What New Parents Can't Learn From Books
Jan. 19, 2014
By Tom Fearon
It's been just over two months since my daughter came into the world, during which time she has learned to suckle, coo, laugh and master basic motor skills. But she hasn't been the only one to undergo a dramatic transformation.
Everything was surreal the night she was born. After months of feeling her kick inside my wife's womb, it was exciting to finally meet the little person squirming eyes shut in her hospital crib. It was also terrifying.
My mother-in-law's maternal instincts kicked in straight away. She looked natural nursing the newborn in her arms as she did 26 years earlier when my wife was born.
But it was a different story for me.
When I was handed my daughter, I stiffly held her like an archaeologist cradling an antique vase he had just unearthed. Most new dads beam with giant smiles in their first photo with their child, but I looked like a deer in the headlights petrified he might drop his offspring.
Things didn't get much easier during that first month. I spent our walk home from the hospital a few paces ahead frantically waving at clouds of cigarette smoke from puffing pedestrians. I refused to sleep at night, preferring to intensely stare at the baby's tiny torso to ensure her breathing was normal.
I doubted myself and felt despair that all the books I'd read over the past nine months hadn't actually prepared me for fatherhood. Her grandma knew how to bathe her. Her mom knew how to feed her. All her dad seemed good for was carrying her boxes of diapers home from the supermarket.
It wasn't until the third week that my own paternal instincts revealed themselves. I came home from work one night to a screaming baby. Mom and grandma looked exhausted, trying in vain to calm her.
"She has a clean diaper and has just been fed," my wife sighed as she passed her to me.
Not knowing what to do, I cupped my hand around her tiny head and gently rested her chin on my shoulder as we went for a walk around our living room. Slowly, the wailing eased as she began to soak in a view of her surroundings higher than the normal 1.6 meters.
It was a turning point in my very brief experience as a dad, and I owed it all to being a foot taller than the invaluable women in my daughter's life. Despite my lack of breasts or nurturing maternal touch, I somehow became the best person to comfort her.
Gradually, things became easier at home. After I put the baby to sleep, I quietly climbed into bed and tried to get some rest myself. I began to sing and make stupid faces while changing diapers instead of looking like a stony-faced bomb disposal expert.
I even remained cool during a recent walk in sub-zero temperatures to the public hospital for the baby's vaccines, unfazed at the smell of dried urine in the underpass or icy wind.
Skype conversations with my own parents have increased since the baby was born, with the new grandparents eager to get a virtual glimpse of her.
Chatting to my dad one night, I told him about my own appreciation for the sacrifices he made when I was a baby. He even shared a few of his own tricks he used to get me and my siblings to sleep.
I then told him about the little rush of joy I get each time I come home from work and see her squeal with delight at hearing my voice.
"I know, son," he replied. "You're nearly 30 now and I still feel that way when you call me."
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