I’ve been fascinated with the recent news item in the UK about #HaplessDad Matt Coyne and his hilarious reports from the front line of being a new father. It reminded me of more than a few ‘Dad moments’ while caring and attempting to be competent as an untrained father myself. Here are a few highlights / lowlights, with my tongue firmly in cheek and please note that all parties survived unscathed in our family. Even after the bouncing incident. Shhh. Need to know only.
Stay at the mum’s head end if you attend the birth, especially for a C-section. Unless you are medically non-squeamish this will prevent you bouncing on the floor when you pass out. Though you may be screamed at, slapped, squeezed etc. by mum. Passing out is embarrassing for you and expensive if they have clean up after you. I was parked on a stool head between knees feeling like a complete jerk. Involuntary Vagus reaction is my plea bargain. I did recover in time for the main event, just about.
Prepare your answer in advance for ‘do you want to cut the cord Dad?’ No one warned me of this bizarre tribal ritual. Apparently the umbilical cord does not unscrew itself, surely this is an evolutionary oversight? Do you want to keep and pan fry the after-birth? Clearly this depends on where you stand on cannibalism and ‘normal’ dietary sources of iron. Hopefully this is a rare question and we can skip over it. So let’s move on rapidly.
Keep out of the maternity ward as far as possible. The ladies there will be in various stages of near birth, post birth, waiting for birth and potentially screaming a lot. Not alone do you not understand, being a man, you also have never met the woman who has waited 18 hours to be induced and wants a natural pool birth which is being cleaned out in readiness. She will most likely be scary. Can’t say I blame her either.
Remember to catch the whole of your baby, not just the neck. Baby will be bright purple, pink or red. Apparently that’s normal. People will call it ‘baby’ so come up with a name really quickly if that irks you. The moment a nurse or doctor hands you your new-born is one you will remember for life. So prepare your forearm to support their neck, hands for the back and what ever you do don’t fumble the pass! Your child will be tiny.
Don’t party on your first nights as Dad, get some sleep in! Well do party a bit while Mum and child are in hospital becoming bonded, but remember you have two, perhaps three nights of sleep left before you become a zombie. I mean literally you will turn into the walking dead with a thumping headache and no idea which way is up. Kind of like having jet lag where the plane is constantly chasing new time zones. It hurts. Use your free nights to watch or do whatever you want within reason (football, films, guitar, tennis, drilling, drumming, clubbing). These are your last nights of freedom for a number of years. Ensure you also practice 8 hours of sleep so you can remember what it is like, when three months later your child is wide awake and demanding your attention at 12am, 1am, 2am, 2.15am and 3am. On a good night. Remember it’s your fault and it’s your turn! Attend to your child.
Repeat after me ‘what do you think is best < insert partner’s name>?’ As a new Dad your partner will take it as a given that you have no idea how to look after her baby. You can fetch, carry, assist and read the books. You did read the books right? The correct answer is ‘yes of course’. Remember though it is her baby and you are the helper in your infinitely flawed way for a while. It might be weeks, it might be years. You will make mistakes no matter how diligent you are. That’s ok, pat yourself on the back periodically. No one else will. You didn’t buy a bigger buggy? A high chair? An expandable crib? Ahhhh!
NASA, the CIA and Fort Knox must design and approve your baby’s first car seat. It will not fit easily into your car either. If an egg could crack in it at two miles an hour over heavy terrain it is simply not good enough. You scrimped and bought a second-hand seat? Shame on you! Baby will certainly catch malaria, typhoid, the flu and Martian baby syndrome from the unclean seat fabric. Ditch it. Don’t even think of selling it on you fiend! It is an unwritten rule that all first-mums must have immaculate and new equipment. They don’t really need it, but it is more than your life is worth to disagree. You didn’t read that here ok?
Get an easily portable Moses basket with a stand. I’m surprised you’ve not done so already, a furniture drawer and newspaper is not good enough! Seriously though, it will make life much easier for you both. Your baby can be carried from room to room in said basket. By you. At all times of day and night.
Homecoming is surreal, prepare for ‘the momentary silence’. So you’ve been through the birth, however closely or remotely it turned out. You have a child at home safely and no idea what happens next. For a few seconds there will be silence. No hospital ward bleeps, yelps and rumbling noises. Silence. You will say something like, ‘Wow isn’t he / she amazing?’ Treasure that moment. Shortly afterwards all hell will break out. Babies cry like fog horns without a coded message. Tired, ill, hungry, soiled, wanting attention? Who can tell? It will become obvious after a few days as you attune to the different demand calls from your son / daughter. They mostly eat, get winded, release overspill cheese, sleep and soil in a cycle. Sometimes they do all these things at once.
Nothing except a deep wash will remove the cheese smell from your baby’s overflow. Baby will gurgle, smile sweetly and chunder all over your best work clothes and shoes without warning. This will happen, I guarantee you. It will smell like Parmesan and only the best cleaners can remove it. The same goes for the sofa, carpet and your cherished possessions. Best to keep baby in an easily cleaned zone and to wear combat fatigues. Do not be tempted or tricked into holding your baby in full work regalia just prior to rushing off to an important appointment or commute. You have been warned. Also nappies must be secured tight to your child’s body with tape at all times, don’t ask why it’s not a nice answer.
Babies drink and breathe to trap air and need to be burped after every feed. It’s almost a given. They drink, they hold their breath and trap air. No burping is a bad thing, it means they will scream later and you’ll have no idea why. The coded scream for trapped painful wind is often combined with tears and a look of reproach. ‘How could you force all that air into my tummy parents? Just wait until I’m a teenager! When I choose your care home I’ll remember everything.’
Changing a nappy requires breathing through your mouth. It can stink. Especially if it’s all the way up baby’s back. Bright yellow, runny. I hope you’re not eating anything right now. Fortunately you probably have the parenting gene to get on with it pretty quickly. Mop up, seal the mess away and prepare for the inevitable open-air wee all over the place. Yep it’s gonna happen. Usually while your child is chuckling and waving their limbs around in a happy way. They fool you into lowering your guard and then they let rip.
Prepare to learn about projectile vomiting and cleaning products. Watch the Exorcist and read up on cleaning materials for fabrics and carpet. A metre or more of splatter zone is often a personal best for baby, I’m sure they know aim for this. While mum is tending your recovering child, you will be returning the splatter zone to its former glory, for hours. I recommend breathing through your mouth a lot, loads of paper to lift the debris and a couple of bin bags. Plus carpet cleaner, bucket and cloths. Yuck. But they pay you to be a parent right? LOL.
Babies become a whole lot more interesting to us men when they can communicate. In other words, whisper it, they can be a bit boring until they become attentive, smile, laugh, chuckle, walk, earn a living, leave home. In the early days they sleep a lot, eat a lot and recycle their waste in new and exciting colours. If it seems dull to you, it gets better. You are not evil for thinking that a child waving its limbs around on a mat is not as great as a football match. However, do not share this with your partner! Grin and bear with the dull months. Tickle and play with your child. Teach them what great music sounds like and how the government is going wrong; who should be selected for your sports team. They will have no idea what you are talking about. It’s the tone of voice and attention they like. At 3am try anything that works. Elvis worked for us. Thank God.
Most babies are podgy and change looks significantly over time. I’m sure there are exceptions, but as a general rule a healthy baby will plump up and eventually thin out as they grow into a toddler and child. Pretty, ugly, like someone in your family? In the early days it is anyone’s guess. Their hair arrives, vanishes and grows back. It’s probably best to agree with everyone about who your child takes after. It also saves a lot of time. They could look like anyone from Al Capone to Mr Blobby as a young baby. Pinkish, breathing? That will do thanks.
They really are cute, amazing and life changing. Only the hardest of heart could deny that a bright-eyed baby will not melt your heart. And potentially twist you round their little finger. Your life will never be the same. Most likely it will be a whole lot richer, though with less sleep and less available money. A lot less sleep. What was that ‘free time’ thing again? Your own child is not like other children. They are cuter, brighter, prettier, look like both of you and so on. Oops spoiler alert for (possible) subsequent articles.
Well that’s all for now about the early months. I had a lot of fun reminiscing about the early days. Like the film said you have to take some time out to reflect every now and then or life passes you by (Ferris Buehler’s Day Off).
So you’ll be relieved to know I’m not planning to write any parenting books, instead I blog about a variety of topics and keep the published writing to film-scapes for intelligent children (i.e. all of them). It is amazing how quickly they grow up and how much children’s imaginations can stretch beyond books, films and TV. If you have older children (7 to 14) check out some free chapters here. The short-hand labels are: middle grade, action, adventure, sci-fi. It was a whole lot of fun to write these books, but that is another story.
Best of luck if you are a new parent, you’ll be great. Repeat that mantra three times a day before meals. Sedatives may be required and all have side-effects. You do not want a hangover with young children around. Trust me, it is something you only do once.