Read an Excerpt
HOW TO FEEL MANLY IN A MINIVAN
What to Expect Before She's Expecting
Greetings from your future! I'm speaking to you now from that curious, often stupefying state commonly known as fatherhood. While I can hardly remember what my everyday life was like before the babyfor example, I've no idea how I occupied myself during the many hours every day that are now taken up with baby-related activitiesI can clearly recall that I found the prospect of fatherhood intimidating as hell.
But sitting here now, having been through it all and feeling reasonably comfortable and confident as a father, I'm reminded of a quote from the movie The Man Who Wasn't There:
While you're in the maze, you go through it willy-nilly, turning where you think you have to turn, banging into the dead ends, one thing after another. But you get some distance on it, and all those twists and turns ... why, they're the shape of your life.
As you embark upon your great adventure toward fatherhood, marked most notably by what is in all likelihood your very first experience with meaningful sex (see "How to Have Sex for Procreation"), remember that while you may just be a rat in a maze with no clue where you are, sooner or later, one way or another, you'll reach the cheese. Happy trails.
HOW TO ABANDON YOUR ENTIRE EXISTENCE
PROVERB OF FATHERHOOD (ORIGIN TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICAN: DISGRUNTLED DADS)
Most guys aren't big on change. Given the choice, they'd probably prefer a full body wax to changing even one insignificant part of their lives. The prospect of everything changing sends many guys off to a quiet place and, ironically, the fetal position. Fatherhood, of course, represents just such a comprehensive transformation.
They say that ignorance is bliss, but for a reasonably content guy facing the unknown perils of fatherhood, ignorance is terrifying. He imagines a future awash in dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and soul-crushing responsibilities, all leading eventually to the sweet release of senility. It's a pretty bleak picture indeed, and one that most guys can't imagine themselves surviving with any sense of dignity. But face it, your life is always changing, and you've always adjusted. Remember when you first left for college? That was a pretty significant shift in your life, and at the time I'll bet you felt really out of sorts (at least I hope you did, and you weren't one of those cool kids who adjusted instantly and started bedding coeds before Parents' Weekend. Not that I'm jealous.). But you adjusted, and after a while you couldn't imagine going back to your old life.
Of course, having a kid isn't exactly like heading off to college, except for the all-nighters, the vomiting, and the general bewilderment. Becoming a father is probably the most dramatic,instantaneous change in a man's life since he himself was born. It's a thoroughly transformative experience, like his wedding day, his first sexual experience, and his first trip to a Panamanian brothel all rolled into one. And every time someone tells you that "everything changes," you assume that the statement is filled with regret, and that all fathers wish they could go back to the days before it all changed. It's the belief that you will soon find yourself hopelessly nostalgic for what once was, regardless of how delusional that desire may be, that prompts so many men to fear the prospect of everything changing.
One suggestion I have for guys who tremble at the prospect of fatherhood is to ask yourself if you would really go back to a previous time in your life. Let me qualify that: Would you go back and live it the same way again, without knowing what you know now, and therefore not getting laid a lot more often than you did the first time? I think most guys are happy to keep moving forward, and becoming a father is just the latest in a long line of constant life changes. You'll get used to fatherhood just like you got used to everything else. Don't believe me? Here's an example that shows just how adaptable we humans can be.
In 1896, Berkeley psychologist George Stratton published the findings from a study in which he wore mirror glasses that inverted his view of the world. For three weeks, his perception of the world was literally turned upside-down. At first he'd get nauseous whenever he moved his head, let alone when he tried (and failed) to walk. But after about a week, his eyes and brain adjusted so that he saw the world as "normal" again, and was able to function as he had without the glasses.
That's pretty much what happens when you become a father. Your world is turned upside-down, you're queasy for a while, andjust about every aspect of your life is different than it was before the baby. But quickly enough, you'll adjust and everything will seem normal once again. I'm not saying your life won't be crazy, frustrating, and exhausting, but it's still your life, and trust me, you'll get used to it.
And not only will you get used to it, but before long you may actually grow to enjoy it, and you won't be willing to trade your life as a father for anything. I hope this book will help you get to that point just a little bit more quickly, because the sooner you get there, the easier the whole fatherhood thing becomes. And as we'll see, you can't fake it (nor should you); you really have to feel it. But for now, you've got some mental gymnastics to do if you're going to be able to think of yourself as a father without shrieking like a schoolgirl. So let's get started.
HOW TO REINFORCE THE DELUSION THAT YOU'RE READY
Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I'm a man. So I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.
ZORBA (ANTHONY QUINN), ZORBA THE GREEK
Before you and your wife even thought of having a baby, you probably looked at your friends with kids and thought aboutwhat their lives had become. In your mind, you saw them reduced to little more than groveling attendants pandering to the whims of those ungrateful little homunculi. Their lives seemed to consist of nothing more than dirty diapers, strained carrots, and slobbery plastic toys. Put yourself in their shoes and you won't be able to get your head in the oven fast enough.
Let's just take a deep breath, turn off the gas, grab a beer, and assess the situation. You can't possibly be mature enough to be a father, right? You've got so much more living to do before settling down, right? Your wife may leave voice mail messages with nothing except her saying "tick-tock-tick-tock" over and over again, but you're just not ready.
The fact is that nobody, male or female, is ever truly ready to have kids. And those who believe they're ready usually end up on the local news a few years down the road talking forthrightly about how little Bobby was such a sweet child, and how that pentagram burned into the neighbor's yard just couldn't be his handiwork. Our only job here is to get you as ready as you can be, since eventually you're going to wake up one day and find that it's too late, and you're already a father.
First, let's take a moment to figure out exactly why guys have such a tough time relating to babies. Most modern guys feel that they don't have much in common with babies. Men do not openly express emotions, whereas babies do nothing but that. For most men, crying has been completely expunged from their emotional vernacular. And with the exception of recent fraternity initiates and Howard Stern interns, most men haven't defiled a diaper in a long, long time. You can't possibly expect men to understand a creature that would refuse to eat or sleep whenever it has the chance. I mean, that's just crazy. Finally, most men feel that thecloser they get to a baby, the more they lose control and risk embarrassment or irreversible feminization.
In fact, a Canadian study actually found that men's testosterone levels dropped by as much as one-third after their babies were born, and the larger the decrease, the more protective the father. (On a barely related note, other Canadian researchers found that herring communicate by farting. If that doesn't prove we're all descended from a common ancestor, nothing does.) Let's face it: babies exist in a primarily feminine domain, and for good reason. The human male's natural state is no place for small children. (In my research for this book, though, I did discover many previously overlooked ways in which men can relate to babies. See "The Mothering Male.")
Naturally some men will try to overcome their hesitancy about babies by spending time with a few. Big mistake. Playing dad with somebody else's kid is the single worst thing you can do when trying to convince yourself that you're ready to be a dad yourself. Maybe you'll babysit for a few hours or, worse yet, agree to take the kid for an entire day. Let me save you the trouble of actually embarking on this endeavor and tell you how it's going to turn out. You're going to end up a bitter, angry, thoroughly exhausted and dispirited shell of your former self. And you'll be even more convinced that you're not ready. Why is that? Simply put, because it's not your kid.
Here's proof that dealing with your own baby versus someone else's makes all the difference: before I became a father, I was unsure about whether I'd be a good father, and I was thoroughly unenthusiastic about babies in general. I didn't mind spending time with babies, but given the choice I would rather they kept their distance. Now, by comparison, I consider myself a verycompetent and enthusiastic father, I'm completely comfortable taking care of my son, and I love spending time with him. I logically assumed that I had developed some new appreciation for babies in general. Nope. I still feel exactly the same way about other babies as I did before.
What this all means is that accepting fatherhood is really just a leap of faith, like raising blind in poker or ordering chicken in Chinatown. You just need to believe that it will all work out, and try to embrace the whole epic journey. Remember all those years ago when you made that bold move and lost your virginity? It's a little bit like that, except in this case you don't have the opportunity to practice extensively on your own ahead of time.
One way to make that leap a bit easier is to realize that babies are actually more similar to men than they are to women. Sure, babies are as incomprehensible as women, you can never quite tell exactly what they want, and they'll ruin your golf game, but they also burp and fart all the time and giggle at even the most ridiculous sight gags. You've managed to figure out women sufficiently to get within boinking range of at least one of them. How hard can it be to figure out a baby? In actuality, convincing a woman to bear your progeny is like cracking the Nazis' Enigma codes compared to understanding your baby.
At some point along the way to fatherhood you'll feel like there's no turning back and you've made a huge mistake. When that happens, think back on the other times when you've felt this way about major life commitments, like when yougot married, when you bought a house, or when you started watching the latest season of 24. In those cases, you could've turned back if you really wanted to, and that can actually make it more stressful. With fatherhood, you really can't turn back. Like General Ripper said in Dr. Strangelove: you've got no choice except "total commitment." And, sometimes, having no choice at all can make commitment pretty easy.
The next step is to figure out how to make the transition to fatherhood as smooth and easy as possible. First, it might be helpful to think about fatherhood as being biologically inevitable. During the pregnancy, you'll be amazed as you learn about all of the innumerable developmental processes that take place. It's hard to believe that everything that must happen actually does, and the end result is a little mini-human with two eyes, ten fingers, and little hobbit feet. And yet, somehow, in most cases it all happens just right. It's enough to almost make an old agnostic believe in some higher power. Almost.
Your development as a father will progress just as inexorably. The pregnancy gives you nine months to start getting ready, safely protected from the actual realities of parenthood. After the baby is born, your fatherhood skills will develop just as quickly as the baby does.
I remember a friend once telling a worried new parent that all healthy kids learn to walk and talk eventually. After all, you don't see many adults who never picked up those skills. Although you could make a case for Paris Hilton, who speaks in an infantile babble and spends way too much time on her back. (Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I'll be here all week.) The point I was tryingto make before I was so easily distracted is that becoming a father is as inevitable for you as learning to walk and talk are for your baby. Eventually, everybody figures it out.
I think one way new fathers get themselves into trouble is to think about their own fathers. They think, As far back as I can remember, my dad always seemed to know what he was doing, and yet I feel totally unprepared. The problem with this line of reasoning is that you can only remember your dad about as far back as when you were four or five. So as a new father, you've actually got a couple of years before you really need to get your act together. And you've got about ten years before the kid finds some photos from college and asks you about those funny little cigarettes you smoked back then. And from that point it's a couple more years before he finds out just how big a screwup you were when you were his age, and wonders if he'll ever be ready to be a dad himself. And so the miraculous cycle repeats itself down through the generations.
Finally, you need to trust your instincts, although you may rightfully doubt that human males actually harbor any. In addition to the portrayal on every sitcom since the dawn of television, there's actually evidence in the slightly more relevant field of evolutionary biology to suggest that human males are less than perfectly suited to parenthood. When we look at mammals in general, we see that only about 5 percent exhibit any degree of paternal care for newborns, and those mammals that do exhibit paternal nurturing tend to be rather less than awesome creatures, like prairie voles or hippies. In other classes of animals, where the female isn't bound to nursing by virtue of her mammary glands, there are more examples of paternal care. These include marine worms, water bugs, sea horses, and most birds, including penguins.
So it seems logical to conclude that paternal nurturing is usually relegated to animals that aren't exactly what you'd call top-of-the-food-chain types. You won't see car companies scrambling to name new models after these animals. You're never going to see a Buick Prairie Vole or the Chevy Water Bug. (Although I may be giving GM too much credit. Anyone remember the Pontiac Parisienne?)
Modern man may try to use this example to absolve himself of any parenting responsibility. After all, aren't women evolutionarily better suited to parenthood? I mean, isn't that why every time you read about really cool animals like lions, hippos, and badgers ripping an unsuspecting hiker to ribbons for crossing between them and their young, it's usually the females doing the disemboweling? Nice try, guys, but sometimes even the best logic falls flat when confronted by reality.
And the reality is that suburban living, technology, and salty snack foods have softened up the modern man. We've been domesticated, and that means we have no excuse for being poor parents. On the positive side, that means we are in fact perfectly capable of being good parents. And yes, that also means that sitcoms may not be an accurate reflection of reality. I realize that may come as a shock, but you're better off knowing the truth.
All that being said, let's not get cocky. Becoming a father is one of the more difficult endeavors you'll embark upon in your life. Don't expect that when the baby arrives you'll jump right in and be perfectly comfortable in your new role. You will, though, be good enough at it to keep you and your baby relatively sane, and keep you off of your local Child Services agent's "to do" list. And just as your child will develop and mature at an astonishingly fast rate in the early months of his life, so, too, will you develop asa father. Of course, it is a never-ending process, and there's always more growing to do. For example, to this day, when someone calls me Daddy, I look around for my own father. They can't possibly be talking about me, can they? I'm still just not ready.
The Mothering Male
Before your baby is even born, you'll no doubt tire of all the chatter about how women are more naturally suited to parenthood than men (you may even find some such flapdoodle in this very book). Sure, women are capable of growing an entire human being inside their bodies; they can nourish that human once he's born with manna brought forth from their breasts; and they possess a seemingly limitless wellspring of glorious and flawless maternal love. But what about us guys? You hardly ever hear any discussion of the myriad ways in which men are innately well suited to parenthood. That is, until now.
Fathers need to recognize that they see the world in much the same way their baby does, and take advantage of that fact. For example, babies can produce some of the vilest odors known to man. And yet they just sit there within that typhoon of stank, breaking occasionally into a devilish giggle. Now you tell me, who does that remind you of? This is just one example within the broad category of phenomenanamely, potty humorabout which men and babies share an almost identical interpretation. Of course, women may speak derisively of this type of humor, but I'm pretty sure they're just jealous of our unspoken connection with the baby.
Besides the fact that babies almost always speak their daddy's name first (see "How to Make Sure the Baby Says 'Daddy' First," to ensure that he does), there's an earlier form of communication that hints at the innate bond betweenfather and child. One of the first gestures that a baby will intentionally mimic is the "raspberry" (that's right, we're still in the realm of ass). There must be a reason why this gesture, still considered humorous by so many adult males, is among the earliest forms of communication between parent and child (I have absolutely no idea what that reason is, but I'm sure there is one).
Finally, recent studies have shown that a baby's developing immune system benefits from early exposure to allergens, bacteria, and other everyday detritus. The theory is that a baby's immune system doesn't yet know which invaders need to be taken seriously. As it gets exposed early on to mostly harmless things like dust, dirt, and Doritos crumbs, it figures out pretty quickly that these things aren't too bad and develops the proper resistance to them. If babies are not exposed to these things early enough, their immune systems can mature without the proper resistance, and they become more likely to develop allergies and other negative reactions.
Basically what this all means is not only that the five-second rule has been totally vindicated (and should probably be changed to the five-minute rule), it also shows that men are naturally more attuned to their baby's needs in this case. After all, who is more likely to look out for the best interest of the child: a mother who washes her hands before touching the baby and keeps the house spotless, or a father who believes that the best way to improve interspecies relations is to let the baby and the dog share their chew toys? My vote, and the research backs me up on this, goes to Dad.
HOW TO HAVE SEX FOR PROCREATION PART 1: PREPARATION
Nothing signals the onset of true adulthood like having meaningful sex. Unfortunately, if your wife is to become impregnated, with you as the father, you're going to have to give it a shot. For most guys, "meaningful sex" is as baffling an oxymoron as "veggie burger" or "sincere apology." For much of our lives, sex was just the end by which all sneaky, dishonest, and borderline felonious means were justified. There were no other goals besides the sex itself, except possibly to not get her pregnant. Suddenly your primary objective is exactly that which you've worked so hard to avoid. Your whole coital reality has been turned upside-down, and you find yourself in virgin territory once again (so to speak). This time, there couldn't be bigger consequences to the sex, and avoiding pregnancy is the last thing on your mind (I hope). It's enough to trigger a nasty case of hysterical impotence (although I, of course, have no direct experience with such afflictions).
Before we get into the plan of attack for this particular mission, let's take a moment to make sure that all the manly ordnance is in proper working order. While some of you may think that frequent, mandatory sex is a dream come true, let me assure you that the gilding falls off that particular lily pretty quickly. And the longer you go without success, the more stressful it becomes, until eventually you may wilt under the pressure (quite literally). Solet's make sure you're in peak physical condition for the task at hand.
WATCH YOUR WEIGHT
Despite all the perks, making a baby is tough work. You want to be as fit as possible. To make matters worse, large deposits of fat can cause the body to transform male hormones into estrogen, which will slow the production of sperm. On a related note, you don't want to cut too much fat out of your diet (hello, Atkins!), which can result in lower testosterone levels. On another related note, if you're exercising to lose weight, try not to overdo it. Some studies have shown that excessive exercise can lower sperm count and testosterone levels. This may be caused by the fact that strenuous workouts can cause overheating, which is also why you shouldn't use a sauna or spa for at least a few months before you start trying.
WEAR WHAT YOU WANT
There's been much debate about the relative impact of boxers versus briefs on male fertility. Common sense suggests that you don't want too much restriction down there, but the research is inconclusive, so either one is fine. What is certain is that it's much more difficult to get the wife turned on in tighty-whiteys (for future reference).
If you're not taking a multivitamin, such as One-A-Day for Men, you should be, regardless of whether or not you're trying toknock up the wife. With pregnancy on the agenda, you definitely should be supplementing. Vitamin C keeps your sperm mobile, zinc can increase semen volume, and vitamins A, E, and beta-carotene help fight the chemicals that can damage sperm.
THE OBVIOUS STUFF
Cut back on the booze and stop smoking. While drinking may have played an essential role in previous sexual forays, it's definitely detrimental during meaningful sex. As we'll see later, you should cut back on your drinking during her pregnancy anyway (see "How to Help Her Get off the Sauce"), so you might as well start now. And, of course, you should definitely stop smoking, as it's almost as bad for your sperm as it is for your lungs.
SLIP 'N' SLIDE
Finally, avoid using lubricant, which can kill sperm. Instead, use Johnson's Baby Oil. If that doesn't kill your mood, you should have no trouble sowing your seeds.
Now that you've made it through basic training, it's time for deployment.
HOW TO HAVE SEX FOR PROCREATION PART 2: DOING THE DEED
Before I even begin, this chapter calls for a major donation to the Therapy Jar.
I'm not going to get into the gory details of the act itself; that's between you, your wife, and guy at the Photomat. One thing that I will suggest is that you check out a great book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Even if you don't anticipate any problems conceiving, this book will give you a great feeling of control over the whole process. Plus, you'll begin to get some sense of the amazing baby-making machine that is your wife. And, trust me on this, the more familiar you become with how your wife works (physically, that is; her mind will always be impenetrable), the better off you'll be when moving forward.
As the "big bang" approaches, many men feel conflicted. On the one hand, they want to, as the folks at NASA would put it, "impart sufficient thrust to achieve escape velocity," but doing so usually requires a particularly enthusiastic, bestial commitment to the task at hand. Given the circumstances, it's difficult to channel your inner porn star, especially with cute, cuddly images of your future progeny floating through your head. It's as if he's already in the room with you, and that's really disturbing. (Actually, thatidea could make for a really perverse fetish flick: Your child comes back from the future and walks in on you and your wife conceiving him. You could call it The Sperminator. Do thoughts like that make me a really bad person? Just in case, I'll drop $20 in the Therapy Jar.)
Basically, the only advice I can give to help you succeed in this task is to dip into your supply of what little machismo and insensitivity you've got left after just a few years of marriage, and get right down to it. This is definitely one time when men's complete disconnect from our own emotions comes in handy. I'd refrain from any dirty talk, though. After all, that's the mother of your child you're talking to. And after it's over, you should probably try and stay awake at least until she finishes sobbing.
Welcome to our world, my friend, for today you are a man.
Let me clear up a common misconception that you may hold regarding having sex while your wife is pregnant (that is, having sex with your wife while she's pregnant). I'm not sure whether it's due to gross overestimation of one's endowment or gross ignorance of the female anatomy (or some combination of the two), but many men believe that they'll somehow injure the baby while having sex while their wife is pregnant. Rest assured that in almost all cases sex during pregnancy is perfectly safe, and unless you get that anatomically impossible image out of your head right away, you won't be enjoying sex for a long, long time.
So, not only can you have sex during pregnancy, but you may actually find that pregnancy offers certain advantages. First and foremost, the hormonesraging through your wife's body can boost her sex drive. More importantly, those hormones may also allow her to enjoy sex more (or, in some cases, enjoy it at all). As you can see, rather than suffering through a 9-month nooky drought while your wife is pregnant, you may end up enjoying an unprecedented run of near-constant, wife-satisfying coitus.
HOW YOUR BABY IS LIKE A PET AND A COLLEGE ROOMMATE
Much of men's fear of fatherhood stems from the fact that we have no point of reference with which to understand this curious little critter who will soon dominate our lives. Throughout my son's first year, I found myself often comparing him to two other entities with which virtually all men are intimately familiar (sometimes disturbingly so): pets and college roommates. Hopefully the following chart will help you understand these similarities and help you begin to understand your future offspring.
INTERESTING "FACTS" YOU CAN SAY YOU READ IN A BOOK
There is so much data flying around the parenting universe that you could probably find studies that draw contradictory conclusions on just about any topic. You'll frequently hear parents say to each other "I read in a book somewhere ..." and cite some study to prove that they're not totally incompetent.
So, to help you out, I had the eggheads over at our Department of Logistical and Statistical Obfuscation come up with a list of items with no empirical basis but that, nonetheless, may comein handy if you can recite them convincingly enough. Just preface each claim with "I read it in a book somewhere," which would be completely true.
Brain scan studies have shown that areas of higher functioning in newborn brains become active when they are held by fathers whose breath smells of cigars, gin, and olives.
Recent research strongly suggests that the daily driving of late-model German roadsters with 3.0-liter dual overhead cam, 24-valve inline 255-horsepower engines significantly increases male potency, the likelihood of female children, and wedding-anniversary remembrance.
A longitudinal study has found that college students whose mothers changed most of their diapers when they were babies tend to call home more frequently than those whose fathers changed them more.
Studies have shown that women who drink during pregnancy pose a serious risk to their fetuses, while husbands who drink do nothing but good for all concerned.
Research suggests that fathers who experience a sudden dropoff of golfing and gambling showed a marked increase in nocturnal flatulence, movie quoting, and spontaneous yodeling, whereas increased golfing and gambling led to heightened interest in baking, snuggling, and mothers-in-law.
A series of studies on postpartum metabolism have shown that no single workout burns calories, tautens tummies, and lengthens legs more effectively than waking from asound sleep, getting out of bed, lifting a baby, changing and/or feeding said baby, replacing baby, and returning to bed. The optimum frequency was found to be six to ten repetitions in an eight-hour period.
Observational research has revealed that when a baby's mother isn't around and that baby is looked after by his or her father, the baby never cries, eats perfectly, and certainly never chews on power cords or bathes in the toilet.
HOW TO FEEL MANLY IN A MINIVAN. Copyright © 2007 by Craig Boreth. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or re- views. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.