By Armin Brott
At some point not long after the baby is born, just about every new father gets hit with a sharp jolt of reality: he's a father--with new responsibilities, new pressures, new expectations to live up to. For some of them, this seemingly basic little epiphany comes early, before they leave the hospital. But for others, reality may not hit for a few days. Sooner or later, though, they all come to realize that their lives have changed forever. Sometimes the changes are subtle, sometimes not so subtle. But they're almost always surprising. For mothers it is important to remember a few things:
1. He may be confused. If there's one thing that sets the first few months of fatherhood apart from the next few years it is the confusing and often conflicting emotions he may feel. On the one hand there's the virility, power, and pride at having created a new life. On the other, the feelings of helplessness when he can't satisfy (or sometimes even understand) your baby's needs.
2. He will discover a new and different kind of love. There's no comparing the all-consuming love he'll have for his child with the love he has for any other person. Maurice Sendak may have captured the feeling better than any other writer in a scene from Where the Wild Things Are where the monsters plead with Max not to leave them: "Please don't go," they say. "We'll eat you up we love you so."
3. He will feel ambivalence. One day, completely out of the blue, he'll look at his baby and realize that the intense passion he felt just the day before has been replaced by a numb, hollow feeling. Does he know this child? Does he care? he'll feel like bagging this whole dad thing and starting a new life somewhere else. Chances are the very next thing he'll feel is incredible guilt at having had these feelings in the first place. After all, if he isn't head-over-heels in love his child 100% of the time he's not a good father, right? Wrong. Ambivalence is a perfectly normal part of being a dad (as it is a mom) and he is going to have the same feelings dozens of times over the next 50 years. So get used to it now.
4. He may get depressed. Yes, it's true. Even though most people think that postpartum blues are a women's thing, plenty of guys get depressed after their babies are born. Father's blues, though, aren't hormonally based like our partners', but may, in fact, have more to do with returning to reality. When he were an expectant and brand new dad, people paid more attention to him and probably cut him a little slack. But after a few weeks it's back to the grind at work, plus he's got to deal with all the bills, the sleep interruption, and the extra laundry at home. That's enough to depress anyone.
5. He'll be afraid. The first few months of fatherhood are simply littered with fears: that he won't be able to live up to her expectations of what it means to be a father; that he might not be able to protect his child or his family from harm, that he won't be able to adequately provide for his family, that he doesn't know what to do with his child, that he'll be too much--or not enough--like his own father, that he has made a horrible mistake. These fears and many others are a completely normal part of making the transition from man and husband to father. Some will go away as his skills increase; others will go away with time. But sooner or later they almost all go away.
6. His relationship with you will change. Before he became parents, he and you spent a lot of time together, nurturing each other and making your relationship stronger. But once the baby shows up everything changes: now the focus of just about every thing he do is on the baby. he barely has time to sleep let alone do the things that brought he and you together in the first place. If at all possible, try to carve out some time, even if it's only a few minutes a day, to spend talking with you--about something other than the baby.
7. He'll take the baby's "opinions" a little too seriously. For the first six to eight weeks of life, the baby probably won't give him much feedback about how he is doing as a father: no smiles, no laughing, not much response in any way at all. In fact, just about all the baby will do is cry. It's very easy to take the baby's lack of enthusiasm as some kind of referendum on his worth as a dad. Don't let it. If your husband or partner backs off, the baby will too. So ask him to hang in there for a little longer--it's well worth the wait.
8. He'll learn new ways of being loved. Over the next few months, as he learns to master his baby's cues and meet his needs, the baby will learn to love him--and to express that love in the most amazing ways. And the first time that his baby coos at him or hugs him or falls asleep on his chest absentmindedly stroking his shoulder he'll discover the true meaning of life.
9. The baby will teach him about planning--and flexibility. Before he became a parent getting ready to leave the house meant grabbing his wallet and car keys and making sure the oven was off. But now, going on a trip to the grocery store with his baby takes as much planning as an expedition to Mt. Everest. That's assuming that the baby doesn't fill her diaper two or three times just as he is walking out the door.
10. He'll talk about very different things than he used to. If someone would have told him a year ago that he would be willingly participating in long discussions with friends about projectile vomit, leaky breasts, episiotomies, and the color and consistency of the contents of a diaper, you would have probably laughed. But he is doing it, right? And he is probably loving it too.
About the Author
A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the author of The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, Father for Life, The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be; A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years, Throwaway Dads, and The Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a Partner. He has written on parenting and fatherhood for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting", a nationally distributed, weekly talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland, California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com.