One of the benefits of starting this blog has been making unexpected connections. One such connection has been with a podcasting duo who call themselves Dad Like Me.
The premise: host Jon is an expectant father and he is documenting his own journey into fatherhood via his podcast. His longtime friend Ben is the childless co-host and foil with which Jon bounces his experiences off of. They are a very amusing pair and listening to them has caused me to reminisce about my own journey into fatherhood. Journey may be too generous; bumbling stagger into fatherhood may be more accurate.
After listening to the first few episodes, I thought I’d write down my own reflections on this period in my life. I wanted to focus in on the first few months of having a new baby. Down the road I’ll give you pro dad tips like invest in a pair of slippers with a hard sole and never take them off. This will help you when you inevitably step in the puddles of pee, mashed up food that has found its way to the floor, and unnecessarily sharp Legos. You won’t have to worry about that for at least the next few months. Today I want to focus on the journey to becoming a father.
Fatherhood is one of the few experiences I’ve had that I am unable to capture with mere words. I could write for a hundred years and still not fully convey what it is to become a father. It is just one of those things that you have to experience for yourself in order to understand it.
While I won’t be able to convey the profoundness of fatherhood, I hope I can offer some sage advice or at least moderately adequate tips to help you prepare for your own journey into fatherhood.
The Inconvenience of Parenthood
Your life is about to get a lot more inconvenient. Before having kids, my wife and I would occasionally go on midnight dates to a 24 hour restaurant near us. I realized this practice was a thing of the past the week we brought my eldest son home from the hospital. Late one night, during a rare moment of quiet in our house, I remember looking over at my wife and just before I asked her if she wanted to go out to eat, I realized that was no longer an option.
We had a sleeping baby in the other room and child protection would probably frown upon us abandoning the child to grab a quick bite to eat. Sure we could bring the baby with us, but if you’ve ever spent 45 minutes trying to get a new born to fall asleep you’d know that risking waking him up wasn’t an option.
I was no longer calling the shots in my own life. Instead, every decision was being determined by the whims of an 8-pound dictator. Want to sit on the couch and relax? The dictator would prefer you walk around the house gently swaying him. Dare to refuse, be prepared for torture that the Geneva Convention wouldn’t allow.
How about sitting down for a nice meal? The dictator thinks that’s the best time to fill his britches. The nicer the meal the larger the volume and worse the smell. The thought of eating after changing him will turn your stomach. Get accustomed to the things you want to do taking a back seat to what the dictator needs.
Thinking of leaving the house? I hope you have a small fleet of moving vans at your disposal, because leaving the house now requires an entourage of baby stuff. Diaper bag. Check. Extra clothes for when the dictator’s feces climb up his back and seeps through his clothing. Check. Extra extra clothes for when the backup clothes gets food on them and the dictator won’t stop screaming until his food soaked clothes are removed. Check. Car seat. Check. Car seat base. Check. Bouncy chair for when the dictator gets tired and would like to be gently bounced to sleep. Check. Snack. Check. Back up snack. Check. Back up back up snack in case you end up being out longer than anticipated. Check. Blanket that the dictator shows no interest in and you inevitably forget, but then have to drive back to get when the dictator refuses to sleep without it later that night. Check. Bag full of toys. Check.
And guess who gets to carry all this stuff? Dad. Every time you wish to leave the house as a family unit, this entourage will be coming with you. And every other trip will take twice as long because you’ll inevitably forget one of these items only to realize it halfway to your destination and have to turn back.
Moms At Least Get Eased into this Reality
Moms get nine months to slowly acclimate to these inconveniences. They have to restrict their diet and alcohol consumption. Then comes the morning sickness. When that finally subsides, they are painfully aware of all the discomforts that come along with having another human grow inside them. So when the baby is born, mothers have adapted to poor sleep and have generally given up on ever being comfortable again.
First time dads on the other hand are usually in for a rude awakening. During the nine months of pregnancy their life usually doesn’t change. So when the baby is born, the change happens all at once. Over night they go from having complete control over their life to having virtually none.
I’m being melodramatic. It really isn’t as bad as all that. Sure life will be less convenient, but the tradeoff is worth it. Being a dad is the best thing I have ever done and I’ve gone to space (okay, so I haven’t been to space, but I can imagine that being a dad is better).
What to Expect
Remember that feeling just after you got your driver’s license and you took the car out for the first time? It was a mix of excitement, responsibility, freedom, trepidation, and maybe a little panic thrown in for good measure. Leaving the hospital with your child is the same, just amplified by a million.
It didn’t really hit me in the hospital. There were nurses popping in and out of the room, doctors checking in every so often and a stream of family and friends bringing balloons and flowers. Enough distractions and support to fool yourself into thinking things are normal. But then you walk out of the hospital, triple check the car seat and drive home at 5 miles per hour, and it hits you.
There is this helpless thing that is completely and utterly dependent upon you and no one will be there to tell you when you are screwing things up. You have this massive amount of responsibility with no oversight. It’s like getting a job at a nuclear power plant. Upon your hiring, you are told that your job is vitally important, literally life and death. But when you show up for you first day there is no one to train you or supervise you. You just have to figure it out on your own and hope the world doesn’t end while you’re figuring it out.
Eventually you do figure it out. That baby you just brought home has a few basic needs: food, comfort/security, and sleep. Unfortunately, the only way it can alert you to one of those needs is through crying.
If you watch closely enough, you’ll eventually pick up on the babie’s tells. It’ll start stretching or rubbing its eyes when it wants to sleep. Or smack it’s lips when it wants to eat. Every baby is different; whatever you figure out for the first kid will be worthless with your second.
The First Few Weeks
The best bit of advice I got as an expectant father was that my job was to help my wife with whatever she needed. Both of our children nursed, which meant that my wife was the only one of us that could provide one of the only things our kids needed. It also meant that she was the one that woke up with them most of the time during those first few weeks. And when she was nursing she really couldn’t get up or move around.
With our youngest this wasn’t that big of a deal as he was a relatively fast nurser, but our oldest took his time: around 45 minutes to an hour. He nursed roughly eight times per day. This translated to my wife spending up to eight hours stuck in the same chair day after day. Since I couldn’t do much to help my baby, I took it upon myself to help my wife in whatever way she needed.
When she was thirsty, I was there with water. If she needed something to read, I had books and magazines at the ready. Need an extra pillow to prop up the baby’s head? I was there. When she wanted to take a nap or go to bed early, I would do everything in my power to keep the baby occupied and quiet. Only when things became really dire would I wake my wife to nurse him.
My first act as a father was to be a great husband, or at least a decent husband. As my first-born got older, I was able to help more and connect more with him. I’ve continued to muddle my way through fatherhood figuring it out as I go. But those are lessons for a different day.
Hopefully, this was slightly amusing and somewhat informative. If you are an expectant father who has come here through Dad Like Me or just stumbled across it via the wonders of the Internet, you have my heartfelt congratulations. Your life is about to change in the best possible way!
Note to the Readers: Be sure to check out Dad Like Me. Their first episode includes a awkwardly amusing anecdote about how the two hosts met. And as an added benefit, I may be appearing in an upcoming episode, which I’ll be sure to let you all know about through twitter.
Where to Find Dad Like Me:
- Website: dadlikeme.com
- iTunes: Dad Like Me Podcast
- SoundCloud: Dad Like Me Podcast
- Twitter: @DadLikeMeUK
I’d love to hear from you:
Expectant Parents: What are most afraid of at the prospect of becoming a parent? What are you most looking forward to? What questions do you have about what to expect?
New or Seasoned Parents: How is parenthood different from what you expected? Does your experience echo mine or do you have additional advice to offer?