Becoming Dad

Becoming Dad

You have what it takes to become the best dad for your baby, but it may take a while for you to catch on.

You'll learn what you need to know from Base Camp, your partner, the dads you know, and Boot Camp (for a great start).  Caring for your baby will teach you a great deal more. Your confidence will increase, enabling you to constructively focus on the challenges you face. Once your baby arrives, your awesome power for stepping up as a father will fully kick in. 

Common Concerns & Fears 

Becoming a father brings rapid changes and huge responsibilities to your life, and when you don’t even know what you don’t know, it’s normal to experience doubt, stress, fear, even panic.

Are some of the following thoughts familiar?

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  • What am I getting into? 
  • This was not my choice.
  • I don’t like babies.
  • I’m not ready.
  • I won’t be a good father.
  • I’ll throw up in the delivery room. 
  • I’ll lose my great life.
  • I’ll lose a great wife. 
  • I’ll drop the baby. 
  • What if there are complications? 
  • Will she ever get back to normal? 
  • How much will this cost? 
  • I can’t afford it.
  • My mother-in-law is a nightmare.
  • Is this baby really mine?
  • I just want him to come out.

Keep in mind: fear exists because you care. And because you care, you’ll be exactly who your family needs you to be. 

Get Them Off Your Chest

Once you share your feelings with someone you trust, fears and concerns usually stop festering and start dispersing. The obvious person to tell is your partner, but, of course, she’s pregnant, feeling vulnerable, full of her own worries, and needs you to be strong.  So who do you talk to? Some suggestions:

  1. Yourself – write it down on a piece of paper and read it.
  2. Brothers, sisters and close friends are there for times like this, so count on them to listen and, if it fits, call you nuts.
  3. Mom-to-be likely senses something’s up and has added you to her long list of concerns.  Your best move is to clue her in, so think through how to handle it.

See our resources for depression and anxiety. 

“Best advice I can give you is talk to your partner. If you’re nervous, scared, overwhelmed, depressed, let your partner know. I suffered with depression and the minute I spoke to my wife, a weight was off my shoulders. I felt I was going to burden her more but, in fact, she was really worried as well, and glad I talked to her.  -Dad

If Stress is Getting to You

Due to the size, speed, and velocity of changes occurring in their lives, the rate of clinical depression for men becoming fathers doubles. Moms get the more serious postpartum depression after the baby arrives, but dads are impacted by stress before and after their baby arrives. So if the changes are getting to you, understand it’s common, see it as a serious challenge, and deal with it constructively. 

What the Dads Say

In our workshops, dads-to-be list their concerns so they’re addressed by our veteran dads. Their worries are all over the place; here’s a sample of what they say… 

Reddit: Dad-to-be: Anxious and scared.

Reddit: Dad-to-be: Panic attacks during pregnancy

Reddit: Dad: My partner is pregnant, and I am depressed.

Reddit: Dad-to-be: I don’t think I am ready to be a dad.

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New Dads 9 Months In

This large survey of new dads, conducted in 2001 by the National Center of Education Statistics of 6,300 first time fathers living with their children, gives you an idea of the transformation you’ll experience after your baby arrives.

Prior to birth, 25% of men didn’t want the pregnancy to occur; another 19% wished it occurred later, and 56% felt ready. So how were these same dads feeling when their baby turned 9 months? 

  • 99% agreed that fatherhood is a "highly rewarding experience,” with 84% strongly agreeing.
  • 96% played with their baby daily; 90% took them on errands once or twice a week.
  • 100% said holding and cuddling their child is fun; 85% said this is the case all the time.
  • 79% rated themselves as “better than average or very good”; 17% said they were "average;" only 2% had some trouble as a father.

By the time your baby is 9 months, you’ll barely recognize yourself as you are today.

Phases of New Fatherhood

To give you a better idea of what to expect, here are phases most new dads experience. Once you get past the sleep-deprived lows, it’s on to the best that life has to offer.

Deploy

Ready or not, “I’m pregnant!” is the kickoff! (44% of us say “not ready”). To become a big part of your child’s life, you’ll need to prepare as much as possible. This includes dealing with your concerns, thinking about what kind of dad you want to be, getting on the same page as your partner, etc.

“Deploy” means get organized and going: 

  • Attend doctor visits and ask questions.
  • Help her through pregnancy and talk to her.
  • Feel your baby kick and talk to him, too.
  • Prepare for your role as her Childbirth Cornerman.

Dads: Changes during her pregnancy

“Best advice I can give you is talk to your partner. If you’re nervous, scared, overwhelmed, depressed, let your partner know. I suffered with depression and the minute I spoke to my wife, a weight was off my shoulders. I felt I was going to burden her more but, in fact, she was really worried as well, and glad I talked to her."

Deliver

When labor kicks in, it’s time for you to deliver, too. Coaching her through childbirth is intense, but you’ll get the job done. Next, welcome your baby into the world and start caring for him. Once you take your family home, you’ll need to seriously deliver for months.

“Deliver” means get it done:

• Learn how and get hands-on caring for your baby. 

Take care of mom; do whatever you can.

• Work despite little sleep.

Deprived

With minimal sleep, a demanding baby, and a worn-out mom, plan on hitting the wall when your adrenaline runs out after a few weeks. Regardless, you’ll still have to wake up at night to care for your baby, then get up in the morning for work—bleary eyed—with no end in sight.

“Deprived” means being exhausted and feeling the life you knew is over:

• Keep an eye on mom for baby blues/PPD.

• Focus on the basics and let the rest slide.

• Remember this phase will pass.

Expect to feel discouraged from these impacts and loss of control over your life; the best antidote is more contact with your baby.

Discovery

Hey, you’ve gotten the hang of taking care of your baby! After 3 months, her crying cuts way back, and she smiles when she sees you! While your baby is still a lot of work, you’ve learned the ropes, have a second wind coming on, and feel a sense of control over your life as a dad.

“Discovery” means enlightenment:

Delight

Now it’s getting fun! Your baby gets excited when you walk in the room, rolls over, laughs, plays and learns how to do stuff. You have a new buddy (or budette)! This is when baby bonding can skyrocket and lock you into a strong connection for life. 

“Delight” means fun and fulfillment for you:

Dad

A father puts his child first, protects her, teaches her how to handle life, passes on the best of himself, teams up with mom, and builds a new sense of pride, confidence and purpose. When things are tough, Dad doubles down on his commitment to his family.

“Dad” means you. Stop and consider the kind of father you’ve become. The lifetime payback is enormous, so make the most of your family with Mom (you’ll find new moms love their baby’s daddy).

Welcome to the brotherhood of fatherhood!

The Impact of Dads on Babies

Research has turned the notion of the laggard/deadbeat dad on its head. Turns out, like mothers, millenniums of evolution and socialization take effect on men when we become fathers. We have a unique, profoundly positive impact on our children and are endowed by nature to cherish and care for our kids from birth. 

Babies Thrive on the Difference Dad Brings

The way Mom picks the baby up is great, and the nine different ways Dad picks him up are great, too. Moms tend to fall into a pattern, and dads are all over the place, which is the way nature designed it. Your baby’s different responses ensure he gets calming time with Mom and playful time with Dad—both necessary and good.

Celebrate the Difference

Moms quickly develop an intense nurturing role that contributes greatly to your child’s welfare and growth. Your adventurous role complements Mom, and the combination is what turns out well-rounded children. The more you acknowledge each other’s strengths, the more you will bring out the best in each other as parents. 

Evidence all around is that moms and dads should both show up to this parenting thing as themselves. Even if you choose to flip traditional roles, you’ll still bring a different experience that has major value in your child’s development.

Not Always on the Same Page with Mom Is Good

Your differences can be complementary and balancing. Working out two perspectives on an issue is almost always better than one. Dads tend to think long range while moms focus on the moment. Dads also operate more from an instinctual, creative and practical viewpoint—a huge plus when taking care of a baby. 

Get Time Alone With Your Baby

Be sure to get “dad sessions” with your baby from the very start, especially those first few weeks (prime bonding time). Encourage your mate to take a break and exit the house for an hour or two. Let her know it’s also the only way you’ll learn how to handle the baby on your own, which will help her trust you and eventually not call every 10 minutes to check in. The next step for you will be getting out of the house solo with your baby. 

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The Impact of Fatherhood on Men

A Glimpse of Your Future

Rookie dads-to-be at Boot Camp see veteran dads showing calm confidence, a sense of pride and a purpose that is very reassuring. They’ve gotten through the tough early months, their babies now smile at them, and they’re upbeat dads on a mission to create their own, unique family with Mom.

Over time, we gain a new, stronger sense of ourselves as fathers. As we learn to meet our baby’s needs, we come to trust our instincts—just as moms do. Gradually, we become comfortable raising our children and helping them learn new things, and we develop an awareness of just how important we are to our child. 

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While this transformation into a father occurs in the circumstances of our new lives, it ultimately takes place in the depths of our own mind. We start to feel like a “Dad” and build an extraordinary commitment to do our best. It becomes a big part of who we are: fatherhood is a new dimension that enlarges us and makes us better men. 

When you become a father and look back, it will be hard to remember what life used to be like. You’ll reflect and see how far you’ve come and how deeply committed you are to your child.

Your Child Offers You A Great Deal

Little compares to your baby falling asleep in your arms, comforting your child when he’s upset, or your toddler’s delight over knocking down the block tower you helped him build. No matter what happens in other areas of your life, you will always be special to our child. We guarantee that as a rich relationship with your child develops, you’ll experience a sense manhood that expands your heart and soul, fulfilling the core of your being. It will have a broad, never-ending impact on you that gives real and deeper meaning to life.

Opportunity to Show What You’re Made Of

For some dads, caring for a baby on turf owned by women (for millenniums) can feel emasculating at first, but fathers end up carving out their own turf and doing it their own way. We learn taking care of a sick baby through the night is not for wimps; that protecting and providing for a family requires a great deal of strength. 

Raising children brings out the best in us and spurs us to mature and excel as human beings. We develop an extraordinary commitment to our child and family and become men in the finest sense of the word.

‘‘I fear that I might get too wrapped up in my work and career and not be there for my family. Not spending enough time to bond with my child is of great concern to me.”   — Rookie Dad

What Happens When You Get Out Alone With Your Baby

What happens when you get out alone with your baby? Magic. When it’s just you two of you, you notice everything about each other and connect on a deep level. For dad, it’s like a date: you’re out to show your child a good time and bring him into your own world (maybe by showing him a Shelby Cobra 427 at a car show). When people ask about your baby, you’ll get to do all the talking. When a problem develops, it’s Dad to the rescue! This is when you develop a special bond.

Another Reason to Get Out Alone With Your Baby

Kyle Pruett, MD, author of the groundbreaking Fatherneed, explains why dads have so powerful an influence on the kind of person their child becomes: “A father and his infant develop an enhanced relationship through interactions that occur between them in the absence of the mother. This one-on-one time is when dads develop a broad range of skills that engage their child, instilling richer social and exploratory behavior."

To Get a Faster Start, Think About Your Baby Growing Up

Another gem from Dr. Pruett is the more you think about you and your child doing things together as he grows, the faster your bond develops and the deeper it becomes. You might start with the things you like to do, but might also consider activities and adventures you have always wanted to do. 

gift for dad - treasure chest

Dads Adventure Cigar Box Treasure Chest

$29.00

For all your treasures! Solid wood box with dove-tail joints, perfect for all your/his most prized keepsakes. Makes a great Dadchelor Party/Man Shower gift!

Proceeds go toward funding for Boot Camp for New Dads

Developing Your Own Dad Charisma

Dad charisma reflects the quiet strength and commitment we bring to fatherhood, and it develops as we become comfortable in our own skin as a dad. Others see it when we’re out with our child when he’s on our shoulders, or we’re calmly soothing him during a meltdown. But it really develops within us, inside our own minds, as we gain experience and confidence and try new things that become our unique style. 

Ever since you found out you were going to be a dad, it’s likely you’ve been watching other fathers within your family and friend circle, or dads you see in public. You’re probably noticing things that stand out, certain behaviors that fit your idea of what a fully invested dad looks and acts like. 

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As your child grows, you’ll continually think up new approaches to delivering for your children, deciding what kind of dad you want to be. Over time, you’ll form a personal understanding of your own fatherhood; not only will you own it, but you will have designed it from your own blueprint. 

Through an amalgam of knowledge, instincts, personality, awareness, vision, beliefs, and just plain trial and error, we develop our own unique approach to fatherhood. Sounds heady, doesn’t it? It’s actually as simple as just being yourself with your baby.  

He Just Tried Something

Ben and his wife arranged opposite work shifts to avoid daycare costs for little Alaya. Ben was on evening baby duty four nights a week, and every night around 7:00, Alaya would get very fussy; her crying steamrolling into a full fit by 8:30. He used the calming strategies that worked for his wife; he swaddled her snugly and walked around with her nuzzled against his chest. Alaya would seem receptive for a few minutes and then get right back to crying: Ben was beginning to take it personally.  

One particular night, in the midst of their nightly crying ritual, Ben was struck by a moment of inspired desperation. He decided to try something. He unwrapped little Alaya from her blanket and draped her, belly down, over his forearm, and began slowly swaying her from side to side. More creativity stuck. He started walking around the house with her in this position, and as he got close to metal objects he made a rapid beeping sound. In the space of less than five minutes, as Ben kept up their new game, Alaya’s crying turned to cooing. He calls his technique “The Metal Detector,” and all his dad friends are impressed. 

With Mom not around or frustrated, Ben tried something out and it worked.

It Happens Naturally

Your own parenting style will slowly creep in. You may not even notice it at first. Much of what works for you will be guided by your baby’s reaction and your creativity. Engage in this process and enjoy it—you’re building a relationship from scratch. 

Over the first year of your baby’s life, you’ll find yourself becoming a distinct parent, different from your partner in many ways. You’ll feel just as capable as her, but with a unique approach, and it’s all good for your baby. 

By the time your kiddo turns one, your style will differ from fathers you know. You’ll have knowledge that seems to have materialized out of thin air. Much of what you do and how you react will feel embedded. You’ll move forward with confidence that comes from knowing who you are as a father. Enjoy the satisfaction you feel at this point, keep experimenting and refining, and be proud that you’ve reached this important milestone. 

There will be more to come.  

Our Children Need Us

Are Fathers Necessary? is an Atlantic magazine cover story from 2010 that concluded: “The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution.” This was both the ultimate and last major insult to fathers since the seventies. We’ve seen few this decade due to due to broad appreciation of dads; Atlantic magazine had the opposite take on fathers just three years later.

Extensive research indicates children whose fathers are a consistent, positive force in their lives do better socially, intellectually, and in a broad range of areas ranging from economic status in childhood, to peer relationships in adolescence, to productivity as adults. 

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As your child grows, you’ll continually think up new approaches to delivering for your children, deciding what kind of dad you want to be. Over time, you’ll form a personal understanding of your own fatherhood; not only will you own it, but you will have designed it from your own blueprint. 

Through an amalgam of knowledge, instincts, personality, awareness, vision, beliefs, and just plain trial and error, we develop our own unique approach to fatherhood. Sounds heady, doesn’t it? It’s actually as simple as just being yourself with your baby.  

They Need Us to Be Ourselves

Of all the powerful and complex dynamics in the circle of life, a father’s critical role in teaching his baby to play has got to be one of the coolest. Research found that despite obvious advantages moms enjoy in terms of baby appeal, two-thirds of 6-month-old babies chose Dad when it came to playtime. Fathers, perhaps due in part to maturity issues, are naturally designed to be the perfect playmate. 

Tickling, Superman flight lessons, peek-a-boo and wrestling all come naturally. Playing is also bonding at its finest. Dads elicit radiant smiles and infectious belly laughs, sometimes with just a wink. And finally, playing is your baby’s main job: it teaches him to laugh and take risks, it develops motor skills and speeds brain and nervous system development. It’s a dirty job, but remember when you’re crawling on the floor, barking like a dog as you chase him around—it’s Dad’s job.

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Work Options for Dads

While work options are wide open for some dads, they may be limited for you.  Some dads find their groove and make changes early, while others work towards balance over time. And then there are dads who struggle to get out of a rut. So, it’s always good to consider your alternatives: 

“I’m concerned about how I’m going to meet my financial responsibility as the breadwinner of the family, and my moral responsibility as a father. I work long hours already. Now with the baby coming, I don’t know how I’m going to find time to be a dad.”   - Rookie Dad

Workaholic, Road Warrior

You may need the work to pay the bills, are heavily invested in your career, or have a job that requires travel. If you make time at home with your family count, this route can work for a couple of years. You’ll still miss out on things, so perhaps an exit strategy is in your future.

You’re providing essential economic support, especially if it allows mom to stay home. But since you are less available to help mom with the baby, anticipate she may resent your absence and “gatekeep.”  If you respond by working more to avoid stress at home, it will create a division in your family just as it is forming. The antidote is to spend more time with your baby; skin-to-skin works best for extreme bonding, and giving him baths with Mom watching shows her you love “her” baby too.

Cut Back On Hours, Work Partly From Home

Some employers offer telecommuting and flexible schedules for dads wanting more time at home. You may need to request or push for this. Many fathers find they’re more efficient at work, enabling them to spend more time at home.

Having flexibility and working fewer nights and weekends allows you more opportunities to interact with your child and support Mom. Mixing work and family at home can be challenging, but you’ll get to be there for your family. 

Find Less Demanding Job

Backing off your career aspirations is a sacrifice, but finding another job with fewer hours may be your best option. Since we tend to bring work home, reducing stress is as important as reducing work hours. This likely involves a decrease in pay but brings a serious increase in your fulfillment as a father. Research is clear on the benefits babies receive from having Dad around, and it provides much appreciated balance in Mom’s life, too. Start by talking with her about the trade-offs.

Reduce Commute Time

Moving closer to work or finding a job near home will result in less time on the road. Easier said than done, but check out the possibilities. A family-friendly neighborhood or a less demanding job may also be part of the deal. You’ll save prime family time in the morning and early evening when your child is ready to go. The hours you save can be considerable, and a tired mom will like having you around. Changing jobs or moving is a big step toward finding balance in your life as a father.

Set Up Business at Home

Tricky, but, if successful, offers a great combination of good income, no commute and a flexible schedule to optimize your time on the home front. It requires personal discipline and practical steps like a separate workspace. A great option if you can pull it off since you’re paying the bills and fully participating in your children’s upbringing. There are business risks, but the overhead is low, and it’s a great way to go when the kids are young. Be careful that business stress doesn’t diminish you as a dad.

Work Part Time

About half of all new families have two working parents with Mom as a major income generator. You may be able to work part-time and be a primary caregiver to your baby with partial day care support. A part-time job can also counteract the boredom inherent in full-time baby care. The alternative is two parents working full time, which tends to be stressful for new families. Part time work might involve cutting down on hours at your current job, starting a home-based business, or finding a new, part time job. 

Home Front Dad

Staying home to raise your child may be the most rewarding thing you ever do. Then again, it may not work for you. Don’t doubt your ability; many men are making it work, and an increasing number of dads would join them if they could. You’ll be the most important influence in your child’s life. Traditional norms of Dad as breadwinner are dissipating. If you take this challenge on, make the most of this opportunity or risk finding it boring.

READ: Home-Front Dads (aka Stay-at-Home Dads)

If Time with Your Baby Is Short

You may have only a few days for paternity leave. You may have to work 50+ hour weeks plus commute or travel away from home. Many new dads increase their workload to handle added financial demands, especially if they’re becoming a one-income household. You want to be part of your child’s life, so how do you do it? 

Get a Strong Start

Set the tone with Mom (and yourself) that you’re here to play by jumping right in on baby care, starting at the hospital and at home. You’re in the prime bonding zone, so muster all the paternity leave you can to be there.  

Make Your Time Count

At home, don’t let your limited experience with baby care deter you from taking full advantage of the time you have. Spending hands-on time with your baby is like working out: a small amount of time taken regularly goes a long way. 

Strategize for the Long Term

Think of solutions that will enable you to spend more time with your child. Check out “work options.". Be creative, and start making the necessary moves.

Enlist Mom as Your Ally

This is essential but may be tough. If Mom’s at home full time, she may feel chained to the baby and think you’re just out having fun. If she’s working too, she’ll have her own struggles. Tell her you want to be part of your baby’s life and you need her help.

When You Spend a Lot of Time Away from Home

Even if time with your child is minimal, make it as meaningful as possible:

  • Spend time with your baby before you leave in the morning and after you get home. You can change, feed or play with her; even a little time consistently applied will seal your bond.
  • Keep your baby’s picture on your phone, and check it out while you’re away. 
  • Call Mom daily for the lowdown on Junior’s antics and accomplishments for the day.
  • Ask Mom to send you photos and recordings; talk to him via Skype or Facetime.
  • Get creative. A young father deployed to Iraq tape-recorded a dozen nursery rhymes that his wife plays for their baby so he’ll recognize Dad’s voice when he gets back.
  • Put your picture up where he can see it; babies focus on faces.

Kick Back with Your Friends

Standard procedure for new fathers is to give up the few friends they have because (a) they’re busy and tied down at home, too, (b) they're not interested in the color of your baby’s poop, and (c) they foster our anti-social behavior (says Mom). We get isolated and cooped up just when we need to get out and de-stress. 

Your buddies provide balance in your life, especially when the pressure builds. So if you’re feeling it, for the sake of your family, call up your friends and go grab a beer. It works a lot better if they have babies or kids themselves, as a little appreciation for your circumstances and efforts can do wonders for your attitude.

“I felt pressure to always be there for my new family and play Superdad, never thinking that I needed time every once in a while to recuperate and refuel my daddy tank.”  -  Veteran Dad

Connect with Other Dads

It can be hard, but connecting with other dads does wonders for your sanity. Compare tricks and hacks, swap war stories or just blow off some steam. The trick at this point is finding the other dads. 

Here's a short list to get you started. If you find out about any other groups, let us know:

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All Rights Reserved | Boot Camp for New Dads is a non-profit organization

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