Fatherhood is a life-changing experience for all men. As a 28-year-old dad to a wonderful three-year-old boy named Weston, I’ve found the birth of my first child has been an experience unlike any other — there have been the promises I made to him before he even arrived; the tremendous love I feel for him; and the changes that are occurring within me each and every day.
After he was born I made a promise to him that my devotion to his happiness, as his father, would never falter. This promise kept me driven during the difficult times I experienced as the primary-care parent of an infant. My son’s mother was not ready to be a parent — much less a primary-care parent — and so she made the choice to pursue her career goals while I raised our baby.
I took fatherhood very seriously. For the coming of our little son, I prepared my home meticulously. I researched child development and child care techniques. I started journals documenting every milestone he had. For the six months of his life, I stayed at home with Weston and it was the best decision I ever made. He has developed into the most wonderful little boy — as a result, I believe, of my ever-present commitment to his future.
The traditional notions that dads are breadwinners and not as capable of caring for young children are slowly being debunked.
Fathers are not only very capable of nurturing and caring for their babies, providing daily care for their toddler and guiding their children through the ups and downs of growing up — they are essential for their child's optimal development.
Studies support this: "Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers." That's from a 2006 study, "The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children," from the Department of Health and Human Services.
And a Department of Education study done more than a decade ago found that highly involved biological fathers had children who were 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly A's, and they were 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a grade.
With all of this in mind, I dove head-first into parenting, and soon learned there are certain steps you can take as a new father to ensure you're prepared.
1.) Always Be Organized.
My house was always neatly stocked with essentials. Safety items such as corner protectors, grooming kits, and electrical outlet plug covers are essential to keeping your home baby-friendly. I made boxes of diapers, wipes, bottles, blankets, infant clothes, baby powder, baby shampoo, and other everyday items easily accessible and available. Keep an inventory of items and substitute as the stock is depleted. Also, make your own baby food; it's not that hard and it's much healthier.
2.) Master a Routine.
The "typical" newborn routine is not at all typical. Expect to be up at all hours of the night feeding, rocking, changing, burping and soothing, especially at first. Keep soothing lullaby music at arm’s length. You’ll be tired and sometimes overwhelmed. But a solid, stable routine is the best way to juggle parenting and adult life.
3.) Bond with Your Baby.
Do this even before he enters the world. Sing and talk to him while he’s still in utero. I caressed his mom’s tummy and told my son stories, which helped him associate my voice with nurturing and love. This kind of pre-birth nurturing does amazing things for the parent-child bond.
4.) Relish Your Time with Your Baby.
Babies grow so fast! It is important to create memories and have these memories to share with your child when he or she gets older. Keep a scrapbook or even an online journal to help document your lives together.
5.) Become Familiar with Laws About Fatherhood in Your State.
If you are going to be a single parent, know that the current policy in all 50 states is that unmarried fathers have no rights to their children without a court order — sole custody is automatically awarded to the mother until the parents appear in court for a permanent order. My best suggestion: Immediately seek legal representation in order to protect your child's rights to a loving father. An experienced attorney can help you.
Being a dad is cool, fun, rewarding and life-changing. As the landscape of fatherhood changes, men from all over should be excited to "Dad Up" and begin an awesome experience with the best thing that ever happened to them: their own kid.
The author lives in Wisconsin with his son.
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