Becoming a father can be scary. A dad reflects on some of the lessons he learnt when his first child was born.
"Fatherhood isn't something you are but something you become."
I used to see fatherhood as a role that only becomes active when children have grown up a bit and not when they are little babies. This was due to the idea of fatherhood I encountered while growing up in a "mother-only raising the baby" community. I didn't grow up seeing fathers bathing their babies or changing their nappies. In our culture, it was strictly the mother's responsibility.
One thing that came easy for me due to temperament was my punctuality at every doctor’s appointment and at the birth of my sons. I was there holding my wife's hand even when I didn't know how to ease her pain and anxieties. Google was a friendly companion during this sojourn.
Communication is important
After the birth of my son, Arin, I didn't realise how much mental and physical strength it demanded from my wife. For some reason, I was expecting her to carry on with some of our shared responsibilities, like cooking and cleaning. But her body language clearly didn't reflect a willing partner!
One thing I always advise first-time fathers to do is to communicate with your wife and find out how she feels, what she is able to do or not do, and the state of her mental health. I think sometimes as men, even without trying, we underestimate what we can do, like cleaning, emotional support, nappy changing, cooking, etc. We all do have what it takes to complement our partners and step up in such times.
Find your fathering claim to fame
During the initial few weeks after our first son was born, I also had some doubts. I felt out of place because I didn't know if I was meeting my wife’s expectations as a father — and my son was getting more attention than I was. So I felt somewhat lost emotionally.
My claim to fame as a first-time father was my consistency in nappy changing and bathing of my son. Statistically, I changed more nappies and bathed my son more than my wife did. The reason I became a "nappy changing expert" was because I saw it as an opportunity to bond with my son and it also offered my wife some time away from the stress and crying that she was so familiar with. It got to a point where, whenever our son needed changing, she’d simply pass him over to me and I would do the rest.
Bathing my son gave me the opportunity to connect with him from a physiological and mental level — man to man. This has really helped in my relationship with my now five-year-old and my wife appreciates it even to this day.
So find something you can do alone with your child and also something that will give your wife some free time to rest or do something she enjoys doing.
I didn't do so well in the night feeding sessions. Since my wife decided to breastfeed until he was two years old, I didn't see the point in joining her as she woke up nightly for those feeds. My argument was, I don't have a breast, nor milk to offer him, so why have the two of us up? I did occasionally wake up just to offer her moral support!
Discover what works for your family unit
One thing I have learned through my faith, and as a first-time father, was to filter whatever I was taught by other men, my culture and society. I had to decide what would work best for our new family unit. The best preparation is to commit to be present to support your wife and child.
Jack Baker said, “Every dad, if he takes time out of his busy life to reflect upon his fatherhood, can learn ways to become an even better dad.” I believe the experiences of the first-time father would not only make you a better dad but a better husband if we as fathers can get it right. Try it.
Practical tips for working through hard emotionsRead more
You may also like
Choosing to write a new story: becoming a parent after a difficult childhood
After a challenging childhood, Quinton Pretorius and his wife have chosen to raise their children in a radically different way.
Teaching first time dads to change nappies
A BBC News story about a midwife in Nigeria who is finding creative ways to support men as they become fathers.Read more
Discipline to equip, not to punish
Sonke Gender Justice MenCare Facilitator, Suleiman Henry, shares practical tips for dads on disciplining their children.Read more
When the mind struggles, the body lets you know
Many people are unaware that their persisting physical symptoms may have a psychological cause. It is more common to treat the symptoms with medicine, rather than deal with the real issue.Read more
Practical tips for working through hard emotions
We spoke to some experts to get helpful tools for when you are feeling overwhelmed or that your emotions are out of control and affecting the people around you.Read more
What to do with your feelings when everything is not ok
It's difficult for men to be vulnerable when life is hard. We look at some of the ways men typically respond when life is challenging, especially when they lose a job or source of income.Read more