Recently, a friend of mine informed me that he and his wife are expecting their first child in March. As a veteran father of 16.5 months with a second due around the same time as his first, he looked to me for answers to some of his questions, from finding day care and telling our HR department to the childbirth experience.
In order to better help him and any other expectant fathers out there, the following is a guide to ease into parenthood with dignity, purpose, a sense of humor and take the initial steps toward insuring your kid doesn’t develop into an uptight douchebag.
- No amount of storytelling and advice will prepare you for childbirth. Everyone’s birth story and hospital experience is different. The breathing/pre-birth classes give you a great feel for the hospital, where you’re going, etc. but after that, every person’s experience is different.
- That being said, be prepared for anything that comes up during childbirth. Because every person’s story is different, the only real advice is to be flexible and go with the flow. Dad-to-be, your job is to be moral and physical support during what is likely the most intense emotional and physical experience your baby mama will ever go through. You need to be calm, supportive and rational, the steady hand and shoulder that the situation requires.
- Once your baby is born, breathe and let your emotions out. You just finished a 9-month odyssey capped with a visceral finish. Seeing your child for the first time is indescribable. Everything, the waiting, the doctor visits, the ultrasounds, rearranging your life to fit a baby, all of that wraps up the second you hold your son or daughter and look into his or her eyes for the first time.
- Breastfeeding is a mother fucker. The parenting books and the classes rightly tell you about the health benefits (for mother and child) of breastfeeding, but here’s what they don’t tell you: it’s really fucking difficult. You would think that since it’s the natural route, it’d also be the easiest. It’s not. For mother and child to establish a comfortable feeding routine can be tricky, time-consuming and extraordinarily stressful. After all, the sustenance of baby depends on it. So remember, if it seems like the baby and mother aren’t clicking right away, it happens. Give it time.
- Be there. Look, being father to a newborn is fucking nuts. Time becomes an abstract concept. A million things happen each day, both wonderful and terrifying. You learn on the fly. You’ll be exhausted, confused and frustrated. Imagine how your baby mama feels. She’s figuring out breastfeeding/being woken up every 2-3 hours to feed the baby, so she’s sleepy. And that’s after pushing something the size of a watermelon out of her vagina (or had a surgical procedure to get the baby out, which requires extra resting time), so there’s some much-needed convalescence that just isn’t happening. Then factor in the physical and hormonal changes that took place over the past 9 months and the body’s slow adjustment to not carrying your demon spawn inside its womb. Plus, she’s learning how to be a parent for the first time, too. Sounds like a lot, right? So don’t be a dick and leave everything Mom to handle. Be proactive. Change some diapers, hold the baby, get him or her back to sleep, move quickly and help her out if it seems like she’s struggling. That means pay attention. How is her mood? Is she in physical pain? Watch, listen and be there. Then, let mom get some rest and readjust to the non-pregnant life, so she can better be up for the saga that is parenthood.
- Nothing will ever be the same. Certain things you enjoyed doing before a baby won’t happen again for years. Sleeping in, going out whenever you want, doing things on a whim. That’s not really a thing any more. You make plans for a sitter or to situate events around naps and feedings before going out. You’re awake in the wee small hours. You’ll see the sun rise most mornings for a long time. So when you get the opportunity to go out, just you and your lady, savor it and make it count. This goes for pre- and post-birth. Like going to Target? Go early and often now, then set a time (monthly or whenever) to go after the baby is born. Do something fun, whether it’s a movie or a delicious dinner out, and know that it doesn’t make you a bad person to enjoy yourself. It makes you human. Just don’t take it for granted.
- Give your kid some goddamn soul. Look, at some point your kid is going to want to listen to that shitty Raffi/Barney and Friends kiddie shit. It’s bound to happen and it’s good for his or her intellectual development. In the meantime, use those formative early months to inject some real music into your baby’s psyche. It could be the Beatles or the Stones, Elvis or whatever. For my son, it was the soul-funk of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ 2014 Give the People What They Want. Brie and I listened to it non-stop pre-birth and it was the last thing we had on in the car on our way to the hospital. In those early weeks when Elliot was colicky and miserably, it was the sounds of that album that would lull him to sleep. 16 months later, he still claps to listen to it when he’s rampaging around the house or going apeshit in his jumper. In the winter, it was the hard funk of James Brown’s early ’70s output. The kid could wiggle and smile to “It’s a New Day” and stopped mid-feeding to look toward the television when “Try Me” came on. The kid’s got a perceptive ear. It’s things like that that let me know I’m doing something right.
- Don’t be a dick. Get your kid vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers are weirdos. Don’t be those parents. Polio and hepatitis are shitty diseases that can and should be avoided. Don’t make your kid the vector that gets all the other kids at day care and school sick. Plus, all the other parents will talk shit about you behind your back. God knows they won’t be talking to your crazy ass.
- Don’t be a dick. Don’t make your hang-ups your kid’s too. Don’t like gay marriage? Hate minorities? Think the end is nigh? Keep it to yourself. Your baby is a blank slate, looking at the world with a sense of wonderment and expectation. Don’t ruin it by being hateful or intolerant of others. Let your kid draw his or her own conclusions about people and the world. Good parents let their kids develop their own worldview, even if it runs counter to their own. My parents let me figure shit out on my own without indoctrination or turning me into the type of person asking to see Obama’s birth certificate. No one likes the precocious twerp opining like he or she is the guest pundit on Face the Nation, so do the world a favor and keep it to yourself.
- Nothing will ever gross you out again, but if it does it must be really nasty. After baby puke, poop diapers and excrement-related mishaps that literally leave you with a mess on your hands, your threshold for what’s disgusting is raised extraordinarily high. If you have an easy-to-trigger gag reflex, you’ll lose it fast. After that, if something makes you dry heave or feel sick, you know it’s bad.
- Sometimes shit happens. Dropping, even almost dropping your baby is terrifying. Your toddler will trip and get bruises, scrapes and bloody noses. Make sure your baby isn’t seriously injured, but just know that these things will happen. You aren’t a bad parent. Everything will be fine.
- Enjoy it because it goes by fast. This time last year, Elliot couldn’t even roll over. Now, he sprints across the house and yard and is about to start toddler gymnastics. Point being, time flies. There will be a lot of frustrating moments, but also so many that will fill you with a joy you can’t even articulate. Enjoy those, from the first smile in your direction to the cognitive and physical developments. Even the aforementioned literal mess on your hands is worth a laugh at some point. Your baby will do a lot of things each day that seem mundane to non-parents, but will blow your mind each and every time you see your kid do them. Revel in those times. They go by fast.