They say a woman becomes a mother the moment she realizes she’s pregnant, but a man isn’t truly a father until he holds his child for the first time. If my marriage is any indication, there’s a lot of truth in this.
Since “we” got pregnant seven months ago, at least one of us has grown a great deal. For half a year, my wife, Nicole, has been changing gradually, both physically and emotionally, in preparation for her new role. But even after some real soul searching, I still feel no different than I did a year ago.
I’m by no means jealous of her bloating, back pain and irrational food cravings and smell aversions, but part of me is envious of the biological boot camp she’s going through. Her body is instinctually nudging her forward, instilling in her experiences and emotions that will prepare her for her new life. My body just sits around and waits for it to happen.
But just because men aren’t physically wired to evolve in preparation for parenthood doesn’t mean we have to be totally blindsided by it. In an effort to ease my transition from dude to dad, I asked for guidance from some parents I know at Boston Children’s Hospital. I got plenty of great pointers, but as it turns out the most practical advice I received wasn’t centered on baby preparation at all, but on self-improvement.
Work out more now
Staying active is always a good idea, but according to everyone I talked to, it becomes really tough once the kid shows up. Factor in the fact that my sleeping and eating schedules will soon be turned upside down, and it’s very likely that I’m about to pack on some unwanted lbs. (It’s the “fatherhood fifteen”—like the “freshman fifteen” but without the parties or youthful metabolism to help you bounce back.)
Knowing the best offense is a good defense, I’ve upped my physical activity a lot lately. This way by the time my daughter is born, I’ll already be in the routine of making time for exercise, which will make sticking to a schedule less daunting when time becomes a luxury. Plus, when those extra inches do start piling on, I’ll be starting from a leaner base.
Reconnect with old friends who are dads already
My best friend and I did everything together in college. But after graduation we went our separate ways: My band and I went on tour for almost a decade; he got married and had a few kids. As time passed, we saw less and less of each other.
But with my dad-to-be status comes a lot of shifting priorities, including what I look for in a friend. I’ve recently made an effort to reconnect with my old buddy—and many others who have taken the parenthood plunge already—and I’ve been amazed by the wealth of information and support I’ve received. Surrounding myself with these guys now makes me feel better prepared for what’s ahead and gives me a long list of people I can call for advice when I need it.
Fix up more than the nursery
A month after we found out my wife was pregnant, we bought a condo, because raising a child in our shoebox apartment was out of the question. When we first moved in, we were full of big ideas: “Let’s knock out this wall and build a closet in the master bedroom.” “If we took out these cabinets, we could move the washer and dryer and completely open up this side of the house,” etc.
Fast-forward three months and we haven’t even finished painting the walls yet.
But knowing that when our daughter is born we’re going to lack the free time and money to do many of our desired renovations, we’ve reevaluated our plans by making a list of things we’d like to fix versus things we have to. Turns out prioritizing has been the spark we needed to get the most important projects started and forced us to budget the time and money needed to make it happen. (It’s also given Nicole ample time to come to grips with the fact that she’s not getting a walk-in master bedroom closet any time soon.)
Nip bad habits in the bud
I’m a very easygoing guy until you put a steering wheel in my hand. After that, all bets are off. But knowing that I’m soon going to have a tiny passenger in the back seat to witness all my tailgating, last minute lane shifting and colorful commentary on places other drivers can stick things makes me queasy; inconsolable road rage is not a family trait I want to pass down to my daughter. Knowing that real behavior changes take time, I’ve spent the last six months making a conscious effort to clean up my driving act. I’m by no means a saint of the road yet, but I’m heading in the right direction (a crucial element of ALL safe driving), so I’m counting it as a victory for now.
Bottom line: Before I can be a good dad, I need to be a better man. If I want my daughter to be healthy and active, the type of person who nurtures and maintains meaningful friendships, and understands the difference between want to and have to (and doesn’t swear at old women for driving 45 mph in a 50 mph zone), I need to show her how those things are done. For the past seven months, my wife has done all the heavy lifting to keep our child safe and prepare her for the brightest possible future. In just a few weeks, she’s going to tag me in for help—and I’m going to be ready.