Sunday, June 19, 2005

father's day: notes for a new dad

Being a father is a continuous leaning process, and I'm still in school. Here's something for the new dad or dad-to-be.

10 Things They Didn’t Teach Me:
Notes for a New Dad

So you’re going to be a new dad? Listen up.

When my wife announced that we were going to have a baby, I broke down in tears. Part of me was in shock, part of me was deliriously happy, and part of me was so frightened by the entire thing that my balls contracted. We immediately went to a doctor to verify, and yes, indeed it was true. At that moment, our lives changed forever.

Looking back, I wish someone, anyone, had prepared me for what was to come. As the date approached I tried my best to act the part of a cool-dad-to-be, in control, knowledgeable, prepared. I only half-listened to the advice of other people, confident in my ability to figure things out myself. I thought, how difficult could it be? People have babies all the time.

Was it as simple as I thought? Let me put it this way, if my hair wasn’t shaved by choice in the first place, I would have torn it all out – in clumps, by the handful.

So instead of being cruel, let me save the new dads-to-be some trouble and share some of the lessons I learned – the hard way.

Your vocabulary sucks

As time for birth approaches, you must be ready. You can stress all you want about the regular stuff (“Will I be a good father?”, “Am I ready for this?”, “I hope the baby will have ten toes and ten fingers”) but actually the most important thing to ask yourself is this: Do you know what a layette is (if not, you can double-click on the word for the definition, a nifty little feature of this blog)?

Chances are you have no idea. I didn’t. It’s not a word that anyone uses in casual conversation. And if you think you’re clever by buying a baby book and looking it up – good luck. They just tell you that you need it, they assume you know. So, what is it? It’s the complete outfit of clothing and equipment for your newborn infant. The baby stuff.

And in case, like me, you thought it meant just a crib, some bottles and a pile of diapers, you’re so wrong. When we brought our little daughter home from the hospital, the first thing I realized was that we didn’t have a sterilizer for the bottles. So on our very first day home, I left mother and child and rushed to the baby section of Megamall with my dwindling money (unless you plan to have your wife give birth via albulario, the accumulated expenses pack a wallop) and bought everything I thought we needed – sterilizer, more bottles, nipples, blankets, disposable diapers, wipes, bathtub, towels, socks, mini-tops, a bassinette, the works. And being so clever, I also emptied our bank account and bought things I later realized would not be needed for another 6 months or more – large Duplo blocks, a funky stroller, floor pads, a stuffed toy 3 times larger than my baby and a Little Missy Cooking Set.

Yes, I went overboard, but the lesson is clear. Understand exactly what you need, and have them ready when you need them.

Got milk?

We wanted to breast-feed, but it just wouldn’t work out, so we had to use formula (that means milk – your vocabulary sucks). The pediatrician gave us a brand to look for, so off I went.

Now the last time I remember even thinking about canned milk were the days I’d sing-along with Lea Salonga (“I love milk and I love Klim, so rich and so creamy”), so I was stunned to discover that my little baby’s formula cost an arm and a leg, and that I would have to buy around a can a week, and even more as she grew older. I swallowed my shock and got her the milk, which she was allergic to. So I had to buy the more expensive soy milk, which she hated. Ultimately, she could only drink one brand, which happened to be the most expensive one available.

I was toying with the idea of giving the baby rice-water instead, when my wife threatened to throw me out of the house. She said we couldn’t starve the baby. I immediately conceded the point

So, above all things, make sure you have enough budgeted away for your baby’s nourishment. Or better yet, breast-feed if you can. It’s not just free, it’s healthier too.

You should have watched the ads

Before I became a parent, I remember tuning out all the commercials for baby stuff when my favorite TV shows went on breaks. I should have watched them all. Why? Because then I would have known that nipples come in different stages (controlling the amount of formula released) and understood the differences among the competing disposable diapers.

Instead, I spent hours scrutinizing each brand, converting English measurements to the metric system and pestering the salesladies about absorbancy. One salesgirl, exasperated by all my questions, gruffly handed me a set of disposables and said, “Ito po sir. ‘Yan ang pinakamura. Pero kawawa naman ang baby mo.” If we were not in a public place I would have torn her bitchy head off her stupid neck.

So before you buy something, ask your mother or your married-with-children friends. Or watch TV. That way, you can make fun of the clueless fathers in the layette section.

If she’s asleep, leave her alone

The odd thing about newborn babies is that they do not move when they’re asleep and bundled. This caused me grave concern because, being the paranoid person that I am, I thought my baby had stopped breathing and had become victim to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

So after she fell asleep, I would bend over her crib and try to hear her breathing, or feel her heartbeat with the palm of my hand, or try to move her – which of course would wake her up, wailing, and I would have to put her back to sleep again. And then check again if she was still alive, waking her up, and so on. An endless cycle that drove my poor wife nearly insane.

Leave her alone! Check occasionally if you’re freaked out, but generally speaking, your baby will be fine. She’ll call for you when she needs you.

Guerilla sleeping: sleep when you can

I honestly expected my baby to sleep through the night, but babies have tiny stomachs and get hungry and soiled so fast it made my mind spin. At first it was cute – the baby cries, I feed her or change her nappy, and sing her to sleep. But when I realized that I was doing this every 30 to 45 minutes, my heart sank and the only songs I could remember had bad words in them. I wanted to sleep too!

The solution? I slept when the baby was asleep. It took some time to get used to sleeping with one ear tuned to my baby’s potential cry for comfort, but I did it. Of course when I went to work during the daytime I had the intellectual capacity of a flea, but my daughter’s stomach continued to grow until she’d wake only once at midnight and again at 6AM, ready to play.

If you keep in mind that it is you who needs to adjust your sleep patterns and not the baby, you’ll do fine. You’ll walk around like a zombie, but you’ll be okay.

Tears for fears

My wife and I developed a system of taking turns with the baby. When I couldn’t make her stop crying, I’d pass her over. When my wife couldn’t comfort her, she’d pass the baby to me. But there were times when neither of us could do a thing and our mutual frustration rendered us as helpless as the infant.

The baby was crying, my wife was crying, I was crying. I half-seriously entertained thoughts of giving the baby up for adoption then felt guilty afterwards. I felt that my wife, as the mother, should have been able to make the baby stop crying. She, on the other hand, felt that I could comfort the baby better because of some old woman who told her “hinahanap niya ang tatay niya”.

There will be nights when there is nothing else you can do but weather out the storm. Remember that your wife is vulnerable too (post-partum depression is a reality for many women) and is not superhuman by default, and that your role did not end when you bought the layette. It’s important that you both remain allies and not point a finger at each other.

It’s not wrong to feel frustrated. It’s not wrong to cry. But no matter how miserable the three of you feel, it will pass. Well, until the next time. But you will survive.

Everything leads to the mouth

Be very careful what you leave around your baby. There comes a point when curiosity about their surroundings overwhelms them and they begin to explore – not just with their eyes and fingers, but with their mouths.

One time, after bathing the baby and setting her down on the rubber mat and towel to dry and change, I was distracted when my cell phone began playing Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl”. I swear I didn’t move a single step. I only glanced away for a moment, cursing the timing of whoever was calling. When I looked back, I had to wrestle the open tube of diaper rash ointment my little darling had decided to eat.

Your baby will be interested in many things, so make sure you vary the stimuli you expose her to – bold patterns, bright colors, different textures. And make absolutely certain that if puts any of these objects in her mouth, she should neither choke or experience electric shock (yes, keep the 9-volt battery away).

In the mood for love

It may seem that given all the time-consuming activities of taking care of your baby, “walang nang panahon para sa romansa.” I know it did it for me. Every spare moment not taking care of the baby meant doing other things for the baby (washing and sterilizing bottles, washing her clothes, getting some sleep, buying whatever), leaving little time my wife and my “husbandly duties” (in my defense, I was concerned about her healing from giving birth.)

Until one quiet moment when my suddenly vigorous wife jumped my bones, informing me that it had been MONTHS, and we made furtive love fearful of waking the baby. Later, we learned to relax about it, took advantage of the baby’s grandparents (who were more than happy to take care of the baby once in a while), and loudly reignited the flames that got us into trouble in the first place (after seven years of marriage).

In the course of watching your child grow up, do not forget how she came to be. Give your partner a naughty grin and say “Halika, sweetie. Rest muna tayo.”

A sense of humor goes a long way

In the course of the first few months, you’ll experience things that may make you decide never to have any more children. The trick is to take things in stride and to keep your sense of humor.

One time, when the baby was refusing her soy formula, I decided to find out what it tasted like. Thinking I was alone, I took the bottle and sucked on the nipple only to learn that at that precise moment, my wife and her parents had just entered the room. Even the baby laughed at me.

It’s important that your child grows up in an environment that is filled with love and laughter, so make sure to set the example.

Unless you want to raise a serial killer. Or a congressman.

You’ll do fine

At the end of the day, when I hold my little girl in my arms and see her look at me with her big eyes, everything makes sense and my troubles melt away.

Do I think of myself as a great dad? Not yet, but I’m getting there.

And with a little preparation, patience, sacrifice and a lot of love, so will you.


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