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Ok, you just learned you're gonna be a dad. Doesn't matter if it was a day ago, a week, or month ago, it's just hit you like a brick.
It's 2 AM and you've been staring at your ceiling for what feels like ages. You turn over. Again. And again. You just can't shake the thought that you and your sweetheart are in for a brand new change.
Just face it, dude: babies change everything.
If you're having your first baby, regardless of if it's a literal lovechild between you and your soul-mate or if you're adopting, you'll have feelings. Yes, those feelings things men claim they don't have, or hide away to appear more capable in the situation.
It's natural to think that way for a while, to put your emotions to the side so you can concentrate on the tasks and challenges at hand. But eventually, you'll need to really evaluate the questions burning a hole in your brain.
These questions aren't a sign of weakness or timidness. Rather, these questions get you thinking about what you need to do, or need to be to become a powerful force for good in your baby's life, and in your relationship with your sweetie. And in that way, the questions help you become more manly as you go.
So, allow the anxieties to come, and as you handle the questions as they come, you'll be making yourself a framework for what you need to do, change, and become in order to best provide a meaningful, fatherly relationship to your kid.
Or dare I say, "kids?" Nah, let's stick with one for now. No need to get ahead of yourself. ;)
I've got just a few principles for a new dad like you to remember (or even seasoned fathers who are looking for a nostalgic reminder), to prepare yourself to be the best dad you could want to be:
1. Dignity as you've known it has changed.
Who knew that waking up four, five, even six times a night was the backbone of parenting? Let me tell you, there's NO dignity between jolting awake to the sounds of your crying baby. You sit bolt upright, trying to figure out what time it is (or what year it is if you're a heavy sleeper like me), when you remember: I'm a dad, and that screaming, needy thing in the crib is mine.
But is it really so needy? Is it really so annoying? Is it too much to ask of a little being who has never spoken, never had to fend for itself, never even so much as walked, burped, or farted to try to tell you "I'm hungry," or "I need a diaper change," or "I need to snuggle"? This little "thing" (as you may be tempted to call it with only two hours of sleep) is crying out for YOU. Think about it: there's no better dignity when a father helps a helpless baby to have some comfort from a nightmare, an empty tummy, or a full diaper. So own it. ALL of it.
Speaking of diapers... you and your sweetie agreed to bring this little one into your home, whether you were planning for a baby or not. But where you may assume that your significant other (SO) is gonna be the default baby-helper, you're treading shifty ground.
In your new family dynamic, your communication needs to evolve. Expectations need to be set, met, and when they aren't met, such a slip needs to be communicated with honesty and kindness. And what about those other times when your SO doesn't hear your baby crying because they're so dead asleep? Sometimes it means you change the diapers and let your SO sleep in. Dignity can't get better when you're doing something unexpected for someone you love. Plus, who doesn't love earning a few extra brownie points with your sweetheart?
3. Do the little things.
The simplest things around the house, from the dishes, the trash, scrubbing the tub: the small actions reveal the deeper love you have for your family. Doing the little things early sets a precedent in your relationship with your SO, but also sets it for your kids as they grow. Yes, there will be times of rebellion and griping, but for the most part, when you start to show how much you care about the small and simple things, some big changes will come about in your family dynamic.
And if you're already doing the small things, find something your SO "normally does" to switch things up. I'm sure you'll earn at least five brownie points.
4. Work to provide.
It's one thing to be a sire. It's another thing entirely to be a dad, and even a father. Are those terms different? In my head, yes. To sire a child is to bring a kid into the world. That's it. You procreate. To be a dad, you become the fun-loving, open, supportive man you always imagined your own dad might be. But to be a father requires a bit more. It requires you to invest in a niche market that doesn't appear to have a lot of growth in the first few years. Ultimately, though, that growth will come around. That market is TIME. Another way you could explain that is LOVE. Your kids and SO might need a house, food on the table, and the bills paid. They might need healthcare, schooling, hobbies, and music lessons. But at the end of the day, they don't need a constant stream of income as much as they have YOU. YOU are the reason they are in this world, and that MEANS something on an unspoken level to a kid. A house is not a home without love, without your unique take on life, without meaningful interaction in your family. So make your house, your apartment, your condo, your townhouse into a HOME, when you invest your time into your kids and your SO.
5. Play hard.
Play is one of the most natural, fun ways we learn. We learn about interpersonal relations, we learn about expression, we gain or lose confidence there. Take for example: as a child, you imagined yourself to be a certain thing. Maybe you were an astronaut, a doctor, a monster, a movie star, what-have-you. By engaging in play, you discovered more about the world and about yourself. Find that part of yourself, that part of you that pictured life as the greatest adventure ever, as it was subject to your imagination and the ongoing narration you gave to yourself and your friends.
Granted, your kids will grow into their little minds only so fast. You don't really need to worry about this step until they start to show some cognitive development, but that shouldn't stop you from practicing on them early! So, PLAY! Tickle those little toes! Snargle and snort as you pretend to eat their little legs and arms! And above all, let yourself have a little fun. Even a baby knows if you're not having fun when you're playing, you're doing it wrong.
6. Manliness as you've known it has changed.
This is a reflection of the first step in our process. To be a man has been both fortified and challenged in recent years. Culture has demanded more of men in the workplace, and often men decide that families aren't for them. But manhood isn't about the money. Manhood isn't about power. Manhood can be as simple as snuggling a fussy baby in the early morning hours. It can be as simple as holding your SO close so your kid sees and knows what it means to be loyal, to be in a healthy relationship. Manhood should never be limited to just money. I can find a quarter on the sidewalk and it wouldn't count towards my manliness, but even if I found a check for a billion dollars, unless I am settled into what it means to be a real man, all that money will be is a bunch of green behind the wheel of a bunch of costly purchases. Popularity? What does popular opinion have to do with raising your kid? What can the world, or science, or politics tell you more than what you see in the eyes of your little one when they first open them to the big, bright world you will share with them? Is there any greater reward than enabling another little human, an infinite and ageless soul, to fend for itself in this life with grace and integrity? Call me old fashioned, but if we can't have love, grace, faith, integrity, or the like, we won't have much of a world to live in anyway. So by investing in the future of our kids, we're investing in the future of the world.
Here's to strong families.