Father knows ... ?
Baby’s on the way—time to man up and bury your nose in a book.
When my wife was pregnant, I sought guidance in the one place that has never failed a frightened nerd before: the bookshelf. But it turns out the baby-rearing shelf is actually a fairly hostile place for dads; every volume seems geared toward the mom. I remember one of my wife’s books that contained, at the end of the chapter, a little box with advice for dads. As far as I could tell, it amounted to “Don’t be a jerk.” But here are a few books that helped me along the way, almost all of them in unintentional ways.
My wife and I took some Bradley Method classes, which is one of the leading “natural childbirthing” schools of thought. The classes were helpful, and along with those came the companion book, Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley (Bantam, $16). Mostly, by “coaching,” the book means “give your wife a massage,” which is a good reminder now and again. I was turned off a bit by the strident anti-doctor message in the book. But in its attempt to steer us toward a home birth, it actually delivered a ton of medical information that was useful once the birth happened, and didn’t come across as a textbook.
Lesson learned Contrarians provide good information, and you don’t have to replace your coffee table with a kiddie pool to make it useful.
One of the things I miss most about my wife’s pregnancy is the ritual we developed before bedtime, where I would read books into her belly, hopefully resonating through to our son’s developing eardrums. One of the first books I read was Michael Rosen’s classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Little Simon, $7.99). I vaguely remembered it from my childhood, but as soon as I started reading it, I adopted a weird rhythmic chant. Turned out it was some memory from when I was a toddler and my mom used to half-sing the book to me.
Lesson learned Everything you do, no matter how young the kid is, has a lasting impact.
This is when you really hit the books, and baby-whispering, sleep-regimenting, infant-wearing tomes get heaped upon you. I turned to The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik (FSG, $25), a look at the psychology and neuroscience of babies. Turns out, kids’ brains are way more active, absorbent and creative (another way to say this is “intelligent”) than ours.
Lesson learned From the outside, infancy appears to be full of one-way interaction, but this book put the lie to that. It got me stoked for my guy’s little brain.
My son was born two months premature, so our plans became actions before we anticipated. He was in the hospital for almost three weeks, and I picked up the habit of reading Ben George’s anthology, The Book of Dads (Harper Perennial, $14.99), on the train to and from seeing him. Though many of the essays concern having older children, each one is honest and hilarious about the various things done wrong and right (often accidentally) in parenthood. I still pick it up and read it today.
Lesson learned No parent knows what they’re doing, everyone screws up all the time—and it’s undeniably a blast.