jewelry world for a long time on the customer, management and repair side. Last year, I resumed my studies to reconnect with my creative side and to be able to learn jewelry creation.
I have been in a relationship with my partner for almost 11 years, but who is not my son’s mother.
Can you explain the context in which Zachary was born ?
At the time, I was in a relationship for a short time with someone older than me. Very quickly, she felt the desire to have a child, which I didn’t at all. I was 23 and I had no idea where this relationship was going to take us. I lived my life with intensity and was a real “hothead”.
I don’t want to go into the exact circumstances of the context in which Zac was conceived, but one day my ex-partner told me she was expecting a child. It was a total surprise to me, I had never imagined becoming a father so young and especially not with someone I had been dating for such a short time.
I didn’t necessarily want to keep the baby, but his mother imposed two uncompromising choices on me: either I had to fully commit to the role of the father, or she would cut ties with me. The decision was not easy to make. It was a long process, I thought about it a lot. I was fortunate to have the support of my parents who stood by me regardless of my decision.
Sometimes I imagined meeting my son and his mother on the street and this scenario was unbearable to me. I couldn’t have this story on my mind. I then made the decision to take responsibility for and invest in fatherhood. I couldn’t imagine all the emotional implications that the birth of a child entails until the birth of Zach.
"Sometimes I imagined meeting my son and his mother on the street and this scenario was unbearable to me."
Can you tell us about Zach's birth ?
For my part, I really had the click at birth. From the first second I saw him, this little baby became the seventh wonder of the world. It was truly an epiphany, everything suddenly lit up, I felt like I understood the meaning of life.
The mom had a pretty complicated cesarean, she was in the recovery room so I spent the first few moments skin-to-skin with Zach.
His eyes were wide open and we stared into each other’s eyes for minutes. A suspended moment, out of time. He was looking for the breast, I gave him my little finger and he sucked it hard right away.
He discovered the world and I discovered myself as a father. I was completely upset, several feelings crossed me, I wondered who was this little being that I had just met and at the same time I already loved myself infinitely.
As an anecdote, the midwife warned me not to fall asleep with the baby in my arms, but after long minutes and too much emotion, we both fell asleep.
What has changed in your daily life, how are you organized ?
At the time, I worked in a jewelry store where the pace was very intense and very stressful. I was working endless hours, it was not at all compatible with a newborn baby. Especially since Zach was born on November 30th and we were in the busiest time with the holiday season. I was able to take my paternity leave in January.
Then very quickly, the story with Zach’s mom didn’t hold up, we broke up after the birth. I then found a more flexible job and returned to live with my father who had a large house.
At first I had custody of Zach once a week, then after a few months we started shared custody. My parents also helped me a lot, I remember my father getting up sometimes at night to give him a bottle and my mother was also very involved.
What did you find the most difficult ?
What I found the hardest part was having a child with someone I didn’t like. My instinct was to tell myself that raising a child with someone you love must be amazing. Still, I’m doing my best to raise Zach.
I also found the societal pressure and the pressure of the medical profession very heavy around the injunctions of “the good father of a family”. I would also like to talk about my experience as a young dad in the hospital during Zach’s birth.
I had a lot of questions for the doctor, like all dads and the doctor completely ignored me, he was answering Zach’s mom without looking at me. Obviously, I didn’t fit the ideal image of a father. A doctor even said contemptuously: “are you really 18 to be here?” I was really marked by all this condescension from the hospital staff, but I hope to be an isolated case.
"I also found the societal pressure and the pressure from the medical profession very heavy around the injunctions of the good father."
Did his birth change your relationship with your friends ?
With some friends, the gap was so abysmal that many relationships ended on their own, then very soon, after breaking up with her mother, I met my current partner who immediately accepted Zach. I didn’t feel like I had to make a lot of concessions with the arrival of my son because I quickly took him everywhere with me.
We sometimes forget that children adapt well. Zach knows all of my friends and is very comfortable with everyone. He made his first big trip at 16 months to travel to France with his family.
What kind of daddy are you with Zach ?
I am close to his reality, I still have a child’s heart, so we share a lot and we are very close. Zach is a little boy who immersed himself in an adult world quickly, he adapts everywhere. He is very endearing and very funny. As we say in Quebec “he hasn’t always had it easy” but he has great resilience, he always impresses me. He maybe quite anxious but he’s a little boy who has always been disciplined by him. -even.
I don’t think of myself as a harsh dad, I always kept my daredevil tendency, I never put him in a bubble. The hyper-safety of children annoys me greatly, I am not oblivious, I know there are risks but I have decided to trust Zach by promoting his independence as much as possible.
Zach probably saved me too, I was “a young jerk” back then, his birth made me a responsible adult and I accepted right away what it means to raise a child.
Do you have any advice for future young fathers ?
Remember that every moment is precious and make the most of every day.
I made the decision that this would be my only child and at no time will I go back. I enjoy and grow with him every step of the way. You also have to listen to yourself and do what you think is right for the child even if it is not the easy way. I’ve always discussed anything and everything with Zachary, never spoke to him in an infantilizing voice.
Also, in today’s society which sometimes leaves less room for the father, I would advise not to hesitate to take his place of father in all spheres of your child’s life.
"Remember that every moment is precious and make the most of every day. "