By Richard Asa, Special to Tribune Newspapers
3:36 PM EDT, June 11, 2013
Hugh Weber, a political adviser turned marketer from South Dakota, is a thoughtful guy whose innate appreciation for absurdities (such as politics) also makes him a very funny new dad.
When his first child was born four years ago (he and his wife also have a second child, born in March), he decided to document the pregnancy through a constant barrage of videos, blogs and tweets — one of his more popular YouTube videos features his use of a breast pump in a humorously informative bit.
Thousands of people found this strange, hilarious experiment to be a revelation. In the video, Weber laughs like a deranged elf while he blurts out such classics as "I'm going to have cone-shaped nipples the rest of my life!" Clearly he is in some pain. Off-camera, his wife notes that she does this seven times a day.
Hidden in his social media, real-life mockumentary is what may be the most valuable advice new dads need: Be present, be participatory, understand everything you can about your wife, yourself, your baby and the "new normal" in your lives. Revel in it. You may not want to do that by using a breast pump.
Weber, enlightened to parenthood yet still naive, says, "The first six weeks I waited for the day when things would go back to the way they had been. The reality is that everything has changed and it's terrifying, but once you realize that and own that, parenting can be an exciting process. As long as I struggled to go back to pre-relationships and the way my marriage was, it was painful.
"If you want to go back, you're not building anything. Find the sunshine in the direction you're heading. I even got to know my wife better as a person."
In his just-released book, "Dude To Dad: The First 9 Months" (Familius), Weber coats good advice with humor as well. "Your wife at her best will be a fundamentally different person than the woman you met on your first date," he writes. "Your wife at her worst will be infinitely more terrifying than the monster you imagined under your bed as a child. Don't expect her to be who she was BC (before child)."
Taking the overwhelming adjustment to being a new dad with more than a grain of comicality, in fact, is good sense. David Hill, a pediatrician in Wilmington, N.C., hits the sweet spot early in his advice book, "Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro" (American Academy of Pediatrics).
Noting that people are invariably fascinated with the "stuff that comes out of new babies," he allows that a good portion of early child care involves diaper changes, with concerned parents wondering if there have been "too many or two few." He just skips over the question of whether new dads should be part of the poop parade and offers some practical advice: "Put the fresh diaper under your baby before you whisk away the old one and, if it's a girl, wipe front to back to keep bacteria away from the bladder."
"Finally," he writes, "there's no shame in simulating crowd-cheering noises if you score a three-pointer in the trash can." Dads are important to the child-rearing process, he contends, and can have a little fun along the way.
Hill notes that premature babies gain weight more rapidly if their dads are involved in their care. Those same babies score better on developmental and psychological tests more than a year later, again as a result of the father's involvement. Mothers more successfully breast-feed their babies when dads help, and children with involved fathers have better language skills, better grades, and enjoy higher self-esteem and suffer less psychiatric disease. Get it?
For nuts and bolts advice, Hill's book is filled with suggestions. He is, after all, a physician. In the first month, touch your baby, a lot. Known as kangaroo care, skin-to-skin contact helps stabilize the heart rate, breathing and sleep patterns. Hold your baby, a lot. "Talk to him, rub his back, let him suck on your finger, get in his face," Hill writes.
New dads need to be available at all times, says clinical psychologist, parenting expert and dad John Duffy of La Grange, Ill. "Dads aren't always great at being present with their babies, either physically or emotionally," Duffy says. "Change diapers, lie on the floor and be part of their lives. You have to adapt to what evolves. You're set in your ways and get selfish with your time — now you have to be generous with your time."
If you have a girl, there's one other twist, says Brian Klems, the online editor for Writer's Digest. You're out of your element, and it's easy to feel as if your manliness is threatened. With three daughters, Klems has been through dozens of shades of pink, ballet, tea parties, infinite episodes of "Dora the Explorer" and Disney princesses.
"As it turns out," he writes in his laugh-out-loud book, "Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters" (Adams Media), "I didn't need arm wrestling and Little League to be a great dad or a happy family man. I've actually come to love — OK, tolerate — ballet, pink and Dora. Now I wouldn't change my life for anything." Plus, he still plays fantasy baseball and roots for the Reds.
His advice includes forgiving yourself. "I've never heard of anyone bowling a perfect game his first time out," he says. "It takes practice. The same goes for being a dad. You're going to forget the diaper bag from time to time. You're also going to go to work with spit running down the front of your shirt. Don't beat yourself up over it. You'll get better at being a dad with each passing day as long as you care enough to practice and learn from your mistakes."
We asked a few veteran fathers to recall one of their worst rookie mistakes as new dads:
Hugh Weber, author and blogger: "I gave a bottle to our daughter and realized after the fact that it had all dripped down the front of her — a result of (my) not being present. She hadn't consumed a thing."
John Duffy, clinical psychologist: "When I was putting him to bed, I tried to reason with him, as if he understood me: 'C'mon man, give me a break here.' He'd just start crying more."
David Bakke, financial expert: "One of the dumbest mistakes I ever made was not making sure that the food tray on my son's high chair was firmly in place before sitting down to eat with him. Halfway through a meal one night, my son pushed on it and it came loose, and the food tray and the baby went tumbling down onto the hard kitchen floor. My son landed headfirst, but thankfully his head hit the food tray instead of the floor. That experience scared me to death."
Robert Nickel, entrepreneur, blogger and parenting columnist: Faced with a constipated baby, Nickel remembered that prune juice was a solution. In his case, he fell for the old "if a little is good, more is better" axiom, and a while later he had an explosion rivaling Mount St. Helens on his hands — and everywhere else.
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