A New Dad's Field Guide

A manual for surviving pregnancy and fatherhood


Back in the days when men hunted with clubs and didn’t worry about back hair, fatherhood was a simple concept: 1. Have sex. 2. Be conveniently out hunting or gathering when baby arrived. 3. Behold offspring and grunt approvingly. // Years later, fathers still were an unwelcome appendage in the birth process. My own dad told me that after I was born and Mom was getting dressed to take me home, the nuns in the Catholic hospital where she had me made him leave the room so he wouldn’t see my mother wearing her slip. (Um, pardon my asking, but how did they think she got pregnant in the first place?) // By the time I became a dad myself—seven years ago, if the candles on my son’s SpongeBob cake are an accurate indication of the passage of time—the world was a different place. At childbirth class, father participation was practically mandatory. In the delivery room, unlike my old man, I was invited to don a full hazmat suit and all but scrub in for the Cesarean section. Yet despite all that, I still felt like I was submerging into an unknown, high-stakes environment, like Tom Cruise being lowered marionette-like into that heavily alarmed room in Mission: Impossible: One wrong move and it’s game over. // In a situation like that, you need three things: guts, ingenuity and good, sound advice. Dude, you’re being thrust into a world where they sell a tubing-and-nipple rig for men to simulate breastfeeding! // The courage and inventiveness will have to come from you. The 411? That’s where this special section comes in. Consider it a manual for earning your merit badge in surviving pregnancy and fatherhood. It’s packed with practical advice from experts and real-world kernels from guys like you who’ve made the transition from ordinary dude to extraordinary dad. No matter what, we’ve got your back. // Oh, except for the nun thing. There, you’re on your own. — JEFF LUCIA

Q: “Will I ever have sex again?”A: It’s up to you. Glowing skin and growing breasts: Many men find such changes to their wife’s pregnant body exciting. “Some-times we had sex a lot more often,” one father wistfully recalls. Hint: Because she’s over any morning sickness and not yet huge, the second trimester often is called the “honeymoon trimester”; take advantage of it. But don’t get angry if she’s not so interested, especially in the last trimester. Take this time as an opportunity to get out of a rut. “If you look at sex not just as intercourse but as a sensual moment, it broadens your menu of ways to feel close to each other,” says clinical psychologist Ellen Kenner, Ph.D. The challenge increases once the baby is born. Working on your relationship beforehand can head off problems, Kenner says. “It’s normal for sex to dwindle, even with all your efforts,” she adds. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying.

Get rid of the barbecue!” a pregnant Kelly Elmore screamed to her husband, David, as they drove toward their Sewanee, Tenn., home with her favorite takeout food in the car—and her head out the window. “It’s making me nauseous!” While you may never be forced to toss your dinner from a moving car, every dad-to-be inevitably confronts unexpected problems. Navigate this exciting but stressful time armed with advice from parenting experts as well as sleep-deprived new fathers.

First trimester Will I become my dad?“Afraid of the unknown.” “Didn’t have a clue.” “Worried about every-thing.” “Panicked.” These are how many a dad-to-be describes his feelings during the early stages of his wife’s pregnancy. “All I could do was watch her throw up three times a day,” says Matt Cronlund, an expectant father in Raleigh, N.C. This is normal. “You become overwhelmed when you don’t have the skills you need for a certain task,” explains Roland Warren, president of the nonprofit National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org). “But just as you can learn to be a better baseball player or businessman, you can learn to become a better dad,” Warren says. Start by spending time around families with kids and look for traits you would like to emulate. With all the information and role models out there, you don’t have to repeat your own father’s mistakes. Or maybe you’ll see that he didn’t do such a bad job himself and ask him for advice.

survival tip: Make a list. To break down the broad abstraction “fatherhood” into manageable pieces, clinical psychologist Ellen Kenner, Ph.D., host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Rational Basis of Happiness, suggests that men write down their thoughts. “Take a piece of paper and list what you feel you will lose by becoming a father,” she suggests. “Then list what you will gain in return.” Don’t be self-conscious, Kenner says. No one else will see it. The goal is simply to raise questions and focus your mind, even if you never again read what you’ve written. Listing your potential losses (time, money, freedom, your old identity) may be easy but also may freak you out. So consider what you will gain: a brand-new person to whom you can introduce the world and your values. In turn, he or she will share with you the joy of discovering that Cheerios can fit in your navel.

Second trimester Does my (body part) look (adjective denoting size) ? She’s right: She is getting huge! Just don’t accept the faulty premise of her question, which may actually be, “Is there something wrong with me?” “If your wife says she looks fat, say, ‘No, you look great!’ ” suggests David Smith, a father of four in Fayetteville, Ga. When she becomes frustrated that her clothes no longer fit, make a date to go shopping together for maternity clothes.

survival tip: Distract her by springing into action. As your wife’s size increases and her energy level decreases, she’ll be able to do less physically. Fill the void! Either become a clothes-washing, trash-toting, wall-to-wall vacuuming machine or hire someone who is. You’ll also be called on to paint, remodel and otherwise redecorate the nursery, if not the entire house. “Don’t wait until the ninth month to furnish the nursery,” Smith warns. “[Our son] William was five weeks premature. We came home from the hospital with no baby bed—nothing.” When friends and family offer help, accept it.

Third trimester Get this baby out of me! Mood shifts (hers, not yours) can land expectant dads in the doghouse over the slightest ill-conceived comment or mislaid dirty sock. Your pregnant wife “may not always have complete control over her mouth,” warns David Elmore, now the father of 17-month-old Livy.

survival tip: Name that mood. Kenner suggests picking a silly name to describe a funk, or a code word to break the tension. One couple called her mood shifts “Fred,” as if they were an unwelcome houseguest. Note: Do this in advance. Negative emotions that emerge toward the end of pregnancy can surface with a vengeance during labor, warns Bonnie Berk, R.N., a childbirth-education specialist and founder of Motherwell, a company that offers maternity-fitness programs. “Many women say things they don’t mean,” she says. “Just imagine those cutting words flowing through you.”

Labor day Yes, you do have to be in the delivery room. You’re armed to the teeth with information, but once your child’s birth day arrives, you may be gripped by anxiety anyway. “I knew how to get to the hospital, but once I got there I had this helpless feeling,” admits Michael Krause, the Cheshire, Conn., father of 2 1/2-year-old Enzo, whose second child was due at press time. The 37-hour labor exhausted both of them. “My wife was in tons of pain,” Krause says. “And there was just nothing I could do.”

survival tip: Just be there. Simply being present at the birth is not only enough, it’s essential, says Kenner. “I have heard several stories where the husband was not there and the wives held it against them forever,” she says. These men weren’t malicious, just nervous. “But it makes the woman feel unimportant.” Berk advocates constant communication with your wife during labor: “Ask, ‘How can I help?’ Don’t assume she wants her back rubbed. Ask, then keep talking to her: ‘Do you mean here?’ ‘How’s that?’ Just let her know you are there for her and love her.” While it may be hard to imagine now, these efforts will result in not only the birth of a new baby, but a new father as well. Congratulations!

Swiss Army Dad A pocketful of tips to help you be a sharper father by Jeff Lucia

Not all strollers are built for 6-foot owner-operators. Before buying, test-drive a potential rig to make sure you don’t have to bend down to reach the handles and your feet don’t smack into the axle when you walk. To anchor a car seat really tight, plant your knee in it and press down with your entire weight before you cinch the seatbelt down. (Uh, make sure your progeny’s not in the seat when you do this.) If carrying a gaudy diaper bag in public makes you feel like a doofus, throw the thing into a gym bag. Goodbye, Barney; hello, Adidas. Babies love this: Lie on your back on the floor and draw your knees up toward your chest as far as you can. Put the baby on your shins, his head toward you and facing down, and rock up and down (not too high, though). Unless you and your wife happen to have the exact same chest size (insert your own sophomoric joke here), buy an extra front-facing baby carrier to avoid having to fuss with straps, buckles, etc. Spot a fever instantly: If you don’t have a rectal thermometer handy (and why not?), gently place your lips on the baby’s forehead. Warm is OK; hot probably indicates a fever. Administer a kiss while you’re in position. Unless it’s breastfeeding time, don’t get in the habit of handing the baby off to mom when the crying starts. (The baby, not you.) It makes you look like a wuss. Hint: Motion often stops crying. Party trick: As soon as your baby develops leg strength, try teaching him to stand in your hand. He won’t have much balance, so keep a tight grip on his feet and keep your arm moving. Minivans aren’t all that bad. Most of them will even carry a sheet of plywood flat. Hold out for the navigation system. Try this handy comeback when some busybody offers unwanted parenting advice to you, the helpless father: Smile, then turn to your baby and say, “Oh, we’re fine, aren’t we?” Of course you are.

Jeff Lucia is the father of 7-year-old Dylan in Fallbrook, Calif. Guy Adamson is a writer in Darien, Conn., and the father of Joey, 2 1/2. Joe Kelly is the author of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Being an Expectant Father and The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Being a New Dad (Alpha Books, 2004) and president of Dads and Daughters (www.dads anddaughters.org).