A Note to New Fathers
March 11, 2021
I’ve seen a lot of new babies cropping up on social media of late, no doubt designed to replace one set of boomers with another (only without the opportunity for boomers 2.0 to buy a house for the price of a soy latte and avocado on toast).
Generally, when a baby is born, there is always a mother (note: I will be sticking to mother, father etc., and not, lactating person and non-lactating person), and hopefully - but less regularly - there is also a father.
I’m a father – of sorts – and although I’ve always enjoyed telling American that I’ve got three kids: “one of each” (the punch line of the joke was “yes, a boy, a girl, and a hairdresser”, which was funny in the 1970s, but less so now, even though it is), I actually only had two kids, Ella and Ewen, a full set. But now the joke is on me; following a nineteen year lay off, my wife has gone and given me a third one to deal with.
Yes, it is strange having a baby at 49, and for a while, I liked to tell myself it wasn’t mine, but that I’d bring him up as if he was, like my own, but it turns out he’s the spitting image of child number two, so I guess I’m stuck with him.
The trauma - I mean excitement - of having a new child in my once perfect life (once I got rid of one and two) makes me feel a little like Bob Rebadow, the character from the prison series Oz, who survives the electric chair; only for me, I feel I’ve now been strapped back in for for a second go. I suppose this is not a very nice way to see being a father, so maybe it’s more like Bob being released from prison after nineteen years, only to commit the same crime and be sent back.
But with all these new dads around and soon to be dads, I thought I’d pass on advice as both a once young dad, as well a now old dad, the kind of dad who people will call “grandad” when I drop him off at school. Must of the following is useless advice, like telling someone how best to drown (you’ll work it out yourself), but something might be of help and get you through the night, I mean nights, as in the many, many, many sleepless nights.
Note, I’m a man, not a woman, a father, not a mother, a lover, not a fighter (which is how I got into this bloody mess), and so what I’m writing here is meant for fathers, a group who are generally ill-served by forums, books, videos, Gwyneth Paltrow or Bravo Two Zero.
- The best bit of advice anyone gave me before becoming a dad, apart from “have lots of lie-inns”, was “your life is over, but a new one is beginning”. This person was a Californian surfer dude, i.e. a hippy, but it was good advice.
- My add on to this advice also applies to being arrested at 3 am in the Mojave desert by the cops, cops with guns, which is: “don’t struggle”. Your old life is ending, will end the moment that baby pops out, so don’t fight it, give it up, let go. If you don’t, you’ll end up being trapped in limbo, neither half man-child nor grown-up. Yes, I know it’s hard just to lay down and feel your life leaving your body, but that’s not life, that immaturity. It’s no longer all about you (by the time ‘you’ returns, there will be little of ‘you’ you’ll want).
- Baby-names are difficult, but whatever you choose will become the babies name, even names like Saxon, Labyrinth or Morning Glory (yes, they’re real people I’ve met). Finding spelling difficult, I went for easy names, four letters, two syllables, so Ella, Ewen and Noah.
- Now, this is a big one, and one people don’t talk about. But it’s OK if you don’t feel anything positive towards this baby, like not one thing. Yes, you can fake it, but I think it’s best not too, and no one is going to notice anyway. Instead, you need to see yourself not as a loving father but as a watchful guardian, looking after both the child and the mother (who you hopefully like, even it sometimes she no longer likes you). Give it a month, and you might feel something, but wait until you see a smile, even one just through their eyes, and your hard heart will melt, and being a father will be easy.
- In the short term, try and make the mother of your child smile.
- The first six weeks are the worst; it’s like basic training, only with less sleep. Hold the line through that, and you’ll be fine. And if you can’t hold the line, you’ll be fine.
- A baby is like a retreating Wehrmacht; it will punish arrogance or complacency. The moment you think you’ve got your baby beat, sleeping for twenty hours a day, it will counter-attack, and scream for twenty hours, turn you from some strutting general to a shell shocked private, cowering under a barrage of baby hell. Be humble in both victory and defeat.
- If in doubt, take it out, is a good motto with all children, basically that babies, like dogs, are best kept outside. This means lots of walking, walking being the thing a dad can do. An hour or two in the morning, then again in the afternoon, and then a short walk before dinner time. This might sound a lot, but when the baby is out and about, the mother can try and regain her sanity and sense of self, maybe even have some sleep. Use this time to listen to podcasts (they help drown out the crying).
- Don’t use the term “how’s baby?”; it’s “how’s the baby?”. Technically the former is correct, but I find it annoying.
- Avoid shit food just because you’re knackered. It will only make you more knackered. Try and make as many meals as you can and freeze them (spaghetti Bolognese is ideal). If you can’t do it, get someone else to gift you some meals. Another great lifesaver meal is just roasted veg. Just cut up an onion, some sprouts, carrots, potato, garlic cloves in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, mix up, then stick on a baking tray for 30 minutes at 180 degrees. Make a big batch, so you’ve got the next days done as well. Fry up some chicken or fish (or just add some feta cheese to the veg).
- Seeing as you didn’t just fire a baby out of your vagina, no matter how bad it feels to you, it’s worse for her. This means although it’s OK for her to be all sorts of grumpy and sometimes crazy, it’s not OK for you. No, you just need to be a rock, or as rock like as you can muster. This means if you take the baby for a walk and they’re a bloody nightmare, you don’t come home and tell the mother, just to get some sympathy, just say, “baby was great”. The more you play this game, the more fun it’ll be. If you have trouble, just think of Sam Quint, the captain from Jaws who gets eaten at the end, how he never shows any weakness, even when bitten in two. If in doubt, view yourself as Ogami from Shogun Assassin, silent, deadly and forever watchful over his child (only your wife has not been murdered by the Shogun’s ninja).
- Sleep, perchance to dream, not bloody likely. Now there are many sleep strategies, but by far, the worst is, “well, I can’t get any sleep, so neither should you”. This results in both parents being unable to function. I think it’s better to imagine the baby is a submarine, and you take turns on watch, so at least someone has their wits about them. This could mean the father sleeps somewhere else, and the mother does the nightshift, that father taking over as much as they can in the day. A good way to work this is the mother goes to bed at 7 pm, and the dad stays up with the baby until midnight, hand it over and goes to bed somewhere else, then gets the baby again at 7 am. Ideally, one person is having some solid sleep, with the other is like a firefighter, no, not playing pool, but ready to slide down the pole.
- Don’t forget the love in all this, as the mother of the child is going to have all sorts of strange feelings and emotions going through their heads, plus she’ll feel her body has been wrecked. Make sure you don’t withdraw into yourself in need of self-preservation. Try and keep your love alive until it can burn again.
- It’s also your job as the father to be the stable and supporting person, temper and rationalise how imperfect being a parent can feel at times, that you’re doing it all wrong, and that you’re going to damage this child. Children are very tough and resilient. They can survive in the rubble of collapsed buildings longer than you or I and watch Barney the dinosaur without suffering long term cognitive damage. Try and limit the number of attempted comparisons to what people are saying in books or on forums, or other parents you know. I suspect the kinds of people who write books on being perfect parents only do so because they’re well aware of how bad they were (being perfect is perfectly easy in hindsight, as demonstrated here).
- Stay off your phones, and don’t make your babies first real impression of you as being some screen illuminated zombie who’s eyes are always elsewhere, or miss that first smile because you’re on tick-tock. Also, be aware of the need for a calm space, so watch out for TVs. Consider a digital detox for six weeks, as some of the issues you face might not be about the baby but how the baby gets in the way of your fix.
- Don’t have more than two kids, as they only have four chairs per table at Mcdonalds (you can have three, but you’ll need to get divorced or bring your own chair, which might be cheaper).
- I could go on, but it’s nearly 11 pm, and I need to go to sleep. But as a parting thought, yes, having a baby is not easy; it can be feel fucking impossible. Sometimes you will not know how you can make it to the next hour. If you think it’s becoming too much to bear, find a way to hand over the baby and walk away, even if it’s just for half an hour. The baby has just gone through the most traumatic events in its life, birth probably being something we take a lifetime to get over. But you will get through it, and although there will be bumps along the way, the highs will be many and will be remembered and cherished forever, while the lows will be few and soon forgotten. Yes, a baby signals the end of your life, but the life it brings makes that old life seem empty and without meaning. You’ll find old memories will feel strange, as if something is missing, someone, as if this child has always been there, you’d not want to go back to that old life for all the lie-inns in the world.