You Can Do It
You Really Are an Old Softie
Many guys wonder if they have the emotional makeup to be a good dad, and they want to know how to tap into their softer side. It's a simple three-step program: Look at your baby. Feel what you feel. Show it to your child. "Maybe I was a big softie going in, but I had never loved anything so much as that little baby when I first held him," says Stewart Pharis, a father of two from Cleveland Heights, OH.
But it's not love at first sight for every dad -- or mom. "The night he was born it hit me: Do I want this? Is this a mistake?" says Mike Hintze, a first-time father from Seattle. "You're afraid to express those feelings, even if they're fleeting. But it's normal. I don't think I'm a weirdo for having had those thoughts. And now it just blows me away how awesome it is, and how happy I am to get up in the middle of the night and hold him." In fact, now that his son, Nicholas, has started sleeping through the night, Hintze says, "Some days I'm actually disappointed. I almost looked forward to that time that was just for us."
You Can Work Hard and Still Be a Great Dad
Your job is more important than ever now because it's helping to support a new and shockingly expensive dependent. But you have some decisions to make: Can you keep working until 8 P.M. every night? Can you really leave a giggling baby behind to drag yourself to work on the weekends, even if you need the overtime pay?
"During the week, I feel guilty," says Lane Buschhorn of Austin, TX, father of 20-month-old Kaylen. "She's only awake for 35 or 40 minutes in the morning before I leave. I walk in the door at 6 p.m. and feed her. Then she goes to bed by 7, and she likes her 12 hours of sleep. I really don't see her much during the week -- and there's only 17 years left, then we shove her out the door. Now I understand why my mom was so upset when I went off to college."
"Work is one way we contribute to our families, but we don't want it to be our entire contribution," Ault says -- especially when kids are very young. "The only thing they want from you is face time. To give that, you can't be at work all the time."
There are some steps you can take toward making more time for your baby. Start by finding out your company's paid or unpaid paternal leave policies. If your company offers paid leave, don't be afraid to take it, says James Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute, in New York City, and author of Working Fathers. It's important to your family, and, in the long run, it's not likely to jeopardize your career. "I've been looking at this issue almost 30 years," Levine says. "There is no evidence to suggest that guys who take leave today will be less likely to advance in their job."
You also may not realize that you don't have to take your leave all at once, or even start it the day your baby is born. Levine suggests mapping out a schedule with your supervisor months before the baby's due date. If you have two weeks of leave (or even just saved-up vacation time) coming, maybe you can take it as ten Fridays off, giving your wife a little bit of extra relief, and keeping you from missing a single large block of time at work. Or, if your wife is returning to work after her own leave, start yours after hers.
Hintze took a month of leave that started at the tail end of his wife's. "Now I wish I had taken even more time," he says. "As a father, being the prime caretaker even for just a brief period of time was an extremely important experience."
And now, more than ever, staying at home full-time is a viable option for a father. Pharis was working as an attorney five years ago when his first son was born. After a few months, he says, "We realized we were not happy with both of us working." He and his wife decided he was the better choice to stay at home. "I probably have the longer fuse of the two of us," he says. "I'm glad we're living in a time when you can do whatever works for you as a couple."
Of course, some families don't have the luxury of leaving one parent at home. And while most workers at companies with at least 50 employees are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, many can't afford the lost pay. One suggestion Ault offers: If your child's happiest, most active time is early in the morning, when you're supposed to leave for work, find out if you can start coming in and leaving a little later or if you can switch your regular shift altogether. "A little time can go a long way," Ault says. "You don't have to give up everything to get some balance."