When it comes to advice about bringing up Baby, I’m hesitant to enter the pool. This is based on my own disappointments when soliciting advice. The fact is, there are a lot of experts out there (some even bother to write books), but regardless of which parenting style is represented in your library, all of the books, every five pages, feature the disclaimer: “But all babies are different.”
They all but admit that a repository of knowledge beyond the fact that your baby will most assuredly eat, poop, and sleep (oh God, please let her sleep) is really just 500 pages of well-intended opinion and anecdotal evidence. And none of the experts will come over to your house at 3 a.m. when you’re trying to figure out why the thermometer that looks like a Star Trek phaser keeps telling you that your baby’s temperature is 72 degrees. (F.Y.I. that particular thermometer goes in Baby’s EAR. Do NOT make the same location mistake that I made. It only served to traumatize everyone involved.)
That is not to say that there’s no good advice to be had, and the advice that has sustained me in the early months of being a new stay-at-home dad has come from my friends who are dads themselves. Like most men, their wisdom was brief, succinct, and open to interpretation in any way that I saw fit. I’d like to share those words (and the interpretations that I saw fit) with any new parents, but especially the new dads.
“Your highs will never be higher, and your lows are about to become unbelievably low.” This was from my friend Greg.
If you think you’ve experienced anxiety or frustration up to now, your baby’s cries will elevate your blood pressure to the point where a casual observer could take your pulse from across the room. If, like many men, you transform your frustration and helplessness into anger, make sure you release the steam well away from your child. It sounds obvious, but when you feel like you’re on the precipice of madness, it’s difficult to think clearly and rationally.
But then there are also the highs. Even the most hardened, calcified heart will melt when that first smile crosses her gummy mouth. And, of course, there are the words that every new father longs to hear when, seemingly out of nowhere, she says “Da-da.” Maybe she’s simply stringing consonants together. Maybe it’s the name she’s given to a full diaper. Only Baby knows for sure. But it doesn’t matter. You’ve been acknowledged, and the wrapping of you around her tiny finger has begun.
“With a baby, good intentions count for a lot.” My friend Mondy in Asheville, N.C. told me this, and I’m finding it to be truer and truer every day.
Mistakes will be made. Constantly. Perhaps even daily. As often as he will bounce his head off the entertainment center when you turned your head just for a moment, you will bang your head against the wall for allowing it to happen. But if, generally speaking, your intentions come from a place of love and genuine concern for your baby’s well-being, all will be forgotten and forgiven. Your baby is clumsy as he learns and so are you. You both deserve a little slack.
And this is for all the fathers-to-be: “A woman becomes a mother when she learns that she’s pregnant; a man becomes a father when he sees his child for the first time.” Thanks Mike.
One thing men will never know is the act of human creation, with the possible exception of Dr. Frankenstein, and we all know how well that turned out. No, for that, the mother is the sacred vessel. We contribute our D.N.A., and then take a seat on the bench the way that Nature intended. As concerned as we are as eventual fathers, our child is still an abstraction under construction.
So it’s very possible that, while she shops and nests and attends baby showers and signs up for email updates from baby web sites, you may feel somewhat isolated. Maybe you can’t relate to all the fuss. Don’t worry; right now, you are simply the partner of a pregnant woman. Your time will come soon enough.