I love to do research.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking which restaurant to eat at or the best way to survive a bear attack (curl up into the fetal position and play dead), I don’t do anything without scouring the Internet and book stores to explore all my options. So when I found out I was going to be a dad, my first order of business was to prepare myself as much as possible.
But my introductory foray into the family section of Barnes & Noble was the first harsh reality check: parenting is for moms.
The book store had countless shelves overflowing with books about pregnancy, newborns and breastfeeding. But no one told me that it was almost exclusively written by and for women. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” should be titled “What to Expect if You’re Expecting and You Have a Vagina.”
The books I did find were not for me. They were too technical. Sure, it was interesting to see how the baby would form but reading about implantation in the uterus, epiblasts, hypoblasts, and amniotic sacs—while vital to a healthy child—just was not what I wanted.
I didn’t want to hear from a Ph.D. child-rearing expert or some stuffy doctor. I needed to read about how average, run-of-the-mill guys deal with becoming a father. And I found everything I was looking for by going online and checking out blogs written by new and expectant fathers. Forget the experts, I wanted regular guys describing diaper changes, sleepless nights and the utter lack of sex in the months following the birth of a child. Informative stuff that not only helped me learn, but was also wildly entertaining and honest.
Now it’s time to pay it forward.
Please remember, I’m no expert. Far from it. But I am a regular dad who’s been down this road and come out (somewhat) unscathed on the other side. And the bear attack example I mentioned earlier isn’t too far removed from surviving the early years of parenting.
So, without further ado, here are my five top tips for dads-to-be:
1. Get involved early
During the pregnancy, go with her to every doctor’s appointment, or as many as humanly possible. This keeps you informed and tells her you’re engaged in the process. Read baby books, go online and continually spark up baby-related conversation that lets her know you’re doing your homework. Also, a surefire way to make her melt is to write a series of letters to your unborn child, and read them to him/her through your wife’s swollen belly. BIG points! And when the baby comes, do everything. Even if you’re scared, change that first diaper. Hold your newborn all the time. Get in sync with his/her different noises and you’ll learn the meaning behind them. Moms have a tendency to big league us in the beginning and do everything themselves, but you need to stand your ground and be an equal partner.
2. Remember you were a husband first.
Of course you’re excited about your new baby. You should be. But while most of your attention will be on the new arrival, don’t forget your wife. Women can range from simply being overtired and unhappy with their post-baby bodies to having a full blown case of postpartum depression. You need to not only watch over your child, but be cognizant of your wife as well. Step up the chores, pitch in a little extra and—above all else—don’t bug her for sex. I used a red magic marker to circle the 6-week date on our kitchen calendar when the doctor told us we could have sex again as a not-so-subtle hint. BIG mistake.
3. Go out on the town.
Perhaps the biggest secret no one told me is you can take a newborn anywhere and still have a good time. They sleep most of the day and when they’re not sleeping, they’re eating. That means you can go out on a date, eat at your favorite restaurant and even go to the movie theater all with your baby in tow. Far too many parents hole themselves up in their homes after their kid is born. Believe me, when they become mobile you won’t be able to go anywhere so enjoy the freedom while it lasts and live it up.
4. Take time for yourself.
Just because you’re a dad doesn’t mean you stopped having interests and hobbies. Sure, you probably can’t keep going to the gym everyday or to the bars at night, but it’s unbelievably important to maintain some semblance of your life before kids. For me, it was one night a week to do with as I pleased. I used it to join a curling club where I learned a new sport and made new friends. But whatever you do with your own time, make sure you give your wife the same opportunity. Alone time to do adult things is vital if you want to keep your brain from turning to mush.
5. Enjoy everything.
Throw yourself into fatherhood. Take every opportunity to hold your baby, feed him, bathe him and read to him. Take so many pictures and videos you fill up your memory card. Revel in all the little milestones, because they come up fast but before you know it your baby is a toddler and you’re wondering where all the time went. No one ever sat on his deathbed and said “I wish I spent more time at work.” Time with your kids is a fleeting thing, and you need to jump all over it from the get-go.
—Photo Aaron Gouveia