Thursday, September 15, 2011
Becoming a Dad
We all know that the actual process of creating a child is usually a quick and pleasurable experience; however, the actually experience of becoming a father reaches a level of joy that cannot be described. It is something that needs to be experienced to fully understand. Today I had the amazing experience of witnessing the birth of my second son. Amongst the chaos and disturbing nature of the actual birth, There is something magical that hits right to the masculine core. In this one experience you suddenly realize that your life has changed and it will never be the same. Suddenly you have someone depending on you and your partner 100%. Suddenly you are a father. Breath in that last statement for a minute. You are a father. Whether you are a father or not I believe that experience or expectation of that experience has an impact on the core of a man. It is the event that solidifies your lineage, your birthright. It means you have someone to pass on your knowledge and your love to. Unfortunately many men take part in the conception of the child but not all men choose the daddy part of the deal.
Being a father does not necessarily make you a dad. Any man can be a father but not all choose to be a dad. What's the difference you might ask? A father is merely a "sperm donor" as my wife calls fathers who do not live up to their daddy duties. A dad is there for his family and really embraces the reality that he has someone who depends on him and really gets in touch with the fatherly core of his masculinity.
I think that being a dad to a newborn is more difficult for us dads than it is for moms. Because lets face it, newborns really don't do anything. They sleep, eat, cry, and poop, so what part can a dad take in this. We don't have the bond with the child like his mother does. A baby is instantly bonded to his mother when he is born because he just spent that last 9 months as part of her. Sadly for us, babies are not connected in the same way to the father. The baby is very literally part of his mother before he is born, so I believe the first step in being a good dad is to treat the child's mother with great respect before and after the child is born, regardless if you plan on maintaining a romantic relationship with the mother. Until the birth the child and his mother are one entity. Your child relies on his mother for all life giving support. Respect for her is respect for your child.
The second thing that is good for a dad to do is cut the umbilical chord. I understand that this makes some dads a bit uneasy, believe me, I can totally relate, but there is something symbolic and very special with this act. You are not just cutting some gross tube thing, you are making the separation of your child as an autonomous being, separate from his mother. Don't miss out on this because of a weak stomach. Get yourself in the right frame of mind and this can be a very special moment. Your child is suddenly his own self-sustaining creature and you made it happen. Now that's cool!
Once the act of umbilical chord cutting is complete, the role of dad becomes a bit fuzzy. "What do I do now?" was what I found myself asking. The baby doesn't play, he doesn't respond to me, he doesn't look at me, his mom feeds him, I feel like a spectator in something I really want to be a part of but don't know how. I think a dad's normal response is to want to play ball or play with his new son or daughter but this is not possible for the first few months of life. However, there are a few things that a dad can do that are not that exciting but make a bond between his child and him. The first is to change diapers! I know it sucks but this is one area in which you can take part in the raising of your child and your partner will likely not argue with you about it. It's not the most pleasant thing but it is something that shows you care. it is something that your child needs that you are able to provide for him.
The next thing a dad can do is feed the baby whenever possible. This may or may not be possible depending on the how you are planning on doing this. If your partner is strictly breast feeding you are not really able to help with this but even in this situation there are some things you can do. Babies don't always take right to nursing and this can become a very frustrating thing for the mother. Be supportive and understanding. This can be a very emotionally trying situation for your partner. She just gave birth to this child who needs her to survive but he is rejecting her. Ouch! Be there for her as much as possible. If the opportunity arises to feed the baby yourself, DO IT! If you plan on ever feeding the baby from a bottle, this is a great time for you to bond to your child and become more than a father to the baby. You share in the life providing source that has been your partner's job for the past 9 months.
Cuddle time. There are many studies that show the importance of contact with children, especially with newborns. Not just contact but the importance of skin to skin contact with an infant. Human beings crave physical contact from each other, it is an important part of all relationships but especially in the relationship between a child and his parents. Dads, take the opportunity to give your partner a break and hold the baby or rock the baby to sleep. Also during these bonding times occasionally take off your shirt and hold the baby, shirtless as well, against your chest. This is a magical opportunity that we as dads often are deprived of. The child gets plenty of close skin contact with the mother when feeding but dads are often deprived of this. There is something about skin touching skin that bonds two people. And there is something magical about the baby feeling and hearing your heartbeat. This is a soothing sound to the child as they have spent the last 9 months in close contact with your partner's heart. This sound is soothing and comforting and providing it says to the child " you are safe and I will protect you."
The last bit of advice in becoming a dad and not just a father to your newborn is BE THERE! In the next few years there will be many milestones, The first step, first word, first haircut, first Christmas, first day of school, first soccer game. Don't miss this stuff! You can never get it back and you will regret missing it. Show your child you care and support them and be a dad!
These are just a few simple things that can make this time in your life and in the life of your child more fulfilling. Don't miss the opportunities and be a dad. Your child needs it and you need it.
Posted by Daniel Caldwell at 5:50 AM