Your baby’s on the way, and everyone’s joking about how you have to exchange your sports car for something more sensible and matronly to accommodate the pram, carseat and piles of baby baggage that new parents seem to lug around.
That’s the least of your hassles. Expectant fathers are frequently expected to be there, unselfishly, for their partners, but they too are going through a rite of passage. For one, you have the realisation that it’s not just about you any more, but the desire to do things differently is not always that easy to implement. It requires making changes in every sphere of your life.
You need to examine your health, your lifestyle, your priorities, your future, your finances and your values. Easier said than done, but perhaps more doable if it’s broken up into manageable bites:
You want to be around long enough to do all the fun things that dads do with their kids, don’t you?
Buckle up. This is probably the easiest lifestyle change you can make. Don’t leave your family without a father. Remember that in a crash at 48km per hour, if unrestrained, you will be thrown forward with a force up to 60 times your own body weight. Always wear your seat belt and ensure that everyone in the car is wearing his or hers.
Get those cholesterol levels checked. By having a simple blood test you can estimate your risk of developing heart disease. High blood cholesterol has been associated with hardening of the arteries. If you find that you do have elevated cholesterol levels, there’s a lot you can do to improve your health, such as dietary adjustments and exercising.
Keep an eye on your blood pressure. All sorts of things can raise your blood pressure – high sodium levels, stress, and obesity. Face up to the problem if there is one, and take steps to manage it. You don’t want to have a stroke.
Keep it up. Radio and television ads would have us believe that an inability to sustain an erection is normal and easily fixable with a blue pill. This problem could be an early warning sign of heart disease or diabetes though, so have a medical check-up.
Watch your booze intake. Sure, some research studies have concluded that there’s a health benefit to moderate alcohol consumption, but limit drinks to two or fewer a day. If you ever did drink and drive, don’t do it anymore.
Eat well. Don’t stuff yourself with saturated fat, sugar and empty kilojoules. Eat a healthy diet to maintain and balance your weight, and if you can’t manage on your own, consult a nutritionist. Your medical aid will cover it.
New age, new rules
Preparing to be a good dad isn’t just about becoming physically fit and strong and taking care of yourself, you also need to prepare mentally – this starts with examining old beliefs and discarding outdated myths:
Myth: Only the expectant mother’s feelings are important
Back in the old days, men didn’t really play much of a role at all in pregnancy and birth; they did little more than pace the waiting room floor and hand out cigars afterwards. Those days are over, but so much revolves around your pregnant partner that men simply don’t know how to deal with their anxiety.
It’s common to worry that you might embarrass yourself by fainting at the birth, or about the possibility of a medical crisis. Wondering how a baby will affect your relationship with your partner is also a valid concern. Talking to your partner about your fears is a good starting point, but men frequently brood about their concerns because they don’t want to add to their partner’s worries.
Take a leap of faith and communicate openly with her. Most women love this kind of heart-to-heart, and bringing all your anxiety out into the open will bring you closer. If for whatever reason you feel you can’t talk to your partner, there are many online forums for expectant dads, and good books in the parenting section of your local bookshop.
Myth: Newborn infants don’t need their fathers
New fathers sometimes feel left out, especially if their partner is breastfeeding a new baby. There’s a deep bond between mother and child, and it can leave new dads feeling as if the baby doesn’t really need them at all.
There’s a lot you can do to bond with your baby, too. Cuddle and sing to him, especially just after feeding times – it also allows your partner to take a break, which she’ll really appreciate. It’s a good idea to take over one or two of the nighttime feeds, either with formula in a bottle, or with breast milk expressed into a bottle. That way, your baby will learn to be comforted by you at night, and it’ll make for a less frazzled partner.
Myth: You can’t make a success of your career and be a devoted dad
In our grandfathers and father’s times, it would have been frowned upon for a man to prioritise his family over a job promotion that would mean longer hours at work. That’s because in many cultures, men have been raised to believe that work is their primary source of self-worth.
The times are changing, though. Parenthood is meaningful, and what’s the point of being the CEO of a JSE-listed company if you die of a heart attack at 50, and your kids are mostly indifferent because they hardly knew you? There’s a famous quote: “A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.” And it’s true – the kids would rather build a tree house with you than live in a mansion or go to posh schools.
Myth: Your dad wasn’t that great, and you’re going to become like him
Maybe you didn’t have a particularly nice childhood, but you can take the positive aspects from your own family history and build on them. You must have had some good male role models somewhere along the line. Take what you like best about your own dad, educators, friends and relatives to form your own “dadentity”. Try and remember that you grow into your role, it doesn’t happen overnight.
Expect the unexpected
Fatherhood is a myriad of the new and strange. Here’s just some of what you can expect:
Shh… the baby’s sleeping!
You’re suddenly really noise sensitive. And with good reason. So much energy goes into getting the little critters to go to sleep; your free time becomes priceless. Consider evicting your hard-of-hearing, Marilyn Manson-loving tenant.
Better pack away those razor blades
You always scan a room for potentially dangerous objects. Babies are so curious, and experience the world through their mouths for the first while. They’ll try anything. Watch out for electrical cords, especially those attached to heating appliances, or heavy appliances like televisions. Your beautiful, gigantic screen TV can fall over.
Weirdly, you’re also sensitive to silence
Why is it so quiet? Is he breathing? Or, in the case of older babies, what’s he up to? You might stumble across your toddler decorating your newly upholstered couch with a thick purple Koki, like I did.
Other people’s crying babies don’t bother you at all
Gone are the days when you would sit in a restaurant and turn to glare at the family with the screaming kid, or wonder irritably why the parents don’t discipline their brat. Now, you feel a twinge of sympathy, and carry on spooning mashed avo into your own child, who is probably not cooperating at all.
Sleeping in on weekends is your most fervent fantasy
Oddly, when your baby howls at 5am on a cold Sunday morning, the thought of sleeping till 10am is far more appealing than any erotic fantasy ever was. And yes, you and your partner will reminisce fondly about the days when Sundays were for reading the papers over a leisurely brunch, before taking in a movie.
You notice other people’s kids… and they’re almost as cute as yours
A whole world suddenly opens up to you that you didn’t notice before. All of a sudden, there are kids everywhere! Whereas before, you would probably walk right past a group of exuberant kids and not even notice them. Welcome to Planet Parent.