Be an Eagle Dad

Impress your family! Astound your friends! Master the impossible with these 6 amazing fatherhood skills.


So you’re feeling pretty smug, huh? You sowed your seed (please, spare us the details, big guy). You’ve sat through childbirth classes, surfed a couple of parenting Web sites, maybe even started taking mental notes when Marge Simpson changes Maggie’s diaper. But you, sir, are no father. Not yet, anyway. Not until you master the real-world skills presented here — hard-earned tricks of the trade that will wow your wife, blow your friends’ minds, astonish your pediatrician and make it all look easy.

BEFORE THE BIRTH Amazing dad skill: Make your very pregnant wife more comfortable — instantly! Schlepping around the extra weight of a baby and all its carry-on baggage (placenta, amniotic fluid, etc.) can take its toll on any mama-to-be. Give her a quick pick-me-up using this tension-taming trick: 1. Standing behind her, slide your left foot back a half-step or so for extra stability. 2. Reaching around the front of her, cup your hands below her belly and lift gently. 3. Have her lean back onto you, taking some of the weight off. 4. Hold the pose for five minutes. Hold your tongue, too — comments like “Wow, I can’t believe how much weight you’ve gained!” will spoil the moment. Amazing dad skill: Whittle a crib from a single piece of wood! “You can carve a canoe from a single piece of wood, but a crib is more complicated,” says master carpenter Norm Abram, host of the PBS woodworking program The New Yankee Workshop. “You’re probably better off with power tools.” Whether you’re making a simple toy or a complete bedroom set, he also advises woodworking dads-to-be to start early and keep the design simple. Abram suggests checking your design against Consumer Product Safety Commission( pubs/chld_frn.html) standards for such features as slat spacing, toy-chest lid design and the like. You can also buy child-safe hardware kits at woodworking stores and through catalogs. Finally, when choosing a finish, even if you’re just painting or refinishing, call the manufacturer to make sure it’s child-safe. “And make sure the finish is completely cured before you use the toy or furniture,” Abram adds. Amazing dad skill: Install a car seat with your eyes closed! Fully 85 percent of child seats are used improperly, says Heather Paul, executive director of the National Safe Kids Campaign. “The most common mistake is that the car seat belt isn’t holding the infant seat tightly enough,” she says. “The seat shouldn’t be able to move more than an inch in either direction.” To crank it down tight, use your knee to put as much weight as possible on the seat or base (this is where you can close your eyes). Then snug the belt tight, keeping the car seat angled at 45 degrees. Later, when it’s time to ferry your progeny home, snug the harness straps until you can’t fit more than one finger between the harness and the baby’s collar bone, Paul recommends. Put the blankets over the harness, not under it.

THE BIG DAY Amazing dad skill: Cut the umbilical cord like it’s butter! Few fatherhood chores carry as much weight as the first duty you may face as a new dad: cutting the cord. Want to make the cut? First, make sure your doc knows ahead of time that you want to do it. And don’t worry — the doctor will double-clamp the cord, so it won’t bleed much. When he hands you the surgical scissors, hold them like ... well, scissors, aim for the spot between the clamps, and cut slowly and smoothly. It’s just like cutting a tough, slightly slippery piece of rope. (Tip: An umbilical cord can bear a striking resemblance to a latex-gloved finger, so choose your target carefully.)

AT HOME Amazing dad skill: Take an unbelievably cute birth-announcement photo! Any doofus can point a Pentax and take a picture. To get a really great shot, though, you have to play to your star’s mood. So spend a couple of days getting to know your baby’s habits — you’re looking for the time of day when she’s most awake, for starters. For an original approach, use black-and-white film, which not only looks classy but also masks any jaundice or blotchiness. Turn off the flash and use the natural light near a window, just like that Rembrandt guy did in his paintings. If you have twins, try taking photos separately and sending two birth announcements. (Tip: If you have octuplets, the people from Newsweek will take the photo for you.)

Amazing dad skill: Make a dirty diaper disappear like magic! Nothing brings out that cuddly paternal feeling like the smell of a newborn dozing in your arms. And there’s nothing like the stench wafting from the diaper pail to spoil it. To minimize trash-bin runs, follow these steps to turn any soiled disposable diaper into a hermetically sealed olfactory capsule: 1. Remove the soiled diaper and set it aside, sunny side up, well out of kicking range. The end with the tabs should face away from you. (Tip: Practice in advance with a clean diaper.) 2. Wipe baby’s butt as necessary (front to back), dropping dirty wipes or cotton balls (better for newborns) onto the center of the dirty diaper. 3. With the new diaper in place (remember, tabs in back, wrapping around to front) and without taking your attention away from the baby, grab the front of the dirty diaper and fold the diaper in half, away from you. 4. Again working away from you, roll the package tightly and secure it with the adhesive tabs, folding them over one at a time to form a snug “pillow.” 5. Step to the free-throw line, aim, and swish! Nothing but pail, champ.