When I was 13 years old I got my first job at a lawn mower repair shop. The owner was a very kind man named Dick who was also a functioning alcoholic. He was highly productive fixing things in the morning and would start drinking around lunch time and then basically wouldn’t get anything else done. Despite his drinking problem he was a genius mechanically and could fix anything. Lawn mowers aren’t complicated machines and most just have a few common problems that even a 13 year old can resolve. Dick taught me how to repair small engines and get them running again. He also taught me how to problem solve.
Did the mower have fuel? Spark? Does it have compression? If the answer is yes to all of these things then it should run. If it doesn’t have spark and has the other two, then change the spark plug or maybe replace the solenoid. Sometimes things would be more complicated and I would set it aside for Dick to fix. But this was the basic process of elimination that he taught me to fix lawn mowers. 26 years after I worked at Dick’s Lawn Mower Repair shop in Willowick, Ohio I learned that this method of problem solving works for babies too. Are they hungry? Do they need a new diaper? Do they have a boogers? Do they have gas? Are they overtired? If the answer to all of these questions is no, then they should sleep.
In my opinion the standard advice for new dads doesn’t help much. Better get some sleep now! That’s totally pointless advice. Can you do that — bank sleep in advance? I haven’t learned how to do that. Being a new parent is partially about sleep, but it’s also about problem solving and a lot of other things. Short of becoming a Navy Seal it could be the steepest learning curve of your life and there’s no replacement for experience. That’s lesson one. You will likely just have to figure it out on your own. Most people won’t be able to help you. 1
Based on my experience, the difficulty is centered around two main areas. First, your life changes a lot which might be difficult for you. We’ve all been dealing with that to some degree with the pandemic, so babyland might be easier now than in normal times. We had our second child in April of 2020 and the whole lockdown thing didn’t really feel that bad because we were already planning on being home much of the time. The lack of people doing fun things and posting on Instagram was helpful with regards to feeling left out. When you have a baby your life isn’t about you anymore — it’s about them. The sooner you can make peace with that the better.
With the caveat that all advice for dads is pointless, here are some of the things I have learned.
It’s important to remember that you will be back out there doing the things you love — traveling, golfing, laying on beaches. Life is not over, but it might not happen with the same ease or frequency as before.
Learning how to deal with this tiny human is directly related to how much pain you and your partner can endure. The better you do the less you will suffer. Sometimes you just suffer for no good reason, that’s part of being a parent too. Sh/t, that’s part of life! The good news is, there’s a lot of motivation to figure it all out. Your sleep and basically your sanity depend on it. Even if it doesn’t go well evolution has gamed your memory to forget how bad it can be and only remember the wonderful parts. There are also a lot of wonderful parts.
One of the things you can do to add value as a Dad is to cook and clean. Before you start menu planning, it’s important to know that certain foods should be avoided for breastfeeding moms because they suppress milk production (you can google the list). Keeping ingredients in mind and then get some meals organized. In my experience it’s better not to try and ask everyone (especially Mom) what they want for dinner, just either order something or cook it. If you do ask you will understand why it’s best to just make a decision on your own. I recommend Blue Apron or the similar services as you will never have to think about what to make or ensure you have all of the ingredients. You will also not have to go to the store or order the groceries.
Diapers are your domain. You change them, you take them out to the trash and you order them. We really love the Coterie diapers and you can just text with them to reorder, etc. If you are sensing that a diaper needs to be changed don’t dither and ask if a diaper needs to be changed— just take the baby and do it. Mom doesn’t want to do it, she wants you to do it.2
Sometimes things just go haywire and you won’t have control. That’s the lesson —you don’t have control. Just try and breathe and figure it out. A lot of times going for a walk will help you and the baby. Sometimes it’s 5pm and sh/t is just crazy and you don’t understand why. Don’t be too attached to logic.
If your mom (grandma) is around to help that’s great. Two things to remember with that. Unless they have a lot of recent grandchildren their experience with raising kids is wildly outdated and you will need to treat them like the intern who knows nothing. Also keep in mind that there is sure to be some *friction* between your mom and your wife. You’re on your wife’s team and you should side with her blindly in all disputes. Your mom is your mom and she will always be that. Your wife is in a unique physical and mental place and supporting her in those situations will go a long way. This is just my opinion, but I think it holds true.3
Be as good as Mom. My goal was to be as capable as possible with the baby. I never wanted to not be able to handle the kid on my own. I see this as an underrated opportunity for fathers. The better you are with the kid the easier it is on Mom, the more time you will have with them and the less stress everyone will feel (hopefully). If you can watch the baby it will free up Mom to exercise or talk to friends or take a nap. This will make everyone happier. It will make your connection with the child stronger and will empower you mentally. Don’t be the guy who is completely helpless with the baby.
When the baby sleeps you need to sleep too. I would recommend this approach as much as possible. Don’t waste 90 minutes on Instagram while the baby naps — use that time to recharge or I guarantee you the baby will make you pay later.
Things you might need. Nose Frida for boogies, swaddles, an RF monitor (works without internet) and a Nest-type camera (works from anywhere), a hiking carrier and a good wine shop. Every kid is different and some special pillow or sleeper that people swear by might not work for your baby. Most strollers are fine and you will end up not really caring about what brand you bought for the most part unless you travel with the child all the time. A lot of the baby stuff decisions you make aren’t as important as they may seem pre-baby.
It’s important that you remember to get out and do things for your own mental sanity away from home. If that’s exercise, tennis, fishing, playing golf or hiking it’s important to not to forget your own mental health. It’s a challenging time for everyone so don’t neglect yourself or you won’t be helping anyone.
When people ask me how I like being a dad I tell them that it has showed me what love really is. It’s a new dimension of love that I couldn’t even have imagined or knew existed before my children were born. It’s worth 10x all of the lost sleep, stress and suffering.
Hope all (some) of this helps.
Unless they are a night nurse who will know everything and will add years to your life.
Newborn diapers aren’t even bad. It’s not until the kid starts eating real food do things get interesting — by that point nothing will phase you.
I’m not saying I have made all of the right choices or have done everything perfectly. In some situations I know these things to be true because I did the wrong thing.