We recognize that child-rearing and -raising primarily falls on the mother, leaving a lot of dads on the outside looking in. How can we bring more dads into the fold and actively engage them in the world of child development?
This is the first in a new blog series, showcasing fathers’ perspectives on parenting, child development, and their advice to fellow and future dads. Welcome to the Child(ish) Dad!
Age of child: 3 years old
How has your experience as a father changed your outlook on child development?
There really is no way to prepare for being a dad. It’s been said that a mother becomes a mother when she first hears their child’s heartbeat, but a man doesn’t really feel “like a dad” until the child is born.
In my case, our son was born at 29 weeks. My own birth and upbringing were fairly typical, so premature delivery was nowhere on my radar. As we were wheeled into the delivery room, I told my wife that I hadn’t read that far into the baby books.
He had 62 days of services and developmental assistance from nurses and therapists in the NICU before he was able to come home to us. It was very challenging and scary time for me as a new dad. I didn’t like seeing my son hooked up to wires. Seeing nurses feeding him with tubes and machines made me feel very uneasy and powerless, no matter how thoughtful and helpful they were.
When he got home, he once stopped breathing while laying on my chest. Even though I was once a certified lifeguard and had taken an infant CPR class, I felt horribly inadequate and unprepared for my new role.
Over time, he grew to be more stable, hitting all of his developmental milestones by the time he turned two. Today, I feel pretty confident as a dad, but if I’m being honest, my mind races daily thinking about his development, growth, and future.
How do you help with your child’s development? Are there any specific activities you do?
I’m lucky enough to have a wife who is a pediatric occupational therapist, so she takes the lead on his development activities and how we introduce him to the world.
As parents to a preemie, we were tasked right away to get his weight up from his birth weight of 2lbs 14 oz. Life on the growth chart has been a constant for us. He’s a small kid and that’s fine, but every checkup centers around his height and weight. Every ounce of formula and food had to be tracked and accounted for to ensure he was getting everything he needed. He’s 3 now and this is just starting to subside as a concern.
I like to include him into activities and chores I do around the house. He digs with his hands in dirt and mud when we’re working in the lawn and garden. He likes holding the leaf blower together when we pile leaves, and walks across wood beams while I’m building things. Once he got old enough, I introduced him to my project car and let him help when I do small repairs. He couldn’t care less about toys when he sees daddy with the “big boy” tools.
My relationship with my son is centered around active physical engagement: playing and rolling around with him, throwing him in the air, playing with balls and toys. It’s good bonding time and I like it, especially as he has gotten older and is more interactive. I think it’s all about finding what your child likes and working on new skills in the environment and at the pace that suits them.
What do you enjoy most as a father?
My son has excellent comedic timing. He makes me laugh so much and I love making him laugh. I love seeing when he’s learned something new. I look at his mother and we ask each other, “Who taught him that?”. Sometimes that includes words he shouldn’t know, which is inappropriate but still funny.
Do you have any advice for future fathers?
There is a scene in the movie Knocked Up where the two leads argue over reading baby books. Seth Rogen, the soon-to-be father, says, “How did anyone ever give birth without a baby book? Oh, that’s right, the ancient Egyptians engraved What to Expect When You’re Expecting on the pyramid walls, I forgot about that!”.
It’s one of those peak conflict scenes made for romantic comedies, but the point is people have been having babies for a pretty long time. No matter how unprepared or inadequate or underfunded you may feel, chances are you will be just fine.
I only had time to stay one chapter ahead of what was happening with mom through the pregnancy. When she skipped ahead eight chapters (not a joke, eight chapters) in The Expectant Father, I couldn’t necessarily go back to read about delivery procedures when I was standing in gym shorts and a t-shirt while she was pushing.
Doctors know what they are doing. Nurses know what they are doing. Trust your experts and be the emotional support your wife needs.
Any advice for fellow dads?
Most of being a dad is showing up for your wife and kids. Be kind. Be patient. Be a decent human being and everything will be okay.