Guest Post: Advice for new dads and where the typical advice we give new parents misses the mark.
As I was earning an MA, I worked with a great carpentry crew during summer and winter breaks. Upbeat, cheerful, and hardworking, one of the mottos that I learned from these good folks was relatively simple: it’s always funny when a friend gets hurt! To the untrained ear, it sounds just a little cruel, even vindictive. However, the meaning behind the statement was relatively benign. It means to show perspective (got a nail in your hand? We’ve all been there, too) while breeding humility (if you haven’t gotten one yet, you will at some point). It is a perfect statement for a construction crew, especially one made of (self-proclaimed) witty comrades!
My wife and I very recently had our first child. While exhausting, we’ve found the process of birthing and learning to care for this child strangely beautiful, even breathtaking. The problem is that I would have never known it based on the type of words that came out of my friends’—and even not-so-friends’—mouths at points. This is the usual advice for expectant dads: “Oh dude, things are gonna change so much.” “Man, you’re gonna be exhausted.” “Life’s gonna suck for a while and then it’ll get harder!” In other words, my buddies, while usually well-meaning and generally excited for us, didn’t always have the best way of expressing their excitement. They used the construction-site logic framed above: that it’s always funny when a friend gets hurt.
A logic that’s great for the construction site does not pan out the same with parenting.
For one, unlike the construction site where machismo and confidence run at a high, the days before and on into parenting do nothing BUT humble you. You face the possibility of screwing up another’s life before they’ve even had a chance to make decisions for themselves. It likely won’t happen, but the possibility is there and it’s distinct, and I’ve not met another parent who hasn’t at least thought it. As such, no humbling mottos are needed. Rather, the new parent or the parent-to-be needs something in the way of encouragement, genuine advice and love.
Second, the occasion for the application of the construction logic doesn’t fit the parental circumstances. While the construction logic makes some fun of someone’s stupidity and lack of thoughtfulness–which has inadvertently brought about some sort of semi-harmful accident–I have a difficult time considering a birth an “accident” in the sense of a failed goal that causes harm. Rather, the harm caused in birth (to the woman’s body) and in the first months of parenting (the lack of sleep and incertitude) are incidental to the goal—the beautiful and joyous goal— that has been reached: having and beginning the process of raising a child. In other words, to use construction logic on one’s friends prior to their having a child treats that child like an undue harm rather than a supreme good.
Now, I know this might all seem a bit overboard, and I admit that I’m having some fun critiquing some general modes of being a guy, where it’s hard to be vulnerable toward one’s friends, etc. The truth of the matter is that these thoughts only ever occurred to me upon receiving an email from a buddy who didn’t fit this mold and whose refreshing advice helped me prepare for birth and parenting. I present this email to you below in the hopes that you, too, will not only refrain from engaging in construction logic but consider offering such heartfelt thoughts and wise advice to your friends as they begin this insane but wonderful journey of parenting:
It was really great to see you two again last night – even if it was only through the inter-tubes [Skype]. You both look great and seem to be so very happy in your forever home.
I am so excited that you will soon have a little girl of your own. Fatherhood will change you in so many unforeseen ways – and it will be amazing.
A few thoughts from one father to another.
1. The baby will come out blue. This is normal and yet it is so very scary. Don’t freak out 🙂
2. There will not be an instantaneous moment where you notice the massiveness of the change in your life, but it will happen. It is too much of a whirlwind during labor and its immediate aftermath. Things won’t really feel all that different immediately after the baby is born. At least not right away. But give it a few days and you will know 🙂 When our daughter was born I felt a bit bad that I didn’t really feel like anything was really that different the day she was born. Don’t feel bad if you have this too. It just takes a bit of time.
3. Take care of your wife – she needs to be the only thing in your mind. This gets especially hard if there are complications and the mother and child need to be separated. If you end up with a C-section or something else – as soon as the baby is out you need to go with the baby, the others around will take care of your wife. If she can’t be with the baby, then you do. This was actually really hard for me, because for so long my wife was the focus of my attention. Seeing her being cut up in surgery was really hard and it was incredibly hard for me to leave her there while the baby was taken away and assessed, but I had to go with the kid. If you can, have a backup person around that can be with your wife in this situation. My Savior was our midwife, who tended to my wife while I was with our daughter. I was able to trust that my wife was OK knowing that our midwife was with her. Otherwise I would have been totally torn up about where to be -with my newly born daughter or my wife.
4. Your wife will cry – a lot. They will be good tears. Let her cry – it is important.
5. Fatherhood really changes you. I have to admit that writing this email has gotten me a bit teary-eyed, thinking about all of this. Something that never would have happened before having a child. There really truly is nothing more emotionally overpowering than being a parent.
6. Fatherhood is crazy – it is exhausting – it is stressful – but there really is nothing better. Enjoy it.
Best to you and yours-