Are you ready to be a father?
In a word, no. Sorry.
No one is actually ready to be a dad before they are one. Being a father is a really big deal, and it’s really important.
But, don’t worry, it happens pretty slow and you’ll get there.
If you feel like you have to do something right now or you will explode, go open a 529 plan so you can start saving for their college.
There. Feel better?
Getting Ready to Be a Dad
If you are reading this, maybe you have been reading some books or other articles. Maybe, you are really nervous. Maybe you are cocky, and over confident. Either way, don’t worry, as it happens, nature has setup a pretty solid on the job training (OJT) program for becoming a dad that will get you to being a great father right on time. All you have to do is not fight it.
The one thing that can make a man a bad father, is being selfish. If you matter more than your wife, if you matter more than your child, then yeah, you are going to be a crappy father. Please try your best to adjust before you cause any damage. Trust me when I tell you the world is so much more when you can be about more than just yourself.
Step 1 Learning to Be a Good Father
If your wife or girlfriend is pregnant, you are already in the training program whether you know it or not. As your wife gets more pregnant, she will be able to do less than she once could. Certain things will make her tired, certain things will be painful, and certain things will be impossible. This happens slowly. Along the way, you’ll find yourself doing some of those things. You’ll be taking care of her (and the baby inside of her) in a new way.
This is step one of the OJT, learning how to take care of someone who can’t always take care of themselves. Of course, since this is the first step of the first lesson, it’s actually pretty easy. After all, your wife can actually still do almost everything herself, especially if she has to. In other words, you get to ease into it. By the time your little one arrives, you should be pretty used to helping and taking care of your wife. You’ll still need (and want) to do this after your child is born. Early fatherhood is exhausting, but so is early motherhood. Step up and be the bigger person.
Step 2 New Baby
This is what you are probably dreading. Your new baby arrives, and you don’t know what to do. You don’t know if you’ll be able to provide everything the baby needs. There are probably a million “What ifs” rattling around in your head.
Stop and take a deep breath.
Here is the inside secret to early fatherhood. Ready?
You don’t actually have to do anything complicated yet.
First, you’ll spend a few days in the hospital. Use them. Ask questions, watch what they do. Pay attention to the breast feeding lessons so you can remind her of tips at 2:37 am. Ask if that red blotch is normal. Ask if it’s OK to hold them this way. Let him or her sleep in your arms.
Next, when a newborn comes home, nature has them set on basic mode for you. They can’t talk (or talk back). They can’t understand what you are saying, so they won’t hear that “wrong thing” you say. In fact, they won’t remember anything. They literally cannot move anywhere on their own. They can’t walk. They can’t crawl. They can’t rollover. You could literally set a baby on the edge of a cliff and they’d be safe (please don’t). All you have to do is keep it alive, talk to them, and cuddle. That’s it.
Whenever you get nervous at this stage just start asking yourself:
- Wet (diaper)?
That’s it. There is literally nothing else that your baby can possibly need at this stage unless it is sick. If you think that is what’s going on, call your pediatrician. Usually, your baby is fine. As an added baby step, for the first few months, you’ll actually be visiting the doctor a lot, so you can get some reassurance that your newborn is not sick.
See? You’re totally ready to do that, right?
At this stage, the entire degree of difficulty is sleep, or lack thereof. Even though your baby sleeps a lot, they don’t necessarily sleep a lot at once. Whenever your baby sleeps, you should sleep too. If you have to work, or need a bigger break, setup a quiet room with a white noise machine, or whatever it takes. Trade off with your wife, she is exhausted too.
Step 2: Becoming a Father
In the movies, the new dad sees his little one and falls instantly in love. That doesn’t always happen that way (shh, don’t tell). Don’t worry, that’s completely normal. Just do what you know you need to do. Somewhere along the line, that will change. Maybe it will be when they start to smile and light up when they see your face. Maybe it will be when they grab your finger. Maybe it will be when you realize how much you love the smell of their head.
Don’t worry, it WILL happen.
The only way it doesn’t happen is if you are trying to still be a not father. That is, if you are resentful because you can’t go out like you used to do, or if you can’t be as loud, or as careless as you were before. Being a dad is a new life, don’t try and hang on to the old one. Don’t worry. You are still you, just better. Remember when you were a teenager? There’s nothing more pathetic than a 20-something still trying to act like 15.
Glad you moved on? You will be this time too.
Little by little, your baby will develop, and you’ll develop right along with them. By the time new skills arrive, the other will already be old hat. When they start to rollover you will already be able to tell if they are tired or hungry automatically. So, when you need to make sure that they only rollover when it is safe you won’t need to worry about other things. When they start to scoot, making sure they can’t reach things will be old hat, just on a wider scale now. When they start to crawl, you’ll have already been keeping them out of danger for months.
What Comes Next?
There is an old saying that says, “Don’t borrow trouble.” The idea is that you shouldn’t spend time worrying about things that MAY happen. Your child is a unique human being, just like you are. Whatever you are worrying about happening, probably won’t. Instead something you never thought of will happen instead. And, when that happens, you’ll be a much different man that you are right now. You’ll be a father. And, trust me, you’ll know a lot about yourself and your child by then. Tons of skills you don’t even know about will already be automatic and easy, so you’ll be ready for whatever is new.
Never hesitate to reach out for help, but remember as long as you are coming from a place of love and not selfishness, chances are, you are being a great dad.