man's search for fatherly advice

A week or so ago, I posed a set of questions to some of my friends who are fathers. The content of the email was this:

"remember when your wife was pregnant with your first child?
remember when you were about two away from having your live changed forever?

what would the present, january-2009-you, say to the two-months-away-from-being-a-pappa-you?

just looking for some sage advice. thanks gents."

I got back some great advice - and I wanted to share it with you guys - and also for it to open a dialogue between mothers, fathers, sons, daughters - and everything in between. What makes a good father? Keep in mind, my line of questioning was centered around what fathers wished they knew, or wished they could've said to their future self. I've geo-coded the responses (above) for that urban planner-nerd effect. Enjoy. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

"I was freaking out, trying to get everything done on our new house. Madly trying to finish everything that I knew would be forgotten once the kid was here.
I remember landscaping on the wednesday after Kerry lost. So very depressing. Cornelius was 3 weeks late.
It all turned out fine.
And I did have more time to finish projects...after about a year, but that probably says more about me and my situation than you and yours."

"I would read the Bradley birth book. Even if your wife is going to have an epidural, I think it's worth a read. Other than being knowledgeable about the whole birthing process, there's not a whole lot you can do. The things you're supposed to do with the baby will come up naturally. (not much you can do anyway as a husband besides hold it and change its diaper.)"

"Well, you know that I don't really have a knack for words, or advice for that matter, but I will tell you what I remember feeling. The first thing I thought was, "they are going to just let us leave with this baby? no oversight? no test to pass before we can take her home?". The fact of the matter is that you guys will do great. We thought like we had no idea what we were doing but we did it and it was a fun ride, and still is. Of course you know that you will be tired from now until you retire but that is just how it is. At least your kids make it worth it. I guess the best advice I can give is to trust your wife. She has motherly instincts and she knows what to do. She can read the babies emotions and knows how to respond. So listen to her and do what she says and what she needs and it will work. One thing that Beatrice pushed and I am really glad she did (this will come as the baby is older) is for me to put the kids to bed and read to them every night. That is time that I cherish and something I don't want to every miss. Anyway, I know you will be a great father and will have wonderful kids. Oh yeah, I almost forgot - remember to make time for your wife. Even if it is a movie after the kid is asleep. Being with a baby all day is not a trivial task and she will need some adult time and attention and praise from you. By the way, I already know you are good at this because Beatrice tells me all of the great things you do for Kittie. Well, I am excited for you and we can't wait to meet little Ronald. Maybe his middle name should be Guate Guate. Just an idea."

"my thoughts on this baby / fatherhood situation:

you're not going to screw anything up somehow by failing to read the right book, or being less prepared than you think you're supposed to be in some category of pre-fatherhood aptitudes. you're going to be the best dad there's ever been, whether you worry yourself to fits, or calmly watch, and react naturally.

billions and billions of fathers have come and gone, and you're one of them :: how much better equipped you must be than nearly any of they?
how conscious, and prepared, and engaged were all of those men?
how many of them had a home, or a loving, committed partner?
how many of those men had food to feed that little baby that came? what did they do, over the centuries, to provide for that child's needs?

just be conscious, man.
make and take as much time as you can to be present, and share and watch and care for him. it will be the most special thing that's ever happened, and that first 6 months won't ever happen again.
that, and just don't drop the baby."

"I guess I would tell my old self that it isn't nearly as nerve racking as I'm making it out to be. Some innate instinct kicks in and you realize that this is really important crap and if you aren't there to do it then nobody else is. The kid only has one dad. It's a good feeling. Great even.

Oh and also I'd tell my old self to enjoy my free time as much as I possibly can.
We just had our second two weeks ago.

Also Rodney I'm sure you are if you can, but take as much time off from work as they allow. The first two or three months are really hard depending on the baby and if you're around it helps you get the complete experience of being a parent, not just the typical dad stuff we're you're seen as someone either really fun or someone to be feared."

"I like the idea of my 2009-self advising my 2004-self. Here's what I would say:

* Speak highly of Yvonne around your kids. There's nothing cooler than watching Penny watch us show affection towards one another. I think it is so important for her to see that. It seems to me that kids only know what things are important because we treat them with importance.
* I think the most important thing you can give a child is high sense of self-worth or self-confidence. This might be more applicable with girls, but I'm constantly feeding my girls lines that build their sense of self-worth.

You may have been looking for clever one-liners with a hint of humor. I took the serious route instead. You're going to do awesome!"

"Hi Ned. I'm excited for you becoming a dad. You'll be a good one. When I was (I thought) two months away from being a papa, Percy was suddenly born early. We didn't have a name picked out yet, didn't own a car seat to take him home from the hospital, no crib, etc.

Some advice: Clear your schedule for a while. The baby won't need you at first, but your wife will. It's a strange time after a baby's birth, when time is loosed from it's normal rhythms of night and day, work and leisure. It will be easier if you don't have a lot of stuff to worry about while you spend a night walking the floor with a new baby. Just enjoy the time and know you can catch up on your sleep later, everything can wait. A person is only an infant once (except for certain outgoing U.S. presidents, but I digress). It seems to be a scary and painful experience being born, so the baby needs you to hold and sing and talk to him or her.

Also, Rosaline had a bout of post-partum depression after each of our two kids were born. With Willoughby, we didn't recognize it at first. I just thought Maeve was way too anxious when the baby would cry, awfully sensitive about things, always worrying. Once she got medication, everything evened out. Watch for signs of depression, because it can be quite serious in some women. And at least for us, medication worked great. (It's not the kind of depression that needs therapy or psychoanalysis---it's chemical and responds well to chemicals.)

Babies are such lovely little people. I am awestruck and surprised by how much I love my sons."

"Having a kid is tough. Get ready not relinquish all of your personal time and forfeit it over to the kid. It is my opinion that the difficulty that is inherent with caring for another makes the rewards sweeter.

Baby boys get boners. No crap. Nobody told me about it, but we looked it up and it is natural for little baby boys to get boners. Laugh it up!

Babies will learn the word “no” sooner than you think they will. So start using it so the kid will learn limits."


Dawn D. Lion said...

That was awesome! Very touching. You have great friends.
I have one for you that should be fun. Just before Ivan was born, I made a "babymoon" playlist on my ipod. Just sweet mellow songs that I thought would be good to listen to when hanging out with a newborn. (I chose Bright Eyes, Joanna Newsom, Sigur Ros...) It ended up being the perfect soundtrack. And now, whenever I hear any of those songs it reminds me of that ultimate sweet, intense time, and its nice to be able to return there, because it goes so fast.

david said...

great idea dawn. i'm going to do that!

Serena Cherry said...

I agree with Dawn. Once we brought Lane home I felt weird rocking out. So I got really into the mellow sweet songs and Lane still listens to the cd she did when she was a baby. I keep meaning to send Ashley a copy! Great advice.

clyde said...

Some really good advice. I'll try to put it to use as well.

MiaKatia said...

I love reading about fatherhood from a father's perspective. It really is interesting and sweet and tender to see what they took from those first few weeks and months.

Love the music idea. We ran through baby CD's of lullaby's but I think something contemporary and mellow would be even better.

Trust yourself and each other. I feel like the things that mattered most to me have mostly been said by your friends. I guess the only thing I would add is take lots of pictures, time flies so fast...

Liz said...

A lot of your friends are democrats like you, huh?

Aren't you glad you have me? The voice of reason?


My older bro and his wife just had their first yesterday. It's really weird to think of him as a father. But he's already just so smitten with the kid, it's really sweet.

david said...

yes liz. we are the majority you know. you should know that, living in a blue state and all. ; )

it was a tough 8 years. we had to stick together. now you'll get a dose of what we went through, although hopefully without the same catastrophes.

Sally DeFord said...

Hey David. I hope you don't mind I added you to my blog list. I did a thorough cleaning up of my blog list. I decided to nix any bloggers with regular angry conservative political posts. Life's too short. I could watch Nancy Grace if I had an urge for some daily rage. I'm excited about your upcoming parenthood. thanks for protecting the names of the innocent on this post. I could tell which advice came from Willie (hint, it included a crazy wife).

Sarah said...

Can I just add a little advice from a wife/mother's perspective?

Be involved. I felt like I was doing everything in the beginning with the baby and I started to resent Dan. So, we had a talk and I told him what I needed him to do so that he was more involved. He is a pro!

I nursed my kids for over a year. There's not much the husband can do when you nurse. So, I made him do the smallest thing, but it meant a lot to me. When the baby woke up in the middle of the night, I would make Dan get up, go get the baby, and bring them to me. I would nurse them and then I would put them back to bed.

Take shifts if the baby won't sleep at first. It can get really tense when a baby won't stop crying and you've been up all night. Remain calm. In the beginning, the days start to blend together for the mom. It's such a culture shock. I'd say it takes about 3 months before it feels like, "Hey, yeah, I can do this. I got the hang of it." This is only with your first kid.

Train your kid to fall asleep well. Don't rock them to sleep, or rely on a swing, or things like that, then they'll always rely on that to fall asleep. Not in the beginning, but eventually you should put them in their crib awake so that they learn to self-soothe to fall asleep on their own, without relying on any tricks. My kids are pros at going to sleep and I think it's because I worked hard to train them that way.

Geez, I could go on and on. As your kids get older, wrestle with them! Dan is the king of wrestling with our girls. They love it! Even the younger one who's now 15 months.

Also, I disagree with the not rocking out thing. My girls and I have dance parties everyday. They LOVE to dance. Even when we're driving in the car, Josie wants the music loud so she can bob her head and Tallulah loves it too.

I'm not a big fan of the infant stage. It's my least favorite part (I think I'm the minority). I just like them the older they get and the more we can communicate and the more independent they get. It's cool!

Okay, I went a little crazy, didn't I?

Blythe said...

LOL...we really tried to do things the "Sarah way" (we didn't call it that) because it sounded like a good idea. But Dave did not wake up when Scarlett woke up. By the time I roused him enough to think about getting the baby, I was completely awake myself. We solved this problem with the next four kids by having them all sleep in our bed (not at once). I never would have gotten a moment of sleep otherwise.

You didn't ask, but from the perspective of someone whose kids are older, I think people worry way too much about babies and their sleep patterns (ditto for eating). Despite dire warnings to the contrary, I nursed mine to sleep and they slept with me. They all a) lived to tell about it and b) slept just fine in their own beds after a couple of years. Those years go by quicker than you can ever imagine.

david said...

Hey sally. Thanks so much for your comments. I'm going to add your blog too. You and willy made a really strong impression on me - I wish we al lived closer. If you ever have a hankering to take the kids to Disneyland you can stay in our spare bedroom. I'm glad to we so much debate on the sleeping business. I'm sure well lose our minds in the process.

Serena Cherry said...

I want to clarify. We definetly "rock out" with our children. I was more specifically talking about that short time at the beginning when you have a brand new tiny person and you just feel reverent.