I don’t know if my observation is true for women, but I’m pretty sure that it is for most men. We men like dramatic situations that allow us to be heroes. This applies to dads, too. We want to prove our love for our children in a life-or-death incident, which in turn also gives us the opportunity for a great story.
Or perhaps it could be a conflict with another parent whose child bullies my child or pretty much any circumstance that allows me to be the hero in a single dramatic incident and expose myself to danger to show how much I am willing to sacrifice for my child and how utterly massive my love for my child is.
But that is not how it really is for dads.
You show your love by being there for the long haul without getting anything in return, except a happy child who perhaps would have been just as happy regardless of your efforts—you’ll never know.
You show your love by standing there at 2 a.m., covered in vomit while holding and trying to comfort your baby girl who is screaming into your ear. All the while, you’ll be frustrated as hell because vomit makes the baby slippery and you don’t want to drop her, so you’ll basically use the baby to rub vomit all over yourself in your efforts to keep her in your arms.
You show your love by enduring the boring stuff that they find fascinating, like watching Curious George on Netflix for the millionth time or reading the same book over and over and over and over, and over, and over. You get the picture, right?
You show your love by waiting patiently for your child to finish their temper tantrum so you’ll be able to change the poop-diaper without getting shit everywhere, knowing that each second you wait makes it more uncomfortable for the child.
You show your love by being there when it’s hard or even next to impossible. Anyone can be there when it’s easy.
I can be a silly guy, so it’s easy for me to make my 2-year-old daughter laugh. With a single look at her, I’ll have her giggling. Daddy’s funny. She knows, I know. I’m funny and she laughs. We’re a great team that way. I play the guitar and she’ll dance around, either alone or with her mom.
We’ll play with Legos, read books, look at cars through the window, go to the playground. All that stuff can sometimes be a bit boring or tough when you’re sleep deprived.
But you’ll see what you are really made of when you’ve only gotten 3 hours of sleep every night for a week, and you’re standing there covered in vomit in the middle of the night. You know that it will be at least an hour before you’re back in bed, and even though you have an important meeting in the morning, your wife also has an important thing the next day so you’re on your own.
You will deal with it, and you will do it gently even though some deep, dark part of your mind tells you that you could have avoided this situation by just not having that damned kid, or perhaps something even darker. And when your child finally falls asleep, there is no “thank you” or anything that indicates gratitude. There are no witnesses to your great sacrifice.
However you handle a situation like that is between you and your own conscience, and still you will find that you always handle it gently and in the best possible way for your child.
You will sacrifice so much dignity, sleep and many other things. Your body will ache from sitting in an uncomfortable position beside the bed, holding the child’s hand to show that you are there. And there is nothing in it for you. No reward. Nothing.
That’s how you dads show their love. Not by doing something big and drastic, but by being the best parent you can be without expecting any kind of recognition for it. No one told me that part.
But then again, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.
This post originally appeared on Quora.