Before becoming a father, I dreaded changing diapers. Now that I am a father, I long to win the poop lottery. To see my boy take a gigantic dump is curiously gratifying. Digestion system. Check!
Before becoming a father, I wrote a lot about supporting mothers because I couldn’t fathom having to carry a child in my belly for nine months. It didn’t seem possible to naturally give birth to something so big. Watching a C-section video is also uncomfortable. I felt guilty not providing equal care. It was the least I could do.
But now that I am a father, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t been giving fathers enough credit. Being a father is damn hard work! From 11pm – 6:30am shifts, to then having to go grind it out at work, to providing constant moral support, I give props to all dads.
There is a tremendous amount we fathers can do to provide for our children and make our partners’ lives easier.
Becoming A Better Father
What is more painful? Seeing a loved one suffer or experience the suffering yourself? I argue the former is so much worse because there’s nothing you can do to take away the pain. If there was some sort of pain transferring system, I’d enlist right away.
I’ve dreamt of fatherhood since I was 37, about two and a half years after I left my cozy day job that occasionally beat me with a stick. I needed time to get my life together before taking on the most important role of them all. And although it took a while to get here, better late than never. I couldn’t be happier because everybody is healthy.
Here are some things I think every father or father-to-be should endeavor to do:
1) Get your finances right. If you aren’t willing to be more financially disciplined for yourself, at least do so for your family. Believe everything you read about the cost of raising a child. Your job as a father is to maintain or grow your income stream and balance sheet until your child is old enough to earn on his or her own. If your partner can also grow her earnings while juggling a precious one, fantastic, but don’t count on it. Please stay on top of your finances like a hawk.
2) Make sure your job gives you time. Screw the job that only gives you a couple weeks of paternity leave. The first three months of your child’s life is both brilliant and trying at the same time. Your baby will only sleep for 1 – 3 hours at a time. Your wife will go through tremendous hormonal changes that leave her happy one moment, and sad another. She will be incredibly sleep deprived. She needs you more than she will let on. The easiest solution to get more time at home is to offer to work part-time from home. Providing some work is much better than providing no work.
3) Give every hour you can spare. Although you may be dead tired after working a 10-hour day, rest assured your partner will be even more tired taking care of a newborn due to the mixture of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and frustration along with joy. If you can relieve your partner for one or two hours before going to work and providing hours of support after you come home, you will create a happier household. Professionals in many occupations work 12 – 16 hour days to get ahead. If you’re working less than that, allocate the difference towards taking care of your child.
4) Establish a stable place of residence. It’s important not to move residences during pregnancy and for at least a year after giving birth. The reason is to minimize stress and increase harmony. A lot can go wrong during and after pregnancy. It’s no wonder why there’s such a rush for parents-to-be to buy. If you are a renter, I suggest building a positive relationship with your landlord now. The better your relationship, the less likely he will raise the rent or ask you to leave. Simple things such as paying on time, fixing small things on your own and telling him about it, and sending a holiday card goes a long way. Do your best not to screw your landlord.
5) Build relationships with other fathers. Every father should join a father’s group, just like every mother should join a mother’s group. Leaning only on one another can be tremendously taxing after a while, especially if you are both new to parenthood. You need to gain support from other fathers who are going through the same thing. Society still hasn’t fully embraced stay-at-home dads, even though there’s no occupation more honorable than taking care of your child.
6) Read as much as you can before and after. There are actually manuals that will guide you to become a better, more confident father. I suggest reading books such as, The Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash, Don’t Just Stand There: How to Be Helpful, Clued-In, Supportive, Engaged, Meaningful, and Relevant in the Delivery Room by Elissa Stein and Jon Lichtenstein, Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads by By Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden. The great thing about fatherhood is that there’s been literally billions of fathers before you who have succeeded!
7) Create a checklist of everything you want and get it done. It’s likely that your partner will have a laundry list of things she’ll buy off Amazon before the baby arrives. Amazon Prime is your friend. I suggest going through the items together to see what you really need. It’s kind of like a pre-vacation checklist. The most important items are obviously right fitting diapers, swaddles, outfits, a bassinet, a crib, a jumper seat, a changing table, pads for the changing table, baby wipes, a baby wipe warmer, a baby bath tub, Oogiebear, lots of tissues, NoseFrida, baby CPR guide, a stroller, a feeding/diaper changing/burping/pooping checklist, Windi (magic fart/poop stick), rash creams, baby formula, and more! We fathers must help relieve the mental load placed on mothers.
8) Plan the support network. The first two weeks after birth will be a difficult time period. You must be 100% present for your partner during this time. It may or may not be a good idea for relatives with parental experience to come by for support or not. Have an open discussion. I highly recommend hiring a postpartum doula for the first month if you don’t have anybody else to give you guidance at home. A postpartum doula will help give you confidence as parents, guide you on what to do, and help take care of your baby when you can no longer function. After the first three months, you can work on coordinating with friends and family when they can arrive. Don’t take anything personally during these three months!
9) Be forever present. Not being present as a father is as evident as your dinner date texting at the table. Mothers know whether you’re enthusiastically checked in, or unenthusiastically checked out. The #1 priority for all mothers is the survival of their baby. Therefore, even though they may love you like no other, that doesn’t mean they will trust you like no other to sufficiently care for your child. You must earn their trust by being present. Being present means looking at the baby while playing, observing the different sounds your baby makes, making deductive conclusions as to what the baby wants at any point in time, clearing a bassinet of potentially life-threatening clutter, singing and caressing the baby securely, driving defensively, and so on.
10) Provide constant reassurance. You’re on an unknown journey together. There will be tears of sadness, coupled with moments of joy. Embrace them all. Just because a woman is the one biologically able to have a child doesn’t mean she has child-raising all figured out. Learn together. Give her confidence. Be the co-captain she needs. Learn to be patient.
Do The Best That You Can
After leaving work in 2012, I began to structure everything about my life so that I could be the most present father possible if that day came. This meant building passive income streams in order to not have to go back to work, building an online income stream just in case my passive income streams disappeared, helping my wife engineer a severance so she could have maximum flexibility, buying and fixing up a home in time for the baby, and getting rid of assets that took time away from taking care of my family.
When I retired, I didn’t know I would be a father today. But I planned for it just in case. Today, all I can do is be the best dad I can be. I truly believe we must earn the love of our children. It’s my biggest fear now, wondering whether my son will think I did a good enough job when he’s older. This post serves as a reminder of what I need to do whenever I’m lost. I’m determined to give it my best.
Update 6/16/2019: I wrote this post when my son was three months old and now he’s almost 27 months old. Being a father is way harder than I could have ever imagined. Your endurance and patience will be tested beyond your limits. You will always worry about your child’s safety. But to see him hit every milestone is an absolute blessing. You cannot love someone more than you can love your child. Enjoy the moment and count your blessings!
Update 6/21/2020: Raising children in the middle of a global pandemic where schools and businesses are closed has been tough. However, I am thankful to be able to spend more time with my son and now six-month-old daughter. The time really flies. At three years and two months old, my son is learning how to read. Pretty soon, he’ll learn how to swim and ride a scooter.