It Pays to Prepare: Why Educating Yourself Can Help You Become a Great Dad
In 1830, Sir Walter Scott wrote to a friend, “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”
This applies equally to fatherhood. My gut feeling is that many guys are like I was in my “pre-dad life”; that is, despite some whimsical notions about wanting to be “a good dad” and having some positive memories and observations of their own dad, they don’t actually know what to do.
They don’t have much experience or a knowledge bank about pregnancy, labour or caring for a baby.
If you want to be a good dad – nay, an excellent dad – then you have to be active and involved. You can’t simply tag along, watching from the sidelines while you Instagram the best bits of your day. You need to start asking important questions.
What happens during pregnancy? What’s childbirth like? How do you look after a baby, anyway? Did I remember to put the recycling out? How can I support my wife? What happens if I faint? And how exactly did my wife get pregnant in the first place?
In short, as Scott said, if you want to be of any worth as a father, start educating yourself. Education – in the form of reading books, chatting with other dads, and engaging with various websites, blogs, forum communities and whatever social media is in vogue at the time you read this – will achieve three things.
First, it will help you understand the language used by medical professionals so you can at least fake a semblance of knowing what everyone else is talking about.
For example: “Excuse me, sir, a nuchal scan of the episiotomy caused a Caesarean epidural reaction with the zygote and I’m afraid your forceps were cervixed in the panic. As a consequence, our foetal monitor bonded with the ultrasound. Colostrum should do the trick, but if you’re still concerned, pop on that cradle cap there and mop the pelvic floor. And, in the name of King and Country, I declare these . . . the Glands of Montgomery!”
Second, it will help you prepare for what’s coming your way; for instance, what happens when you go to the hospital and to what extent your life will be different from now on.
Third, it will help to prepare you for the grand experience of the birth itself. Tom was a boy in my Personal Development class at high school. I remember him because, one day when we watched a film about pregnancy and childbirth, his eyelids fluttered and his body went stiff and he slid off his chair and hit the floor. This drove our class into a rabid frenzy like something out of Lord of the Flies – perhaps the reason I never got to see any of those films in their entirety and why I remained for many years an ignoramus about childbirth.
When my wife Meredith was pregnant the first time, I hadn’t seen that many childbirths before. (And by that, I mean I had seen no childbirths before.)
Sure, I’d seen plenty of portrayals of childbirth in Hollywood movies and TV comedies. But these are ridiculously unrealistic, clichéd and (for many practical reasons and child actor labour laws) just plain wrong. No, I had never seen a real birth before… right up to that memorable night at birth class. (It would have been nice if the educator had warned us – even just a little bit – before she pressed PLAY and a crowning head suddenly appeared larger than life on the big screen. The less said about that night, the better.)
There are a number of other ways you can start preparing. The very fact you are reading these words is a sign that you have made a start. Well done!
However, no single book or blog or website or conversation will give you all the answers. My advice is to read – or at least browse – as many worthy books and magazines and websites as you can. Find some good dad-blogs, where the writer seems measured and real.
So, get into it! Read books, chat with new dads, search the internet, go to classes. It’s the only way you’ll learn.
Peter Downey is a dad of three and author of the bestselling So You’re Going to Be a Dad, which has been updated for modern dads in its 25th anniversary edition.