Papadaddy's Book for New Fathers
Advice to Dads of All Ages
By Clyde Edgerton
Little, Brown and Company Copyright © 2013 Clyde Edgerton
All rights reserved.
Install the car seat ahead of time.
A few weeks before the baby is born, go ahead and install the car seat. This could take six to eight hours. For safe installation, certain hooks are located out of sight down in the seat crack where you'd slide your hand if you were looking for something lost. If your car doesn't have these hooks, you are required by law to buy a different car.
One of your cousins or a brother or a sister-in-law will eventually inspect the installation of the seat and will get very upset because it's too loose or somehow not hooked up right, and they will call the authorities. This relative will be a vegetarian.
Another idea is to get a neighbor father who now has a baby to install your car seat under a bartering system. In exchange, consider offering to remodel his kitchen.
Children cannot sit in the front passenger seat of an automobile until age twenty-four. Else the front-seat air bag will kill them. If the front air bag happens not to kill them, then the side air bag will try to.
Correction: after they are eighteen they can sit in the front seat if they face backwards.
If you decide to get your car seat installed at a fire station, a firefighter will give you a fire lecture. He will show you how to grab your baby and roll on it if it catches fire. A nurse will be on hand to tell you how to resuscitate a smothered baby. After the lecture, you are required to buy chain ladders to hang from each window of your house—first floor included. (The proceeds will go to the local Police Benevolent Association, and if you write down the wrong phone number, they'll stop trying to call you.)
If they are dead, your in-laws will probably not interfere with your fathering. But they may. Family norms tend to stay around for several generations—things like whether or not presents inside Christmas stockings are wrapped, whether or not shoes should be worn in the house. Whether or not Baby can stay up late at night, or watch television only one hour a day. In other words, even if your in-laws have passed on or live in Nova Scotia, they may still whisper into your wife's ear.
If your in-laws are alive and are reasonable people, you're probably okay. But if they seem occasionally unreasonable, then consider this: when talking to either of them, probably the mother-in-law, about real and potential baby problems, rely on the pronoun I, not the pronoun you. In other words, say something like "I don't think I want her to have that Popsicle while she's screaming," rather than "If you give her that Popsicle, I will kill you." This is something you'll have to practice beforehand—by yourself. Just look in the mirror and say things like:
"I can change the diaper."
"I'd like to hold her for a few minutes."
"I'd rather try it this way."
"Thank you, but I'm thinking that maybe I should ..."
The words uncomfortable and unable might also be helpful. For example: "I'll be uncomfortable if she gets that Popsicle while she's screaming." Or "I'll be unable to agree that she go with you and Pee-Pa to Las Vegas. I'm really sorry." Don't say: "The hell you say."
If your spouse and her parents share many baby-raising ideas that you strongly disagree with, then I suggest you read my next book—due in about eighteen months. It will be called Day to Day in the Dark Recesses of a Cave.
If your wife is pregnant, I'm glad you're reading this.
If your wife is not pregnant and the two of you are considering having a baby but don't get along well, and you're not too thick to see that, do what you will about counseling or divorce, but seriously consider not bringing another human being into your relationship until the two of you are feeling okay about each other. A bad relationship can mess up a child. Now, all of this puts me—as your fatherhood guide—on a slippery slope. Just about any generalization about parenting has exceptions, and you and your wife might be at each other's throats (sometimes clichés work well) but still end up with a happy, healthy child who grows into a happy, healthy adult. The variables relating to parenting are often too muddled to figure, and therein lies a problem with many parentologists who instruct with picky detail and high- mindedness.
Regardless of your relationship with your wife, this book is meant to help you—and thus, the two of you—get ready for a baby. While it's true that your wife may not be enthusiastic about motherhood, I'm suggesting that regardless of her enthusiasm you begin your preparation by telling yourself something like this:
"If necessary, I will appear to be confident in holding and talking to and caring for our baby until true confidence arrives—even if for whatever reason (including the "fathering" I got as a child) such behavior doesn't feel quite natural. And when the baby gets a little older, I will be silly with her, even if I've never been silly in my life. And I will ask her lots of questions and listen attentively to the answers, and I will try to provide reasonable limits to some of the more egregious elements of her behavior dating from prehistoric times, like a tendency to scream, bite, and hit."
Your wife probably will have planned well for the first few months of the baby's life. If your mother-in-law is around, she may also have planned well for the first few months of the baby's life, including stuff your wife missed. But there's a slim chance that your wife is in a daze, hasn't planned much, and in fact, may even seem in shock. Either way, you need to get a notebook and pen or a screen, and sit down with her and work out a few things. If she's a stay-at- home mom, you might say something like "Okay, I'll be able to help with cooking at these times during the first six weeks, with shopping for food through three months," etc. If you both work outside the home, or you're a stay-at-home dad, the language will be different, but it's still important to plan together. If a hurricane were on the horizon, you'd plan together. No, you're not going to get a hurricane—but at times you may find meaningful comparisons.
Let your wife know you're going to protect her from visitors she might not want to see. This may not seem important now, but it will later. When you see an unwelcome car drive up, you will walk out, meet the visitor, and say, "Mama and Baby would love to see you, but they're just getting to sleep. They really need sleep. I'm sure you understand." Something like that. Caleb, my cousin, on the birth of his and his wife Cindy's second child, put up a sign at the entrance to their driveway alongside their Beware of Dog sign. It read, Keep Out—This Means You. You'll be hearing more about Caleb and Cindy and their kids.
There were probably no marriage vows in cave-people days. A norm (an unwritten rule for appropriate behavior, a definition we'll spend time on later) back then may well have been to kill your lover's lover. Later we invented marriage vows, and some murders have been avoided since then. And once we invented cars and they began running into each other, stop signs and then traffic lights came to be. We usually have legitimate needs that laws haven't yet recognized or are blocking.
In this book I'll be using the terms fathering, mothering, etc. I'm writing with specific cultural norms in mind:
1. You are about to be a father (again, maybe).
2. Your wife is a female and she is, or is about to be, the mother.
If you are in an arrangement different from this norm—for example, if you and/or your mate are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc., along with being much like everybody else in tens of thousands of other ways—then I hope you'll be okay with my use of the traditional terms. You are at the forefront of a revolution that will see widespread changes in how the families are understood. New roles are allowing fresh insights into how families, old and new, can work toward good outcomes.
Because research on nontraditional family arrangements may be misleading or behind, I suggest this website: Father Involvement Research Alliance: fira.ca.
If you have a pet that you can never part with until the pet passes away, skip this section.
If you don't like your pet, and have no child attached to it, explain to your wife that the time needed for baby care makes pet care difficult. Then get rid of the pet in a humane and safe fashion.
If you are considering buying a pet and your wife just got pregnant, reconsider. Buy a stuffed animal instead. One that doesn't talk. In case you didn't know (though how could you miss it?), many stuffed animals talk these days. What they say is usually stupid or at best inane. If someone gives you one to give your child, consider taking out the battery and somehow disabling the battery compartment with a destructive instrument before your child sees it.
On the other hand, a talking stuffed toy may not bother you, and if that's a fact then you may have been one in an earlier life.
LETTERS TO BABY
Imagine—if you never got one—a letter written to you by your father before you were born (or soon after). I'll sprinkle throughout this book some that I wrote to my children from time to time.
Last night I am sitting in the bathroom grading a paper while you (almost four) and Ridley (almost two) take your baths. There are about thirty plastic toys in the tub with you. The water is clear. Ridley says, "Uk-oh." I look and somebody has pooped in the tub. So I get you and Ridley out of the tub and commence to clean up the tub so I can put you back in and give you a fresh bath. I start in on the tub and toys and you say, "Papadaddy." I look. Ridley is peeing on the rug. I place him at the commode. He stops peeing. I go back to my cleaning. You say, "Papadaddy." I turn. Ridley is peeing on the sink cabinet.
Sometimes things are more fun for children than parents.
Not Long Before the Birth
ADVICE FROM BOOKS
An unsettling fact is that on the pages of parenting books you will find advice to let your child play with fire, to not let your child play with fire, to let your child sleep in the bed with you and your wife, to not do that, to let your child stay up as late as he wants, not stay up late, to spank your child (rare these days), not spank. Many books will claim the advice therein is based on "research." Some writers will try to make you feel guilty if you don't follow their research-based advice. Baby experts have feuds about all sorts of things—feuds about what to do with a crying baby at night, a crying baby in daytime, a mean baby, whether or not a baby can be mean, a sad baby, etc. There is a Method X, a Method Y, a Method G, for many parenting jobs, and you can easily become confused and frustrated—especially if you're used to following written advice.
Statistical research on dads suggests that fathers, on average, are older than they used to be and are also spending more time with their children. This is good. The bad news is that the older you are right now the less time you'll have with your children (or with yourself, in your present form). So it's important to live healthily if you like being with your kids (and yourself). Some research also indicates that men with children live longer than men without them. Good news there, too. For us. Comments about older dads in the literature suggest that those really older—like me—seem to have more time to spend with kids and are more relaxed in their relationships with their young children. I'm not, however, suggesting you wait until you're sixty to have more children.
If you are not an expert in research methodology, it's very hard to know which studies to trust. Especially if the methodology is not described. Most everything you read will predict that if you're involved in your child's upbringing, the child will benefit greatly. But there's probably a website out there run by a small group of lumberjacks that will suggest that children who become lumberjacks will more likely have fun and get rich when they are older. The web has opened up a whole new landscape of research that isn't research, but opinion decorated with numbers and research language. Think about this. You could study the last days of a hundred men who died of heart attacks. Fifty died instantly and fifty after several days in bed. Conclusion: "From a study of a hundred men it's been proved that those who walked less in the last three days of their lives lived longer; therefore think twice before you go walking."
Another angle on this: there may be behaviors of your own parents that you dislike(d) but you find yourself practicing. For example, you may find yourself yelling to your kids: "Stop yelling!" It may be, without some serious thought, hard to stop doing that. Your children will tend to do what you do, sometimes when what you do contradicts what you ask them to do. A good bit of being a good father may be stuff you already know but nobody has suggested to you in advice books, on the web, or in research.
In the year 2200 we'll know far more about hormones, nutrition, baby sleep, brain functions, etc., than we do now, and people at that time will be scoffing at some of our baby-raising practices and policy in the same way we scoff at our ancestors for waiting so long to figure out the wheel, or for neglecting dental care.
While the reading on parenting is fascinating in its variance with itself, there are books and websites that give you, in addition to research findings, all sorts of helpful advice, like keeping your kids off TV before the age of two. (What about till twenty-two?) A couple of online sites set up by pediatricians and other health professionals are aap.org and health.nih.gov/category/ChildTeenHealth.
THE FATHERHOOD CULTURE
Neighborhood women, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers who, because they've been around so many uncreative, bland fathers—men who wouldn't pick up, change, or bathe a baby—will fear that you might be the same way, and they may spurn, ridicule, and ignore your attempts at parenting. What you say or do will probably not change them, so try to ignore the implications of their strategically placed bold digs. Just nod your head, smile, and say, "Yes, ma'am." (If they are vegetarian and/or from very large northern cities, they may ask you to not address them as "ma'am.")
In any type of parenting relationship, if you truly love your mate enough to stick out the marriage (or civil union or other arrangement)—according to statistics, roughly 50 percent of us in the United States do—you will want to relieve your mate of some, perhaps up to half, or more, of the hard work that comes with parenting. You will not want to be the stereotypical "helpless father." It's morally wrong to be that way.
You're now in relationships with your wife, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, friends, neighbors. Think about the relationships that are good, and why, and the ones that are bad, and why. You're about to be in a relationship with a child, and the tune and tone of that relationship will probably have similarities to some of your relationships with adults. A big difference is that with your child, you're dealing with an individual whose makeup, physical and mental, will be changing drastically, month by month, as you begin to influence that relationship. Your behavior with your child should thus change a good bit as that child matures.
Occasionally, as you've seen, I'll mention Caleb and Cindy, my cousins who have more conservative ideas about most things than I do. Caleb is a hunter, NFL fan, and NASCAR aficionado. He effectively parents his children, is tough and gentle, thick-skinned, capable, funny. And smart. One time in the supermarket, a smiling elderly blue-haired woman asked Caleb if the child in the basket were his.
He said, "Yes, ma'am."
She said, "Oh, you're babysitting today?"
He was very tired from parenting all day. "Yeah," he said, "and you must be whoring around the supermarket."
She reported him to the store manager, Erma Lewis ... who was Caleb's cousin on Cindy's side of the family. Which probably helps explain why she called the police. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Papadaddy's Book for New Fathers by Clyde Edgerton. Copyright © 2013 Clyde Edgerton. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
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