We’ve been passing on our collective wisdom to men becoming for decades, and each year, it is enriched by men like you. As you transform into a dad, we invite you to pay it forward by sharing what you learn with those who follow.
And welcome to fatherhood, the ultimate challenge of our lives. We give it all we have, sometimes stumbling along the way, but we always recover and take our best shot again. Our reward is the finest life has to offer.
Since you are preparing and will dive right in when your baby arrives, you’ll become a capable, confident dad too. At times, you may need to dig deep for strength, and you will find it.
Starting under the guidance of the hospital nurses, you will learn quickly as you care for your infant. You’ll find you know more than you think you do (AKA instincts kick in), and you begin to trust yourself. Then, over weeks and months, you’ll continually gain knowledge and become the expert (along with mom) on anticipating and meeting your baby’s needs.
The big change you can’t yet appreciate happens inside you. Your genes will trigger and direct powerful “dad” reserves that come online as you need them. They include neurons, synapses, and hormones that form a new dad sector in your brain that will support and reinforce your drive to do your best as a dad. As fatherhood gets tough in those early months, so will you.
Another big factor will be changes in your baby’s brain that occur in sync with yours (See Dad/Baby Brain Fusion). Your connection becomes hardwired, which is why your baby gets excited when you walk in the room; a goofy smile alone will make all your hard work, sacrifice and stress worth it. The result is a father who will do anything to protect and care for his child, and a child with the ability to get dad to do it.
As you adjust to being a dad, you’ll experience wide-ranging feelings that will be new to you; your brain will also transform and process loads of issues. You’ll be surprised by the workload, and sleep deprivation will take its toll, which may include conflict with your partner: you’ll work your way through it.
When your child is six months old, you’ll be a different man. A dad in all respects, who has fully committed himself to his child. A dad who has been tested and succeeded. Someone who works harder at home and on the job. A man who has developed patience and maybe cleaned up his act some. A better man.
When we ask our veteran dads how they transformed into fathers, they find it hard to remember who they were pre-baby. But they all know how they got there—by doing their best day by day.
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“Step up and be there. And keep coming back. You’re going to make mistakes – everybody does. You learn on the job.” — Veteran Dad
“Parenting, it’s like a cult. You can’t understand it until you’re in it, and then you can’t imagine things any other way.” — New Dad
“Just get into it from the beginning. Don’t worry about doing it wrong; don’t worry about doing it perfectly. Don’t be scared you’re going to mess up, everyone does. Just get in there from the beginning and you’ll be good to go.” — Veteran Dad
“If you’re wondering how your life changes, there’s only one word for it. Completely.” — Veteran Dad
“Being a dad is pretty cool. The first couple of months were difficult, but when she looks across the room and finds me, it’s just cool.” — Veteran Dad
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Transformation into a Dad (1:30)
Here are some suggestions to get started:
- Start with your instincts: what comes to mind when you ask the question?
- What did your own father do right that you want to do as well?
- What would you do differently compared to your own father?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses for being a father?
- What kind of relationship do you want with your child?
- What do you want to do together as your baby grows?
- What values and strengths do you want to teach your child?
- How do you want to be remembered as a father?
- If you pass on the best of yourself to your children, what will it be?
Starting Point: Your Own Father
Our own fathers differ dramatically: some were great; some weren’t there at all. Stepfathers, coaches, or other men may have served as fathers, as well.
The legacy of our fathers is a starting point for becoming a dad. It’s ironic that a distant or absent father can benefit us now – the more we missed out on, the more desire we bring to be there for our own child. It’s also true that the more we learned from our father, the more prepared we are.
Connecting to Your Father
You’re taking on an extraordinary, challenging role that creates common ground with your own father. If one of you reaches out, an upgrade in your relationship—one that supports your path as a dad—is possible. Even though he probably did a lot more for you than his own father did for him, it’s still likely he won’t reach out. So open the channel by asking him how he felt as a new dad and then share how you’re feeling.
What Our Dads Did Right
In 1990, our rookie dads talked about their own father as part of their self introduction. Their responses ranged from “great”, “emotionally distant”, to “didn’t have one around”. In 2010, we switched to “name one thing your dad did right.” While we still occasionally heard “my dad was a douche bag”, the picture that emerged is a profound statement on the possibilities of your own future as a dad:
- "Aside from being there for my sports, he instilled character in me and taught me to be a man of integrity. Also took off the day before we started our new school year to do something fun."
- "... was always supportive of anything I wanted to do, even if he didn't like it. I always respected him a lot for that. "
- "My dad was always there to support us with our dreams and aspirations. He was always behind me one hundred percent."
Our fathers loved us but often lacked the vocabulary to express it or the skills to put that love into tender actions. Newer generations are developing this capability.
This is a paradox of fatherhood. We men are used to learning things from our own fathers and each other: Those with experience show the new guys the ropes. But with fatherhood, even though we’re all on a common mission, we generally don’t talk about it. For starters, our own dads got the message they have little to offer us, so they don’t tell and we don’t ask. This is changing, and more dads are triggering the conversation. They learn from each other, vent frustrations, blow off steam, and inspire each other.
So break the ice and ask dads about their experience and solutions. Take a page out of the new mom’s playbook: get together with dads you know and connect with new ones. Although they’re a good bet, don’t limit yourself to the spouses of new moms your wife met in childbirth class. Ask a neighbor, the guy down the hall at work, or the one sitting next to you on the plane about his kids.