Joe Kay became a father last September, when he and his wife Lori welcomed daughter Annie into the world.
A mere three days later he was back at work, feeling guilty about leaving his family and desperate to return home.
"It was really hard," says Mr. Kay, 34, a TV writer in Toronto. "For the first three weeks, I came home from work pretty late and Lori went to sleep, so I stayed up with Annie for pretty much the entire night, sleeping every so often.
"I wanted to give Lori a break, and I needed to because she was really losing it, she was so tired. She just needed some sleep so badly. And I just wanted to be with both of them."
Many men can relate to Mr. Kay's sentiments, as more fathers these days are finding it harder to go back to work following the arrival of a newborn. Like mothers returning to the office after maternity leave, new dads are feeling angst over separating from their baby, not to mention guilt over being unable to ease the burden on mom.
That, combined with short leaves from work that offer hardly enough time to adjust to parenthood, let alone build a bond with a newborn, is making it tough for fathers trying to balance the competing demands of family and work.
"There's definitely some guilty feelings," says Kevin Lasko, 29, a Toronto lawyer who lives in suburban Thornhill.
"You get caught up in the moment of the birth and being involved in the whole process; you have some time to spend with your wife and child, and then all of a sudden you have this obligation and you have to get back to what you do. Someone has to make money and go back to work. You want to spend time with your family, especially around this moment. It's definitely mixed emotions."
Mr. Lasko spent slightly more a week at home with his wife, Kathy, and son, Shale, but much of that time was eaten up by trips to the hospital to care for the baby's jaundice. Shale was fine when Kevin returned to work, leaving him to cope with exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
"I was definitely not used to working on the amount of sleep I was getting," he says. "When I was getting home from work, I was much more tired than I'd normally be."
Alyson Schafer, a Toronto-based parenting expert and author of the bestselling book Breaking the Good Mom Myth, has heard stories like this before and says the number of fathers struggling to cope with it all is on the rise.
Unlike men from the previous generation or two, Ms. Schafer points out, new fathers are not content playing passive roles in caring for their newborn. But extra duties at home combined with the office workload can put extra strain on men, and it's something new parents need to be aware of.
"The old days where a man never really held or rocked [a baby]or changed a diaper in his parenting role, those days are gone," Ms. Schafer says. "Dads are emotionally invested and they want to be there.
"Problems can arise from not being appreciated for really doing double duty. By the time they get home from work, they've already worked a full day ... and then when they come home, mom's tired because she's been doing kid stuff all day and so she wants to hand off so that she can get a break. I think the perception of dad is that he didn't get a break at all, because he went right from work to being respite care for mom."
Jim Marchment, a 35-year-old high-school teacher in Port Perry, Ont., decided to take care of all the night-time feedings after daughter Arden was born, thus allowing his wife Stephanie to be well rested for when he was at work.
And while a happy mother made for a happy father at home - "That's exactly true. Figure out what your wife wants you to do to make her life easier," he says - it also on occasion made for an irritable colleague at work.
"A few times I'd get short with people I shouldn't get short with," Mr. Marchment admits. "There were times I'd be unreasonable, where I haven't slept, I'm exhausted and you get into some silly argument."
Mr. Kay, the TV writer, says things get better as the child gets older. His daughter Annie is more than seven months now, and he and his wife can't believe how much their lives have changed. His advice to new dads feeling overwhelmed is to keep in mind that the initial crunch eases and you do settle into a routine that works.
"If I think back on the first eight weeks, I can barely even remember them, it was a blur," he says. "... You're trying to figure out what you're doing and you don't have a clue. ...
"We laugh about it now because Annie is so much easier to handle in every way."