Facing the Dawn of a New Era
By Mark Stackpole
Dads may get relegated to the background when Baby arrives, but this new dad shares some tips to make yourself useful.
A new age has dawned. A new era has begun. Your old life is now as extinct as a dinosaur or VHS. As a father, you must get used to a certain sense of obsolescence. Due to your biological inability to feed your baby, she barely notices that you are around. (As I have daughter, all baby pronouns will be in the feminine form.) You'll get a token look because of your deep voice, which also happens to cause a startle response and instant tears. Great. (My own beloved daughter actually bursts into tears whenever I start to sing to her, which proves that she has great taste in music, but still hurts my feelings.)
The baby's mom will be pretty caught up in the intense relationship between herself and the new baby - bonding, breastfeeding and more. As for the way that everyone else thinks about you, get used to the fact that you now fall somewhere between "piece of furniture" and "beast of burden."
There's little glory in being the father of a newborn. It's a good thing that you love her so much that you barely notice. Of course, due to the lack of sleep, there are a lot of other things that you barely notice - red lights, football games - well, you get the point.
In the spirit of thinking so that you don't have to, I have put together a few things that I think new fathers need to learn. Bear in mind that since my own daughter is 5 weeks old, I am something of an expert. Surely I will be able to apply what I have already learned to the next 18 years or so of our respective lives.
For starters, fathers, you might be wondering how to clean baby puke off of your golf shirt. Well, let me break this to you gently. You don't. Get a new shirt. A cheap one. It's not like you are going to have the time to golf anyway. Maybe in a couple of years I will see you by the windmill at the Pitch and Putt with the kids. Until then, your new tee time is "never o'clock."
You may also be asking the question, "How does such a big smell come from something so small that only drinks milk?" Well, it just does. Accept it and move on. And if you have to change a diaper that weighs more than the baby herself, grab some goggles, gloves, a hose and some wipes. Go with God, my friend. And pray for the scent-deadening joy of a sinus infection.
On a related note, I have often wondered how far to pull those little diaper tabs before I am cutting off the circulation to the baby's lower extremities. As near as I have been able to tell, cute pink toes are good. Alarming purple ones, bad. You don't want that diaper coming loose and falling off, but better her diaper falls off than her left leg. Take some comfort in the fact that your wife will critique your efforts in this department, leading to your eventual humiliation, but ensuring the safety of the child.
The biggest assault that a new father's ego must withstand, however, is the simple fact that no one really wants to see him anymore. A typical greeting when you visit friends and relatives is something like, "Mom looks so great. The baby is so beautiful. And Dad - thanks for driving the car that brought them over so we could see them."
The experience is only marginally different when people come over to your house, with the conversation consisting of something like, "Where's the baby? How's Mom? And Dad, while you're up, could you get me a soda?" (It is important to note that the last question gets asked regardless of whether or not you are actually "up" at that particular time.)
But you are fighting the good fight and want to do the best thing for your baby. Since you haven't yet been able to establish the same bond as your wife, you are anxious to do anything you can to please her. The simple answer to the question is this: If you really want to please your baby, go get Mom. You might get a brief smile, but Mom's got the goods.
Let me close by offering you a few tips on how to actually be useful during the time between your child's birth and her ability to appreciate what a cool dad you are.
1. Are you familiar with the pack mule? Never seen one before? Look in the mirror.
2. Cook dinner for your exhausted wife. Or, if she doesn't like canned pasta, go pick something up.
3. Change diapers. Sure, it's the smelliest bonding experience since you and your college buddies used to, well, never mind what you guys used to do. You're a father now, for crying out loud. Grow up. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. But, ah, the memories. Regardless of your sordid past, I am not kidding about the bonding experience. My daughter and I have had some of our best conversations while changing her pants. We look each other in the eyes and talk. Don't deprive yourself. Stop laughing. I'm serious. Really. Seriously. OK, you're still laughing, but I am going to move onto the conclusion. But I'm really seriously really serious. You still don't believe me, do you? I'm right, but let's move on.
There is nothing quite like becoming a co-star in your own life. The funny thing is that you don't really care. You are so pleased that people want to spend time with your child that you are OK moving behind the scenes. Your baby is the star, and her mom is the director. You are somewhere between the "grip" and the "best boy." Do you know what they are? Of course not. No one does. But they still make the credits. That is you. And you know what the funny thing is? It's enough - more than enough, actually. You actually managed to check your ego at the door. Not a bad first step for a man.
Let me throw one more analogy at you before I go: Military personnel are proud of reminding civilians that they do more before 6 a.m. than most people do all day.
Heck, they must all be parents.
Want to see more?
Craig Shoemaker: Conquering Fatherhood With Laughter
How I Knew I Was a Dad: 15 Surefire Ways