(Dad)vice

(Dad)vice

Updated August 15, 2022

~11 minute reading time.

I’m new to this dad business. But I have many friends who are not yet dads and this is for them. Not just the dads, mind you. But any moms who are interested too. I just know from experience that this stuff is harder to talk about as an American male.

I have tried to collect the bits that I either wish someone had told me or I’m happy someone told me.
If I had to boil it down to two things it would be this:


Opening Thoughts

What Matters

You know what this section is going to say. I don’t have anything particularly insightful or touching to say. Every single moment with your children is special, even the shitty ones. In 30 years you’d rather have any of those moments back than any sum of money, fame, or things.

If you’re up for it and ok with a good cry, read Cranking by Merlin Mann. I printed it off and I reread anytime I need to be reminded.

The Slow Burn

Based on my experience, and that of most dads I’ve asked, the father-child relationship takes longer to get going than the mother-child relationship. This is not a reflection on you, how you are doing as a dad, or even the eventual strength of the relationship. It is reflection on the fact that all babies are genetically programmed to crave mom for food and safety. All moms are genetically and hormonally driven to care for their baby above all else. The advent of formula, bottle feeding, and other modern luxuries hasn’t changed that.

So, sometimes it can be hard to build that relationship. Sometimes it feels like it’ll never be there and you’re working so hard for nothing. But that changes. I’m only three months in and the smiles she gives when I wake her up in the morning make it all worth it. Hang in there.

Update ~9 months in: she crawls over and climbs up my leg for hugs and kisses. What more could I want in life?

Before the Baby

Which Dad?

Before you have a kid — heck, before you even decide to have a kid — you should ideally reflect on why. Which kind of dad do you want to be? More importantly, which kind of dad do you not want to be? Once you know that, what about yourself do you have to change to be that dad for your child? Next, just do the work.

These questions don’t go away once the baby is born. And neither do your answers. You have to keep working at it and living up to it.

Personally, I’ve decided that I am not going to be a scary dad. I’m also not going to be my child’s friend. For the first decade or two, my responsibility is to teach my daughter how to be a human. I can do this best as an example and earnestly answering every question she asks. Once she is grown, if I am lucky and did the first part well enough, she will look to me as a mentor and a coach.
This is not to say that we will not have fun together and we will not feel love. I am just not her peer and I will not pretend or strive for that. I have my own friends and I hope she has her friends. Besides, a parent-child relationship is so special and rare. Why would I want to replace it with something else?

Naming

Credit for the short version of this to Merlin Mann, but your child should never have to explain or spell their name. With a last name like “Gee” there is only so much we could do, but we did our best. We also tried to follow a few rules:

Learning the Gender (or Not)

We chose not to learn the gender for our child for a number of reasons, and the ultimate decision to not know was left up to my wife. I even felt reluctant to participate in a guessing game at a family gathering 1.

Reason the first (and simplest): It doesn’t matter. Based on my research, there is biochemically no difference between males and females until puberty. All other differences are inflicted by society and culture. I did not want to start to put that on my baby before they were even born. I’m reluctant to do it after, but going against the grain comes with its own traumas.

Reason the second: I wanted my baby to feel loved and wanted no matter who they were and to feel the freedom to be who they truly are. My daughter will not be sad that her father really wanted a son, because all I wanted was a baby and she is perfect. The fact that she is a girl matters as little to me as her eye color or how many toes she has. I am her Dad, it is not my place to wish she was something other than what she is. It is my place to be sure she knows I love her and to help her be the best version of whatever she wants to be.

Author’s note: I wrote a longer version of this before the birth here.

Supporting Mom

Throughout pregnancy and after you will see that the mother of your child is stronger than you know. Probably stronger than you will ever be. But she still needs your help. Until the baby is born, she is your number one priority. Make sure she is eating and getting rest. Help her to get sleep and stay active as much as you can.


Birth

Ok. I’m going to admit, I was nervous going into the day. I told my wife I would be there to support her, but I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to watch (of course I’d still hold her hand).
I was wrong.
When the time came, and I saw the love of my life in that much pain, it all changed. I was there to do whatever was needed. Not to say it wasn’t all horrific. It’s a beautiful and awful experience.
And some good news: it was so far outside our normal realm of experience that when we returned home 48 hours later, it felt like something from a dream. The most real part is my journal entries, and the memories faded fast.


The First Three Months

Hopefully you get some time off of work. Hopefully baby’s mom gets some time off of work. If you can, try to plan ahead of time as much as possible. We designed our life for this and were also fortunate; my wife was able to be at home full time. I got two weeks paternity leave and have been working from home >50% of the time (thanks COVID). Our solutions were based on this paradigm.

Support Staff

At the beginning of your baby’s life, all they will want is their mother. The corollary of this is that Mom will be very busy and very tired. Without dwelling on how broken the nuclear family paradigm is, this leaves a lot for you to do. You and your wife should discuss what is most important in the housework, because for a few weeks or months it will only be you doing it. Try to make as much of it a habit as possible.

In addition, you should try to help pack everything before all family outings so your wife doesn’t have to worry about it. You’ll probably also be the one carrying it, although sometimes Mom wants to carry the baby. Here’s everything that’s in our diaper bag at all times (@ 4 months old)

9 month update: We dropped the pumping stuff, pacifier, and baby blanket. Baby usually has a couple toys with her in the carseat, although honestly she is just as happy without them.

In addition to normal house chores and packing/carrying. I tend to “prepare the way” as much as possible. Make sure the bottle warmer has water and is ready to go, the swaddle is laid out and ready to go, the formula in the fridge is full & ready to be used, etc etc.

And of course, taking care of mom continues. Eating and drinking get hard for her, so make sure she’s doing plenty of both. Prepare food for her when needed and don’t get upset if it goes cold and you need to make more. Try to help at night as much as possible, and try to make sure she gets a nap.

You’ll want to learn about sleep training your baby. Your baby may hate the swaddle at first (ours did), but if you give it a few attempts they’ll get over it real quick. Remember, what they actually want is back inside of mom, so don’t listen to them too much. If you’re consistent it’s not really too bad. Here’s some resources we found useful:

Finally, help mom get back to full health. Two resources that were unbelievably helpful for us and I recommend at least considering/getting a consultation for:

Ask For Help

I can’t express how helpful it has been for us to have family nearby. We also set up a meal train starting ~week 2. That was pretty awesome. Ask your village for help. Better yet if you know parents of kids around the same age (or a year or so older), they’ll help a lot and teach a lot. Not everything comes to mind (I’m certain I’ve left a lot out of this), so be sure to ask questions. Even if you think you know the answer, ask. It can’t hurt to hear another person’s story.

If you can explore alternative options for sharing childcare or other resources, do it. It is expensive and time consuming and it’s better for everyone if parents and kids are part of the same community.

And if you know me personally (you probably do), don’t hesitate to call and ask questions, or we can go for a hike or something. No question is too bizarre or too personal. I’m just happy to help.

Miscellany


  1. Much to my regret I did guess and I wish I hadn’t. However, I guessed the opposite of my wife so as to balance the scales. ↩︎