What Nobody Tells You About Fatherhood: 12 Confessions From A Brand New Dad

So you’re thinking hard about having a kid?

Good for you. That’s a very mature and dad-like thing to do. Decision making is an important part of fatherhood. When it’s 4AM on some random Tuesday and your screaming child has slept for 6 of the last 600 possible minutes, a good decision can be the difference between a dad who goes to work tired and one who ends up on the news.

Before the girl was born, I had heard enough horror stories to know that fatherhood changes a man. Now that she is here, however, I realize that while new dads freely share tales of sleep deprivation and baby poop, discussing the REAL challenges of fatherhood is more taboo.

A baby stirs up emotions and feelings, so the unwillingness to talk about it isn’t surprising. But it is unfortunate, because a lot of soon-to-be dads are entirely oblivious to just what in the hell is coming. What follows is everything I wish I knew before baby: 12 confessions from a brand new, worn out, but still sane (and still married) father.

I am Emotionally Unstable

I thought I was done with emotions, that I had outgrown them like Ninja Turtles and bed wetting. Men are supposed to be unflappable, so for years I buried all that emotional shit deeeeep down inside. And there it has stayed. But now it is back. And I’m handling it poorly.

The girl gets shots, and I’m as hysterical as she is.

She WILL NOT fall asleep, and I want to put my foot through her bedroom wall.

She recognizes me for the first time and smiles, and I break down and fuckin weep, because I’ve lived 29 years without ever experiencing this emotion, and my brain cannot compute the appropriate response to just what in the hell is happening to me.

Of all the changes, becoming an emotional train wreck was the least expected. I had no idea I could feel so strongly, which is awesome but also terrifying, because now I worry.

Oh, How I Worry

The girl had reflux (colic on steroids) and torticollis (a crooked head due to a constricted neck muscle), both of which are surprisingly common and 100% curable/outgrowable.

Still, my wife and I spent the first 5 months of parenthood OBSESSING over these symptoms. And while babies are diagnosed every day with worse and often heartbreaking conditions, I know the panic that arises when things are not perfect.

A terrifying realization that every dad makes, and one I wish I had made earlier, is that you control very little. The rest is up to fate, or God, or chance, or the universe, or whatever you want to pin it on.

Could your baby have a currently undetectable and eventually inoperable disease? Of course. But so could you. Just like you could drop dead from an aneurysm upon finishing this sentence…

Caution and diligence are different than hobby worrying. If you can’t make the distinction, you’re in for a loooong rest of your life.

My Marriage Has Never Been Harder

Just look at this fuckin chart, man.

marital-unhappiness-chart

Pre-child, I cannot remember the last time I argued with my wife. In fact, I don’t think we ever had a real argument. But fun time is over, because three years of harmonious coexistence is apparently no match for a mini human who eats every hour and shits on the half hour in between.

You will need to take some night shifts. You will need to miss some football games. You will need to compromise. You will need to take a breath and let that snide remark slide right off your back. You need to find a way, because love alone will not.

I Wonder if My Wife Will Ever Be the Same

You think life as a new dad is one of hardship and sacrifice? Wait until you witness life as a new mom. While you may lose some sleep and free time, you — the person — remains intact.

Your wife, however, experiences hormonal and physical changes that alter her very being, like some monster strapped to the table of a mad scientist.

The role of a new mother…it is admirable, man. It’s emotional hijacking, nipple cracking, stomach stretching work that will make you pause, reflect, and say to yourself, Christ, I have spent a lifetime underappreciating my mother.

Christ, I Have Spent A Lifetime Underappreciating My mother

Go call your mother. She loves you.

Sometimes I Miss My Old Life

Life with a baby is full of tiny events that are a giant fuckin deal. The girl rolled over. She grabbed her feet. OMFG she laughed at the dog!

Mundane milestones mean THE WORLD when you’re a parent. The day the girl fed herself with a spoon, I snapped 200 pictures and then about shit myself in wonderment. And since babies change seemingly by the day, the progress is new and continuous. This makes fatherhood fresh and rewarding and that is awesome.

But sometimes I think about the good ol’ days; free of babies and commitment and full of whatever the hell I wanted. Sometimes I miss them. I remember the recklessness, and freedom, and mobility, and lack of responsibility. Sometimes I get tired of responsibility. Sometimes I CRAVE irresponsibility. Sometimes I just want to drive to the nearest dive bar, crush 20 different rail drinks, crash on a buddy’s couch, wake up and barf in his toilet.

My Dog Always Misses My Old Life

Mo was the baby before the baby. And as much as I told myself that would never change, it has.

I wonder if he’s realized that his walks are shorter, or that nobody takes his picture anymore, or that the guests he greets at the door are here for the baby. Thinking about it now…I’m gonna cry again.

I don’t dismiss him intentionally, but take yesterday for example. I’m scrambling to ready a bottle because the girl is hungry and screaming like a slasher movie victim. Meanwhile, Mo is whining at the basement door for his abandoned stuffed hippo.

It’s like how different in importance are these two needs? Where does this stranded hippo rank amongst the universe’s problems? If we delay the hippo’s rescue, how will it impact world hunger?

But he is getting better. I’m hoping as the girl grows, he’ll start to acknowledge her as a human. Maybe, one day, each can provide the other with the TLC they both so desperately crave. Maybe, one day, they’ll be BFFs.

I Ask For Help

I was never a big fan of asking for help. Too proud. Too cool. Too manly. But with the girl here, asking for help has become one of my absolute favorite things. I will ask for help from anyone. I will sing it from the rooftops. I will ask multiple times per day, because I NEED it.

You will have some desperate moments. There are times after a long day with the girl where I am willing to sacrifice a small animal, a cat maybe, for an hour of alone time. Just one hour. In college, an hour was useless. I pissed away hours like they were tuition dollars. As a dad, an hour is an eternity. I can change the world with an hour.

Luckily for new parents, people love babies. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, are usually more than willing to step in. So get comfortable asking for and taking help. If only for an hour so you can eat, bathe and remember how it feels to exist with your dignity intact.

I am Resilient

What will you do on that rare occasion when the sky opens and the lord shones his heavenly light upon thy rooftop, blessing thee with a child who actually falls asleep before 9PM? How will you spend those free 3 hours? How will you not use them to drink beer and watch tv?

Willpower is a finite resource, and nothing drains willpower like baby having. I gained 15 pounds by the girl’s 4 month birthday, because I used every free minute to lay on the couch and eat stuffed crust.

If this is where you let yourself go, then see you later. But if you’re not ready for that, you will have to dig deep, and get your ass to the gym and away from the delivery menu.

I am Embarrassing and Egoless

I live in constant fear of making a boner of myself — of stuttering during a meeting, or waving to someone who was waving to someone behind me.

To protect my fragile ego, I avoid activities that could portray me as lame or weak (karaoke, voluntarily speaking in public, meeting new people, etc.). I go to great lengths to avoid potential embarrassment. But not when it comes to the girl. With her, I’m a lullaby-singing, peek-a-boo playing dynamo.

The love, man. It’s crazy. It makes it all worth it.

It is All Worth it

I have changed. The sanity-having, worry-free, zip-a-dee-fuckin-doo-dah-ing me is gone, lying face down in a heap of poopy diapers and burp rags. But that is ok. Because from the ashes, like a goddamn phoenix, springs a new life — one oblivious to worry, or house payments, or performance reviews, and focused on discovering toes and cheesing at the dog. And I experience it every day. So in a way, it’s my life now. My old life is in ruins. But it’s worth it, because now I get to see what grows from the rubble.

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How to Visit Your Buddy’s Newborn Baby

If you’re in your late twenties, then you already know…babies…they’re everywhere…

Your neighbor has one. Your coworker has one. Every person on your goddamn Facebook news feed has one, and by God, soon one of your buddies will have one.

What will you do? Should you call? Should you visit the hospital? Should you buy the baby a rattle? A lolli?

Oh good Christ, are you expected to hold this baby?! Babies are fragile. What if you drop him? Or crush him? You’ll smash his bones, you will.

Remember all those weddings last summer? Babies come next. Babies are the thing now. A big thing. But just relax. Take a breath. And take four minutes to learn all there is to know about visiting a newborn.

Express interest in seeing the child. Don’t make your buddy BEG you to see his kid. Even if you’re not big on babies, congratulate him on his major milestone and express interest in seeing his baby, once he and the new mother are ready.

Be patient and flexible. The labor and delivery experience is a lot of things (emotional, terrifying, bloody). One thing it is not, however, is something to share with a shit ton of visitors. Unless you have prior arrangements, leave the hospital visits to immediate family. And since even the first few days back home are spent adjusting to, well, everything, let the new parents schedule the visit.

Be healthy. If you have a cold, don’t go rubbing up on the new babes, man. Exposing a baby to a virus is dangerous, for both of you. For him because his immune system isn’t at full power yet, and for you because if you get this kid sick, his hormonal new mother might just carve your eyes from their sockets.

Bring a gift. If you’re a single guy, then bringing a gift probably seems reasonable. If you’re married, and this gift is in addition to a shower gift or pregnancy gift or any many other gifts your wife has likely already given the child and/or soon-to-be mother, this gift will seem like overkill.

Earlier this year, I protested the ‘baby visit gift’ when my wife wrapped what was, I swear to God, the tenth item we had given to the child of two friends of ours. My wife’s response was, when friends have a baby, you bring a gift; it’s what you do.

And to her credit, of the many visitors we had after our girl was born, all of them brought gifts. Every single one. So if you decide that you’ve already given enough, I concur, but you’ll probably look bad by comparison.

Anyway, if you’re not up to date on the latest baby stuff, why not bring something for the new parents? A buddy of mine brought my wife a bottle a cab and me some bourbon. Well done, Greg. Because of you, I remember nothing from my first week of fatherhood.

Bring (homemade) food. Wanna hear about the best enchiladas I’ve ever had? No? Well too bad.

So my wife’s labor lasted three days, and we spent two more in postpartum. During this five day birthing marathon, my food options were a) the hospital cafeteria and b) Davanni’s across the street.

The hospital cafeteria cuisine was everything you’d expect hospital cafeteria cuisine to be, so by default I was stuck with some variety of spicy lunch meat hoagie from Davanni’s. Twice a day. Everyday. By the time we were finally discharged, I had acquired a baby girl, ten pounds, and type 2 diabetes.

Upon returning home, our first visitors brought with them two pans of homemade enchiladas and OMFG. Seriously, preparing a meal as a new parent is the worst. It requires time, energy and the willingness to create and clean another mess. To have someone cook for you…it’s magic. Those enchiladas changed my life; they must be commemorated and eternalized. I shall name my daughter after them.

Expect a newborn. If you arrive expecting the goddamn Gerber baby, then you are going to be puzzled because a newborn looks nothing like the giggling infants used to peddle baby food. His entire 7 pound body was just forced from a birth canal, and it shows. His head is misshaped. He has no neck, and his swollen face looks like it just collided with Holly Holm’s left foot. When my daughter was born I had no idea newborns looked like this. Prepare yourself.

Wash your hands. Again, to keep the vulnerable baby healthy.

Hold the child. My advice to the guy horrified of baby holding: just hold the damn child. While wrapping your blundering man hands around a precious newborn may seem borderline negligent, babies are tougher than you think. More importantly, it’s easy. Here’s your guide:

How to Hold a Baby

Help out. My daughter was born twenty days early. At that point, my ‘before baby to-do list’ was about 80% complete. Any item that was unchecked on her birthday…still unchecked today. A newborn demands a shocking amount of time. You can’t prepare for it. So ask your buddy if you can help with something. Anything.

Keep it short. One of the biggest challenges as a new parent is establishing and adhering to any sort of schedule. In the early days, baby eats every 1-3 hours, sleeps (or doesn’t) whenever he wants, and pisses and shits himself seemingly on a continuous loop. Ten minutes after you satisfy all baby’s basic survival needs, the cycle resets and you do it all again. When you visit, the new family will be right in the middle of this bullshit. Don’t overstay your welcome.

How To Survive The First Week of Fatherhood

Being a dad is one of life’s rare treasures, a milestone man cherishes alongside losing his virginity, getting married, and the day he discovers masturbation. And while having many weeks to attain this level of greatness, the first week of fatherhood is as good as none of these things. In fact, it’s much worse.

Your child is a crying, crapping ball of mystery. Your poor wife — having cooked this kid to 8 pounds and then forcing it from her vagina — is understandably not yet herself, and the trained medical professionals are back at the hospital, leaving you, the alpha male of this newly formed pack, spiraling through one nonstop holy shit moment.

Holy shit, what am I doing? Holy shit, my life is over. Holy shit, I’m the world’s worst father.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. And could I take the responsible dad brain I have now and go back to that week, I would do things much differently. What follows is everything I wish I knew before fatherhood. My hope is it allows you to start off being a dad who is the shit, instead of one holy shitting his pants.

Get Your Mind Right: Caring for Yourself

Fatherhood

A new family operates like a three person conga line. As the leader, baby does as he pleases, while you and your wife cling helplessly behind. You’ll be tempted to quit, to leave the conga-ing to your wife and baby. But they need you, and the best way to care for them is to first care for yourself.

Take time off. Never was my job more insignificant than during the first weeks of fatherhood. As it turns out, there is a biological reason for this. Researcher Anne Storey discovered that a man’s testosterone drops by as much as 1/3 after the birth of his child, which means a new father is wired to settle down at home. Take some time to be with your new family.

Know there is no right way to feel. 25-40% of new fathers report feelings of indifference after the birth of their child, while other dads cry tears of joy in the delivery room. This is a major life event. You’ll respond in your own way and that’s okay. Stay involved, work on the bonding techniques we’ll cover shortly, and soon the love for your child will hit you. And when it does, be ready…

Prepare for new and extreme emotions. The affection for your wife, the love from your dog, that night you drank a bottle of Merlot and cried through the ending of The Notebook — no emotional experience prepares you for fatherhood.

The feelings for your child are disarming; they tear away your tough guy layers like peels of an onion. And at a time when you want to feel responsible and in-control, it’s more likely you’ll feel helpless and vulnerable. You might worry.

Don’t worry, be happy. When we love something worrying comes naturally, especially something as fragile as a newborn. And while every new parent worries, remember this:

In the history of human existence, never has there been a safer time for your baby to be alive.

For thousands of years, babies were raised in caves, holes, huts, without electricity, and without modern medicine. Hell, they’re still raised this way. Learn about newborn safety, take precautions, but most importantly know what to look for.

Know the newborn warning signs. Call your health care provider if your baby experiences:

  • yellow skin or eyes
  • blueish or pale skin
  • a fever (rectal temperature above 100.4 F)
  • redness or infection around the umbilical cord or circumcised penis
  • stiff or floppy limbs
  • no stool for 48 hours or blood/mucus in the stool
  • repeated vomiting
  • drastic behavior changes

Stock the house with healthy food. A nutritious diet gives you the energy necessary to keep up with baby. More importantly, healthy food will speed your wife’s recovery and replenish the baby’s nutrients if breastfeeding. Pediatricians recommend a natural diet including lean protein, leafy green vegetables, and fruit.

Embrace abstinence. After birth, the default recommendation is no sex for six weeks. During this time, your wife will be inundated with new priorities all more important than your sexual gratification. Plan to be on your own, and even that may be a challenge. With mom and baby home and a revolving door of visitors, it’s not like you can set up PornHub headquarters in your living room and go to town whenever inspiration strikes. You’ll need to get creative.

Ask for help. Not necessarily with the abstinence part but for everything else. Adjusting to life with a baby is tough. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Your First Priority: Caring For Your Wife

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Take a woman having just delivered a baby, sign her up for fulltime newborn care, and you will have one new mother who needs your help. A good start is to understand the aftermath of labor.

Physical Aftermath

Lochia is the bleeding from the site where the placenta was attached. It lasts about 3-6 weeks.

Uterine contractions feel like menstrual cramps and cause the uterus to shrink back to its normal size.

Physical damage along the birth canal. A baby was just born through a vagina. General soreness is common throughout the area, its supporting structures, and the muscles of the pelvic floor.

Hemorrhoids are common throughout pregnancy and even more so right after labor. Basically, the pressure from pushing results in swollen blood vessels of the rectum. Yup.

Engorgement typically occurs 3-4 days postpartum and is caused by increased blood flow to the breasts, swelling, and accumulation of milk. The pain can range from mild discomfort to intense and throbbing.

Cesarean section recovery requires extra care.

Emotional Aftermath

The baby blues affect about 70% of new mothers and can last hours, days or even weeks after birth. During this time, your wife may experience periods of weepiness, sadness, irritability, and anxiety, so, really, nothing you’re not already used to. Just be extra sensitive and know it will most likely be short lived.

Postpartum depression is a longer lasting, more intense, and much more serious bout of the baby blues. If your wife is experiencing the following symptoms more than 2 weeks after birth, it may be time to call your doctor.

  • Feeling empty
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of interest
  • Significant changes in appetite

Though commonly believed to be a result of a new mother’s changing hormones, some researchers associate the baby blues with low levels of social support — specifically from the new father. This, of course, means you can improve what was previously believed to be a hormonal and uncontrollable phenomenon. And while there are many ways to help your wife, the most surprising and maybe most important is with breastfeeding.

Wifey’s Little Helper: Breastfeeding Assistant

Breastfeeding is often the most unpleasant of afterbirth surprises. It takes about 10 seconds to realize that your preconceived notions — mom offers teet, baby accepts teet, baby drinks milk for like 10 minutes, mom burps baby, everyone is happy — were absolutely asinine. At best, nursing grinds along as mom and baby coordinate supply and demand. At worst, it doesn’t work.

Adding further stress, most experts believe breastfeeding is critical to newborn development. Research shows that breastfed babies score higher on cognitive tests than those fed formula. Breast milk also contains ingredients like Taurine, an amino acid that a baby’s brain needs but cannot make on its own. Because of these and other benefits, John Medina, in his book Brain Rules for Baby, refers to breast milk as “The nutritional equivalent of a magic bullet.”

The difficulty of breastfeeding and potential of baby missing out on the benefits of breast milk can put a lot of pressure on a new mom. By doing just two things, you will vastly improve the feeding experience.

1. Educate yourself. Read the guides you received from the hospital, birthing classes and prenatal visits. Learn about latch, feeding positions, and supply issues. Serve as a consultant and help your wife troubleshoot. Stay involved and be supportive when things aren’t going well.

2. Burp and change diapers. The average newborn feeds every 2 hours. After eating, baby needs to burp and has most likely shit himself or will shit himself shortly. If you burp and change baby, your wife will have a few extra minutes before the next feed.

Wifey’s Little Helper: Other Responsibilities

Assume your wife’s old chores. Over the years, you and your wife have honed a systematic division of chores. You maintain the yard while she cleans the house. She cooks while you walk Spot. This is over, and you will now do all of these things. Baby monopolizes your wife’s time because babies don’t care about chores. Baby will say to hell with chore division, and then cry about it, and shit his pants.

Cook that healthy food. The FDA recommends that nursing mothers consume an extra 500 calories a day. Since a nursing mother is so often, well, nursing, you might have to step up your cooking game.

Regulate visitors. People love babies, man. Never is this more obvious than during the first week of parenthood. Visitors will line up, clamoring to get their paws on your child. If you’re not careful, you’ll be hosting house guests all the time. Don’t overbook and schedule visits based on baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule. Also, ask visitors to wash their hands before rubbing up on your child.

Keep the new mom off the internet. Parenthood is filled with questions, none of which is more common than Is this normal? Take this question online, and you will get 100 different answers. All unfavorable. Baby blogs and mommy forums are packed with hormonal new mothers scaring the collective shit out of each other. Google baby runny nose and I promise, if you look hard enough, you can diagnose it as a terminal illness. The web builds on inaccuracies like a schoolyard game of telephone. For at least the first week, skip the drama and call the pediatrician with any concerns.

Beginning to Bond: Taking Care of Jr.

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In the 1950s, scientist Harry Harlow performed a heartbreaking but important experiment on infant attachment using newborn rhesus monkeys. He separated the monkeys from their biological mothers and placed them in cages with two dolls.

The first doll was made of wire and supplied food to the babies through an attached bottle of milk. The second doll provided no food and was made of soft cloth. Harlow then ran a series of tests to see which mother the baby monkeys preferred. In every variation of the experiment, the babies preferred the cloth doll to the wire doll with food.

Harlow concluded that the parent/infant relationship is built on more than just feeding, and that contact and comfort create the emotional attachment necessary for the psychological health of infants. As sad as this is for the monkeys, it’s a welcome discovery for a new father looking to bond but unable to produce breast milk.

Harry-harlow_wiki

Start now. I’m gonna assume you had this kid for the father/daughter or father/son relationship and not because you wanted to change diapers and never fuckin sleep again. And while baby is too young to go to his first ball game, you don’t have to wait two years to start bonding. Here are some activities that, if started right away, can lay the foundation for a lifetime bond. Almost like little bonding hacks.

Provide skin to skin contact. Touch is vital for baby’s development. Research has shown that skin to skin contact comforts baby and can regulate his temperature, breathing, and heart rate.

Get close and make eye contact. A baby sees up to 12 inches and is especially intrigued by faces. If you’re consistently within his range of sight, he’ll become familiar with your features. Soon the day will come when he recognizes you. That will be a good day.

Read to baby. Reading helps baby establish the building blocks of language. Since he is too young to understand reading material, read whatever is on your nightstand.

Talk to baby using “parentese”. Speak in a high pitched tone, stretch your vowels, and use a melodic voice. Because you’re slowing your speech and making your vowels more distinct, it helps baby learn the language.

Schedule daily bonding time. Habits form most easily when done at the same time, so every night as my wife gets ready for bed, I pick up my daughter, nestle her in my shirtless man sweater, and together we read one of my favorite children’s books. My hope is that we are establishing a bond that exists years from now, that soon I’ll be reading her favorites, and soon after that she’ll be reading them to me.

This is Only the Beginning: Surviving the First 3 Months

The first week of fatherhood is tough, but it is not the toughest. During the early days, the experience is fresh. You still have willpower, and adrenaline, and the blissful unawareness of what life is really like now.

When all of that shit dries up, when nothing is fresh because you’re living in filth, and when baby has slaughtered your adrenaline and willpower — that is when shit gets real.

My wife and I fondly refer to weeks 2-12 as the dark ages. Your dark ages survival guide can be found right here:

(Post coming soon)