Becoming a father for the first time

From the moment you first saw those two pink lines in parallel on that little plastic stick to the day they hand you a pair of scrubs and a shower cap at the hospital and say “Hey, Dad, put these on,” it won’t really hit you until you have to strap this tiny person into the car seat to take them home with your family ,which has just been increased by one (or two or more, depending on your situation).  

The first 48 hours is likely going to be one of the most terrifying and exhausting experiences of your life.  But there is probably one factor that is going to make it seem like it just flies by (other than the sleep deprivation), and that is this weird bond of unconditional love that is going to take hold of you and not ever let go.  The experience is not for the faint-hearted.  It will challenge you, it will be messy, it will be heartbreaking sometimes, and it will give you moments that make you smile like an idiot in line for the checkout, oddly holding a bag of flour and doing that rocking motion years down the road out of sheer reflex.

They don’t hand you a book of puns and a pair of New Balance shoes at the hospital.  You earn your stripes over the years.  Becoming a father means that you have seen some stuff too.  And a lot of it is pretty good.

Words of advice

As a new dad, one of the biggest pieces of advice you should get is that you are going to get a lot of advice.  A lot of it is wrong.  Not to sound too cliche, but being a dad isn’t about the destination, but the journey.  And along that journey you are going to screw up a lot.  These mistakes that you make are going to become solid pieces of wisdom, and like any good wisdom, they are going to come with a few painful memories that make you wince, and hopefully later you can laugh at them. Just a few of mine? I let my first daughter crawl off the bed shortly after she learned to crawl. We didn’t take my second daughter to the ER after she broke her leg until the next day (there’s a good explanation, I swear, but damn it pulls my heartstrings years later). So, it only stands to reason that other dads are going to keep these little nuggets of truth around to hand out like wrapped up pieces of hard candy.  Their experiences are not the same as yours.  

  • Be patient: Your kiddo has been crying all night and the only time they seem to sleep are those few moments in the day when you could be sleeping, but instead have to catch up on everything you’ve been putting on hold.  You might get frustrated with your baby, you might feel isolated because you feel like you are alone in this, you might not like yourself for not walking on Cloud Nine all day for being blessed with a newborn.  Be patient with yourself, your spouse, and your infant.  
  • Take time to breathe: Sometimes just a few breaths and a little bit of self-care can help fill those tanks that feel like they are always being emptied.  Don’t forget to help fill your partner’s tanks too.  Things are not going to be easy for everyone, and there is a lot of misplaced guilt that comes with parenthood when it comes to indulging yourself with a little “Me Time.”  Tag yourself in, and tag yourself out when you’ve hit your limits.  
  • Communication: Being parents is a partnership, especially when you are just starting out.  Remember that neither of you is a mind-reader, and if you are frustrated, exhausted, or even experiencing a happy moment, it is important to share these thoughts. See some of our checklists for some great communication starters!
  • Things are going to get messy:  With a newborn, you’ll learn pretty quickly that you can clean just about anything off your skin with soap and water.  Spit up, urine, and even bright yellow baby poop will wash off.  Diapers will leak and those adorable outfits you struggled to get those wiggly arms and legs into will probably get covered in spit up after a good burp. Being a new parent reminds you that you can’t always duck quickly enough.  But it is important to keep your mouth closed, just in case.
  • If you don’t know, it’s okay to ask: Asking questions is perfectly okay when you are a new parent.  Ask your partner, parents, other parents, friends, and keep your support systems on speed-dial.  
  • It’s okay to be scared: From that first weird rash on your baby’s skin, to a moment of dread in the middle of the day when you wonder if you are just making a total mess out of things, fear is a natural part of the journey.  It keeps us on our toes and helps our brains solve problems, as well as noticing things that might seem a little off. Recognizing fear and letting it control you are two different things.
  • Have good boundaries: This includes healthy boundaries with yourself, your spouse, your inlaws, co-workers, and even that new bundle of joy you are bringing home from the hospital.  There’s too much to cover here, and entire series of books have been written which cover the subject.  Not only is saying “No” a way to establish what you are willing to do and not do, but it also allows your kids to see that they can also stand up for themselves in healthy ways.  
  • Someone is always watching: Kids see and absorb pretty much everything.  They also tend to adopt these behaviors into their own personalities, even from a young age. So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, you stub your toe on the end table, the new neighbor flirts with you, you are stressed about how much the electric bill was this month, just remember that there is someone who is going to see how you react to this situation.
  • Have fun with it!: This cannot be summed up easily.  From the first time your newborn smiles to their opinions on seagulls or a toddler’s critique of the dog’s water (sampled personally), watching your baby grow is an emotional journey, and a lot of it is hilarious. A lot of it will also teach you a lot about yourself and how amazing the world is.  Having a good sense of humor about it will get you a lot of miles.
This, gentlemen, is a newborn.

Is being a new dad hard?

Absolutely.  But it doesn’t mean the experience has to be miserable.  Lots of things we enjoy best in life are hard to do at first.  With practice comes mastery, and by the time your kid is off to college, you might just have figured out about half of it! Kidding aside, becoming a father for the first time is something you often learn as you go. 

You can take Daddy Bootcamps, watch your sister’s kids, or read or watch everything you can get ahold of (and you should!), but experience is the best teacher.  The good news is you’ve got this!  It does get easier the more tools you can put in your tool box.  Every tip and trick you figure out is going to sharpen your skills, improve your patience, and make every day that much more enjoyable. 

People who never ran a mile in their lives go on to get hooked on marathons.  This is sorta like that.  Keep going!  

What should dads do to prepare for baby?

Besides all of the painting bedrooms, assembling strollers, cribs, and bassinets, and kid-proofing the heck out of your house, there are a lot of other ways to prepare for a baby.  (Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey will get you through most assembly instructions). Most of it is going to be emotional.  Being open to improvising when plans fall apart, or knowing to respond instead of react to the unexpected is probably the most important.  Having a sense of humor about things not going according to plan is very important too.  Here is a list of things you should keep in mind as a first time father:

First time father checklist

Becoming a father for the first time might feel a lot like getting tossed into the deep end the first time you learned how to swim.  It doesn’t have to be like that.  Here is a list of things to keep in mind when becoming a father for the first time. And here are some others too:

  • Get organized: One of the ways to beat the panic of bringing home a newborn is knowing where everything is when you need it, as well as how to use it.  But as Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson used to say, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”  Or maybe that was Sun Tzu and the Art of War?
  • Get involved:  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  As a first time father, you might have been told a lot of things about the role you play in your family, but being involved in your child’s life is one of the most important things you can do.  From rocking them to sleep, to playing with them, feeding, changing, talking with them, or just holding them close on quiet days, being involved in their lives is crucial.
  • Pregnancy is hard: Your partner’s body is going to go through a lot of changes.  From sensitivity, cravings, emotional rollercoasters, weight gain, body positivity/image, gas, morning sickness, and so much more, the best way to approach your partner is through empathy (sympathy?).  Resist the urge to be a problem solver.  Ask questions like, “how can I help?” or “would you like me to just listen or help you figure out a solution?” But first, read our guide to pregnancy for expecting dads.
  • It isn’t always about you: You might have gotten to play quarterback much of your life, but now is the time to be the defensive line.  Be supportive, show empathy, and know that at the end of the game it probably won’t be you giving interviews in the locker room.
  • Don’t get squeamish:  From pregnancy to childbirth to the process of taking care of a newborn, you are about to see and experience a lot of different body fluids (blood, mucus, excrement, etc.), bodily functions, and you are going to be expected to help.  It’s good to have a sense of humor about it, but know your limits as far as commentary and be respectful.  Learn to read the room and try not to be a seventh grader about a lot of it. As a personal aside, this was one of the things I worried about most pre-dad … could I handle it? Yes, and I got over myself quickly.
  • Sleep deprivation:  This is actually a tactic interrogators use in POW camps.  Your baby has the potential of being considered a war criminal from how much sleep you will lose.  This won’t last forever and coping with the hours lost is important to do to stay healthy (and somewhat sane).
  • Figure out your priorities: Being a father for the first time does not mean having to give up everything you used to enjoy doing.  Mostly it becomes a matter of shifting your priorities around.  Your partner and your newborn are going to take first priority, which means that you might have to postpone a few nights out with your buddies, that new muscle car you have been eyeing, or pretty much going out anywhere that doesn’t have high chairs.  Creative scheduling, working out goals, and time management can still mean you can do the fun things you had planned, but they just get bumped down a little bit further for you and your partner on the list of priorities.
  • Be considerate: Along with showing your partner empathy, you also need to be humble.  Don’t do something nice and inform them that you did this because they are hormonal and unreasonable.  You are an observer to the pregnancy process, and no matter how many times someone says “We’re pregnant” you are still not the one who pees a little every time they sneeze.
  • Get educated: Do your research.  From strollers and car seats to swings, wagons, and other gear, you should always do your research. Read up on what other parents have said works and what doesn’t.  It isn’t just gadgets and gear, but things such as the best way to bundle a baby, how warm should milk be from a bottle, or the best technique on burping and why it is important to prevent collic.  The learning curve is steep, but every lesson is important.
  • Be helpful: Too many new fathers face the stigma of the generations past emphasizing traditional gender roles.  Oftentimes, this meant Dad was off fishing for several months, or busy at work, and he prided himself on never having changed a diaper.  We know now that there is a lot of pride fathers can celebrate with stories of changing a horrendous diaper explosion in a grocery store parking lot, or not panicking once the spit up covered your back from shoulder to waist.  Or how calm you were the first time you had to take your kid to the ER for a fever that wouldn’t break.  Leaving it up to your partner to shoulder all the responsibilities isn’t doing anyone any favors.
  • Be open to new stuff: Part of that unsolicited advice you will get will be in regards to baby equipment.  Your parents might not have used car seats, baby wraps, head-shaping helmets, bassinets, or stroller wagons when you were an infant, but that doesn’t mean that all new equipment is frivolous or unnecessary.  Some of this gear is required (such as the infant car seats) while others are just genius and will save you a lot of time and pressure.  It’s the same rationale as someone saying “Back in my day, we didn’t need forks!  We just ate the spaghetti with our hands!”
  • Call your doctor:  There is no point of pride in not asking for help, especially when it comes to your newborn’s health and safety.  If you have questions about that baby acne, or rash, or why they aren’t latching properly during feedings, call your doctor.  Seriously. That’s what they’re there for. And their 24-hour answering service.

Plenty more new dad tips here, from the ultra-practical to the ultra-important topic of dad joke development.

How does it feel to be a father for the first time?

Lots of different concepts to come mind when thinking of becoming a father for the first time.  Terror, isolation, exhaustion, frustration, being unsure of yourself, worry, and inexplicable love for this tiny person who hasn’t let you sleep for weeks.  One of the big feelings being a father for the first time will cause is anxiety.  This is completely normal.

Whether you are asking yourself if you are screwing your kid up with every breath you take, to looking down the line and imagining their first date coming to the door and being…well, pretty much you in High School, and other harrowing flashes of insight, anxiety can have a tight grip on us.  Talk with your partner about these fears, talk to a therapist, and realize that everyone gets anxiety from being a parent from time to time.  Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.

We did a whole YouTube video on 8 big feelings you should expect. You can find it here.

Becoming a father for the first time quotes 

Sometimes we need some words of encouragement, or inspiration.  Here are some good ones to keep in mind:

  • “When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman. Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape. ” — Dave Atell

  • “Of all the titles I’ve been privileged to have, Dad, has always been the best.” — Ken Norton

  • “It’s an ongoing joy being a dad.” — Liam Neeson

  • “Never is a man more of a man than when he is the father of a newborn.” — Matthew McConnaughey

  • Fatherhood is the greatest thing that could ever happen.  You can’t explain it until it happens; it’s like telling somebody what water feels like before they’ve ever swam in it.” — Michael Buble

What’s next?

If you’re reading this, we’ve got news for you—you’re going to be an awesome dad. Because you care enough to put in the work. There’s lots more ahead of you, but you’ve got this. And, if you want some more help with it all, allow us to introduce ourselves … hi, we’re Fathercraft. We make stuff that makes this whole parenting thing (even more) awesome. Learn more here.

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