Prepping for fatherhood is more than reading Dr. Spock, childproofing the electrical outlets, and buying a tiny baseball glove. That's the easy stuff; the important lessons are those that most first-time dads learn along the way. But you're in luck: We got fathers and parenting experts from around the country to let us in on some of their secrets so you'll be ready for fatherhood right from the start. Here's what they said you need to know.
You will be more important to this baby than you will be to anyone else in the world. That idea can be intimidating -- and scary. For me, it hit home one day while my then-pregnant wife and I were crossing the street. She pointed out that my jaywalking habits would have to change when the baby arrived. Well of course, I said. When I had the stroller, I'd cross with the lights. But she meant I couldn't jaywalk when I was alone either; the baby would depend on my staying alive. Oh.
The point is, your baby needs you, and the quicker you get down to the business of raising her, the better. "It's on-the-job training -- not just for you but for the mother too," says Glenview, IL, psychologist Robert Frank, Ph.D., author of Parenting Partners. "Fathers are always afraid that they won't know what to do in that early time. But just jump in there, like you were pulling up a carpet or ripping down a wall. Jump in there and learn. The more you do it, the better you'll be at it."
You Have Instincts
Repeat after me: I am not clueless. I can do this. "Guys always think that Mom's going to have the corner on instincts," says Chuck Ault, a national trainer with Boot Camp for New Dads based in Irvine, CA. "But every guy becomes the expert on his baby." You will find your baby's most ticklish spots. You'll figure out how to get him to take a bottle. And, believe it or not, you'll even uncover secrets to soothing him that your wife will miss.
"My son had a lot of stomach pains when he was about 8 months old," Frank says, "and I would throw him over my shoulder so his stomach was right on my shoulder, with his head bobbing off my back. It looked dangerous, and my wife never would have done it -- but it made him feel better."
Parenting draws out your animal instincts as well. Just like the beasts of the jungle, you're hardwired to protect your child from harm. "I had to take my 3-month-old daughter to get some vaccinations," Ault says, "and in that two-minute period when I was all alone with her, knowing what was coming, my protective instinct kicked in. I really connected with her in a way I hadn't prior to that. You never know when it's going to happen."
Having said that, parenting is a partnership, and while you may be the king of roughhousing and peekaboo, your wife could be the queen of ointment rubbing or baby massaging. Don't be shy about asking her for guidance when it comes to something you haven't done before. "If the baby has a diaper rash, maybe she knows how to deal better," Frank says. "Do what she tells you to do if you feel really lost." After you do something once, you'll be able to do it even better the next time.