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The finest advice from The New Fatherhood community
The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together the diverse community of forward-thinking dads who are asking them. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. My aim is to make this one of the best emails that you get each week. You are one of the 1,705 dads (and curious mums) who have already signed up. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
Judging by my inbox over the last two weeks the post-pandemic baby boom is absolutely real and already here. I've had at least a dozen emails from new dads (or very-soon-to-be-dads) who've signed up as they begin their journey into fatherhood, moving into a brave new world with a mix of hope and trepidation.
First, let me say WELCOME. From all of us to all of you. You're in for a hell of a ride. We’re happy to have you here for it.
In the early days of The New Fatherhood (way, way back in January 2021) I asked "what’s a great piece of advice you have for new fathers?" Since there were only 500 of us then, and with the influx of new dads (most probably reading this blurry-eyed at 3am in the morning) I thought I'd allot this week’s issue to the best bits of counsel shared from The New Fatherhood community.
The time goes quickly and we don’t know how much time we have, so my advice to dads is this: do everything you can to spend as much time together as possible.
Your child will do the most amazing, cute, or downright hilarious things you’ve ever seen in your entire life. They’ll come home singing a new song. They’ll yell “poopie’s coming!” in a crowded cafe. They’ll share their toys with new kids at the park (without you asking them to). And one day, when their mom is having a cry alone in the bathroom, they’ll come in with a plaster and a hug.
But these moments are fleeting. They happen once or twice and then never again. You’ll want to be around to catch them. You’ll want them to be a part of your life’s highlight reel. A reel that’ll make you happy every time you replay it. Every dad should be so lucky to have that ability.
So do everything you can to spend as much time together as possible. If you can put off that email and play trains instead, do it. If you can leave work early to make it home for dinner, bath, and story time, do it. If you can take the day off, do it. And if you can move to a smaller, more affordable city, so you don’t have to have a high-paying-12-hr-work-day type of job to pay for a big house that’s still an hour commute each way, do it.
All of that time adds up. And who knows what amazing, cute, or hilarious thing you’ll be around to catch. When the time’s up, you’ll be glad to have those memories in your highlight reel.
A few pieces of advice from me:
You and your partner pick one thing you'll really need every day, and the other does what they can to accommodate. For me, it's a daily shower (yes, this won't come automatically!) It creates a lot less resentment when it's decided ahead of time the one thing you'll do for the other person, and not just for the baby.
I don't know who said it, but "raise your first child like it's your second" has been a rule of thumb for us. We're trying really hard not to freak out over every little thing, and trying to channel a "what would a parent who's already had a kid probably do?" vibe. It's helped us ride out a weird poop here and a slip-and-fall there — kids are so resilient! But don't make this decision unilaterally.
We were fortunate to have a doula, which really took the pressure off, especially in the hospital. Having a true expert on hand, who was paid to be our advocate, allowed us to make a couple of tough decisions (especially, when to decide to go for the emergency C-section) much more confidently. (Unfortunately, in COVID times, your doula may not be able to join you bedside.)
Cooking before the baby comes and freezing? Smart! Will you want simple pasta with sauce? Oh yes. But just cook the sauce now and freeze it. (Or, you know, buy jarred sauce if that's your thing.) You will be able to boil water and cook the pasta fresh, and frankly it'll feel like an accomplishment. And you'll take up a lot less freezer space.
The Snoo, the electronic bassinet, was a godsend. We surely slept a lot more than we otherwise would have. Research it, see if you can get it used, and if you can afford it, it's almost certainly worth the sleep saved. If it turns out your baby doesn't like it, it keeps pretty high resale value.
For couples where both are working, stagger your leave so that some of it is solo. It’s scary, but there’s no better way to quickly level up all those parenting skills, demonstrate you’re a real partner in this (which is great for spousal relationship), and build empathy and nurturing. Also, logistically, I can’t recommend baby wearing enough.
I’m only five years into the game, but I’ll never forget how shocked I was about how close I got driven to insanity. My oldest was, and still is, a terrible sleeper. I remember one night he was screaming; over-tired. My mindset was reduced to its basest form, and all I could think was, “How do I get this tiny human to shut up?” It wasn’t long before I realized I was “rocking” him with the same tenacity as a NASA centrifuge.
I snapped out of it, rose up, reminded myself that this behavior from my child was normal, and refocused my efforts at addressing the BABY’S needs and setting aside MY discomforts.
ADVICE #1. Having misaligned thoughts about parenting and fatherhood, I think, is normal. This is a huge lifestyle shift that takes adjusting, just as your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb.
ADVICE #2. God bless single parents, because I have LITERALLY NO IDEA what I would do without my wife. We ground each other. We moderate our collective expectations. We remind ourselves of the love that got us here in the first place; the love we hope and pray will help the lives of our children blossom and flourish.
Enjoy every moment while they're young, because it really goes fast. I've heard this several times over the last 7 years (since my eldest was born). It's really hit home while we've been locked down, as I've had more chance to see how much he's growing up/changing day by day. Seize every moment you can, even when times are tough, because they won't be that little for long.
My #1 piece of advice would be to carve out couples-time with your partner! Pre-covid it was things like Friday 1 hr lunch (while the baby was home with nanny, we'd meet at a restaurant then head back to our workplaces), and now that baby's on a more regular sleep schedule, it's chatting or TV time after 9pm.
I've found when it's just the two of us, my wife is super relaxed and we revive that pre-baby vibe we had. I think it's probably much more important for my mental health than hers, since as other dads (like the ones posting in this community) otherwise feel neglected much of the day when baby has priority.
Don't expect to be suddenly endowed with "The Power of Fatherhood." You will be winging it forever. So did your dad. So did his dad. When you think back to all the dads you knew when you were a kid—they were all winging it. The cool ones, the crap ones? Winging it, all of them. Try to remember how you saw them back them, and remember that's how your kids see you. If you think you're just winging it, that's fine. Because you are. And that's OK.
You will probably get to spend more time with your kids than your father, and every father before him, ever did. Try to enjoy it, even though you sometimes you'll be craving time alone, with your friends, or with your partner.
I always thought I would be a laid back dad. I always thought I was a laid-back person. It turns out that I'm really not. Kids test you in ways you never thought imaginable. They find your buttons very early, learn what they do, and then keep pressing them. Try to pick your battles. Get used to being ignored. But how you react to situations matters. During lockdown my kids have managed to smash not one, but two expensive TVs. I managed not to lose my shit. They are just things.
Anthony's original comment was way longer than that, and I loved it so much that I turned into a previous issue of the newsletter. Go check that out. Also, a big shout out to Eric who emailed this week to say "most of what I've stumbled upon assumes I'm a Homer Simpson-type and is aimed at how I can not be an idiot, and I'm grateful to find something better." Thank you! That's why I started TNF in the first place.
For those of you that haven't become fathers yet, I recommend spending a little time on r/predaddit. We all know that Reddit can often bring out the very worst of the internet, but there are times where it's also home to some of the best. This community of "pre-dads" are sharing stories, pictures, fears and hopes, and celebrate their "graduation" from the community when their child is born.
Three things I'll add:
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Men are generally terrible at looking out for each other and it is so important to have other men in your life who you can talk to. But the first step is holding your hand up and letting someone know you're not OK. There's no shame in having a hard time.
Don't be worried if you don’t bond with your child immediately. It's completely normal not to feel immediately attached, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them, you, or anything else. It happens, it's completely normal, and it doesn't make you a "bad dad". I struggled bonding with my second child, and from the emails I received after sharing that story it was obvious that I wasn't the only one.
My youngest turned turned 2 last week. I don't know who came up with the phrase "the days are long, but the years are short" but—and allow me to slip into an ole' timey American accent for a moment—gosh-darn-it, if that ain't the truest thing. Try and find some time to really soak it in, and experience every moment to the fullest.
3 things to read this week
A conversation I've been having with some of you over last week echoes Justin's point up above: “What's the best way to spend less time working, and more time with my family?” Last week Kevin Roose dove into The YOLO Economy, those of us "flipping the carefully arranged chessboards of their lives and deciding to risk it all.” I loved this quote: "One executive at a major tech company, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said she and her husband had both been discussing quitting their jobs in recent weeks. The pandemic had taught them that they’d been playing it too safe with their life choices, and missing out on valuable family time. The executive then sent me a quote from the Buddha about impermanence, and the value of realizing that nothing lasts forever. Or, to put it in slightly earthier terms: YOLO."
Some interesting tidbits this week for those of us in the creative industries. Good friend, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO, and reader of The New Fatherhood Sam Hawkey was in the news sharing a new initiative to support parents who are returning to work in adland. And Bubly, a sparkling water brand, came out with a campaign to celebrate all the different paths to parenthood that exist for LGBTQ+ families.
What's your poison? Alcohol? Weed? Something a bit stronger? Carl Hart is a professor of psychology at Columbia University and is "now entering my fifth year as a regular recreational heroin user". Your mileage my vary on this article, and I definitely can’t condone this activity, but personally found it a fascinating read: "I do not have a drug-use problem. Never have. Each day, I meet my parental, personal and professional responsibilities. I pay my taxes, serve as a volunteer in my community on a regular basis and contribute to the global community as an informed and engaged citizen. I am better for my drug use."
One thing to watch with the kids this week
We're still on a massive nature tip at home, and went down a shark rabbit hole this weekend. This video of a black tip shark feasting on a wall of fish in Florida was a jaw-dropping highlight.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last weekend we did another "How are you feeling" check-in, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite things to do. I wanted to call out just one comment from Johannes, who replied from hospital whilst waiting to meet his son for the first time! Congratulations Johannes, and to all the new dads who have been in touch over the last few weeks. This week's newsletter is dedicated to you all.
Branding by Selman Design. Illustrations by Tony Johnson (the one at the top, not this GIF, that was just something cute I found.) Thanks to those of you who commented on the original thread way back in January, may your advice help the next wave of dads in everything they do. And thanks to everyone who continues to share this newsletter. If you enjoy it, consider forwarding it to other dads you know.