So you're becoming a dad, eh? Exciting times ahead. At least, they should be. It's hard to know until you experience them. New dad, Rob Gilroy, talks through his experiences of releasing his inner father.
Dads. We've all heard of them. Almost all of us have one. But what are they, really?
When we look at the movies, the role of dad varies depending on the film. For every Mufasa, there's a Darth Vader, for every Steve Martin in Father of the Bride, there's a Steve Martin in Cheaper by the Dozen.
Dads, like broken biscuits, come in all shapes and sizes. And most are shop-worn. But what happens when that new father in your life is you? What then? Well, as a relatively new father, I thought I'd share some of my observations. Don't take them as given, because we all experience things differently, and no matter how knowledgeably I may write, I'm still just bumbling through this too.
Becoming a Dad | Finding your inner Father
It's hard to really nail down what makes a good dad. Are they strict, silly, caring, resilient? Figuring dads out is tough. But tougher, is figuring out the dad you want to be.
It's hard to even start answering this question until the moment arrives - your partner turns to you, waving a previously urine-covered lolly stick and says those words you've been hoping to hear: "I'm pregnant!"
It's a big moment in your lives, everything that follows starts now. And yet, for any number of reasons, it takes a little while for the information to sink in. You're happy, for sure. But the actual, dawning realisation that you are going to become a father takes a little longer.
"...becoming a dad takes time, and like anything with parenting, it's finding the approach that works best for you and your baby."
It's only nurture-al
One major turning point is the moment you meet your little one, or little ones if, like me, you find yourself a member of the multiples club. They say first impressions count, and it's certainly true with your children. Suddenly, seeing this pink squidgy thing all wrapped up in towels not only makes your heart melt but suddenly heightens your senses to everything that could bring them harm.
Like a particularly twitchy ninja, you jump at minor sounds and walk ahead of your wife and baby to make sure the perimeter is safe. Of course, it's safe. You're still in the hospital. But that first week, you are on full alert; Protective Dad mode is at a critical level.
It mellows eventually, as you realise that inanimate objects aren't out to get your newborn, and you return to what passes for 'normal'. But you never forget the importance of looking out for your little one.
And that's just the first step.
A Dad's work is never done
Now your baby is born and you're comfortable that your house isn't quite the death trap you initially thought, you switch to Proactive Dad mode. Making sure everything that needs doing is done.
Those first few weeks are all about routine. Feeding, changing, sleeping, dealing with welcome (and unwelcome) visitors, making bottles, washing bottles, buying more nappies, and somewhere in between all that, doing all the 'business as usual' things like breathing, eating and cleaning the house.
While this stuff has always been about compromise and cooperation, after your wife has magically produced a mini-human it seems almost rude to expect her to chip in with the chores. So you become the provider, a robot designed to destroy any worry and stress that gets in the way of your wife and baby.
Like a Terminator that understands the value of keeping on top of the dishwasher, you seek out your targets and ensure they're neutralised before they become a problem.
Unleashing your silly side
Now not everyone has a smooth parenting ride, certainly in the first few months, but if you do manage to protect your family, and provide for them, suddenly you start to soften and enjoy things even more.
Silly Dad starts to rear his head, complete with dad jokes (who knew we had an armoury of those things just waiting to go?) and you're able to spend some proper bonding with your little one.
It's tentative at first, sure. You're just testing the waters, after all a few weeks back the thought of holding a baby filled you with dread - how do you do it, how does it work, is it possible to hold their head anymore than you already are? But it's trial and error, you start with the gentle things; smiling, hugging, kissing, making those coo-ing noises that people inexplicably make around children.
Then as your confidence grows, so does your imagination: what if I was to make it look like they're dancing? Could I really get them to flick the V's at family members? Then, the voice comes. It's not always cockney and foul-mouthed, but that is the funniest.
Suddenly your baby becomes the most vocal one in the room, and despite your best ventriloquist skills, everyone knows it's you. You and your wife devise elaborate jokes about the baby which, to everyone outside your little bubble, looks like parental neglect but is actually just you bringing your little one into the fold.
Within months you're throwing them up and down and swinging them round as they laugh uncontrollably and (occasionally) bring their lunch back up. Then you know your transition into relaxed, jovial Dad is complete.
Becoming a Dad: Additional Reading...
Yet there's more to come. I won't spoil it here, as it's yours to discover. But it's fair to say that becoming a dad takes time, and like anything with parenting, it's finding the approach that works best for you and your baby.
I've always hated the saying 'Men can't multi-task'. They can, and they often do. Especially the dads. Being the father you want to be and your family needs you to be, is all a balancing act. You're spinning plates, hoping they all stay up. At any one time you may need to be sincere, daft and stern, but you'll figure it out.
If you're looking for some inspiration, I recommend the following:
- The Expectant Dad's Handbook - Dean Beaumont (Ebury Publishing)
- Pregnancy for Men: 101 Tips - Mark Woods (Crimson Publishing)
- How Not to Be a Boy - Robert Webb (Canongate Books, Ltd.)
- And When Did You Last See Your Father? - Blake Morrison (Granta Books)
- How it Works: The Dad - Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris (Penguin Books, Ltd.)
- Spot Loves His Dad - Eric Hill (Penguin Books, Ltd.)
Whether you see yourself as Liam Neeson in Taken or Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you'll figure out which father you want to be (spoiler: try not to be Kurt Russell). Whatever happens, remember you're all still figuring this out: you, your partner and your little one.
Becoming a dad may not come quickly, but who cares? Just enjoy the journey.
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