Thoughts on Fatherhood

Before Dustin was born, I went through some of the stuff we took from Mom’s condo looking for my baby book. As a child, I loved looking through it as it was a book all about my favorite person at the time – me! When I got older, I even entered some of the milestone information myself. I wanted to look through the baby book because I knew it had some interesting information that I thought might give me a clue about raising our own kid. Since Mom is no longer with us – and, I’ve tried really hard not to think about that fact since Dustin came along because the mere thought of it makes me tear up, like it is right now – this is the best I have in the way of motherly advice.

When I found it, though, I discovered something new. Apparently, for the first couple of years of my life, she kept very detailed journals on loose-leaf paper about my day-to-day and week-to-week development, including all of the foods she fed me, my sleep and eating schedules, tips and tricks she discovered, etc. with the intention of referring to them when my parents had their second child (which never happened). These were never in the book to my memory when I was a kid – she probably wisely left them out to keep them from falling into my well-meaning but destructive hands. What gets me is how each entry is longer and more detailed than a simple chart, but not quite as long as a diary entry. In other words, my mom paper blogged my first year of life. This has been an astounding find that I still haven’t been able to totally read through because it makes me inconsolably weepy.

It inspired me to want to do the same but, between caring for the wife and kid and trying to keep a flow of money coming through the door, time is a more precious commodity. than ever before. Mom took care of me by herself during the day for most of my early life while she recovered from a C-Section, so it’s amazing to me that she had the time to keep such detailed journals.

In lieu of that, I’ve been writing down quick tidbits here and there as I’ve stolen time from my other duties to record them. I’ll periodically post them here, likely in some aggregate manner as I am in this post. They’re not necessarily as well-written and organized as most of my other writings – they are pretty raw – but I want to preserve and share them all the same.

  • Among the chief changes in my life is that I actually have developed brand loyalty to – of all things – diapers. We’re still in the newborn stage, so it’s possible this may change, but Pampers are leaps and bounds better than any other diaper we’ve tried. Huggies have these gigantic gaps that allow urine to leak all over the place. The “Mom to Mom” brand being heavily promoted at Safeway – whose package features the quote “I wish everything that touched my baby’s skin felt this soft” – feels like maxi-pads wrapped around thin cardboard, which just hast to chafe the poor guy. Haven’t yet found newborn Luvs, Kirkland, or any of the other brands, so my loyalties may change.
  • Same with bottles – we used Gerber Nuk nipples at first from the hospital, but they flowed too quickly. We switched to pricey Adiri bottles that were slower flow and better resembled a boob, but they don’t flex like natural breast material so it’s difficult for the kid to get a good latch. We’re now using Dr. Brown’s, which have an interesting pressure maintenance design that allows the milk to flow more evenly and a nipple that more looks like a naturally latched nipple.
  • I underestimated how interesting little things like bottle design really are.
  • When designing products for new parents, remember that you’re dealing with over-exhausted, easily frustrated people who are just trying to keep their sanity intact. There’s absolutely no room for bad user interface design. Take the Diaper Genie refills – you’re supposed to be able to rip off the tab, stick your finger into the refill and find the edge of the new baggies to pull out, tie and insert into the diaper pail. The last one I opened, however, did not have the edge anywhere near the top, so I kept pulling out bag that was folded over itself – an unnecessary double bagging that, at $5.00 a pop for a refill, is needlessly expensive. Perhaps if they attached the edge to the tab you pull off or something, this would be far easier. Instead, I threw a mini-tantrum.
  • The best part of the day comes around 2-3pm when Dustin is wide awake and VERY aware of everything around him. He looks in your eyes and hangs on every word. The worst part of the day is sometime around 3-4am when Dustin is wide awake and looks into your eyes expecting intelligent interaction and stimulation. This is when “Who’s my good little boy?” turns to, “Fer chrissake kid, go to sleep already, Daddy’s exhausted.”
  • I’m enraged by the rampant sexism to be found in books on infant development. I bought “Baby’s First Year Week By Week” by Glade B. Curtis, M.D., M.P.H. and Judith Schuler, M.S. – a rather popular title that nicely lays out in quickly readable chunks what to expect each week in my boy’s development. They pepper their often useful information with useless and offensive comments like these:

    “Changing you baby’s diapers is a necessary task; once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it quickly and efficiently. Many men are even capable of learning this skill!

    Fuck you! From the moment this kid popped out, the responsibility of a majority of his care fell on me while my poor wife recovered from her C-Section. She’s now totally capable of taking care of him mostly on her own, but this is my kid, too, and I consider all aspects of taking care of him a completely team effort. Comments like these are derived from the old-fashioned idea that the men work while the women take care of the baby, an imbalance women have decried forever. Comments like these only exacerbate the problem and reinforce the idea that men are, somehow, incapable of caring properly for their infants.

  • Another oversight in many of these books is an honest discussion of breastfeeding, especially for women who require intervention. Breastfeeding is often linked with an all-natural childbirth and, in both philosophies, anything unnatural – formula from a bottle, an epidural during delivery, etc. – is strictly taboo. But the world rarely works out the way you plan and, in our case, our desire to go all natural gave way to our desire to not have a stillborn child. Danielle was more or less OK in understanding that the C-Section was necessary and wasn’t too hard on herself when the time came to do it. However, that surgery apparently greatly affects her ability to breastfeed, and every book we’ve read and every poster at Kaiser consistently tells us that “breast is best” and anything else is practically child abuse.But, here’s the reality – not every woman is able to immediately breastfeed her child, especially those who require any kind of medical intervention during the delivery. The medical community has worked so hard to convince people to breastfeed that they’ve completely ignored the complications many – I’d argue most – women have when they first try it. Poor Danielle has been stressed just by having the baby, just as I am and just as every new parent is. This stress, combined with the recovery her body has required from the surgery, affected her milk production to the point where we weren’t really able to sufficiently feed our kid by breastmilk alone. Because of the pro-breast propaganda, this has stressed her out even more, making her feel inadequate, which turns the whole thing into a vicious cycle. The lactation consultant, up until yesterday, basically said she couldn’t do anything to help Danielle if she couldn’t learn to relax, which made the situation worse.I could write this off as an anomaly if I had not heard the exact same thing from other mothers, especially those who delivered by C-Section. All of them struggled – in some cases for several weeks or even months – to get their milk supply up to snuff. The guilt we’ve felt in feeding out child formula is not really founded – it’s true formula is not as good as breastmilk by a long shot, but it really is the next best thing,  though we’ve been taught from all of our birthing classes and books to think of it as almost a poison. Without it, the kid would starve to death right now. Instead, he’s maintaining a very healthy weight and developing normally.

    As for breastfeeding, we’ve refused to give up and Danielle has since met with the lactation consultant again, explaining her situation and asking her to be helpful and not judgmental. The good news is that her production is now up and we have a couple of new tricks to help the kid better latch on and wean him off the bottle and onto the breast. If the medical establishment and baby books would recognize these problems and attempt to troubleshoot them rather than waste reams of paper and gallons of ink convincing us that the breast is the only way to go, we’d see a lot more healthy babies and mothers.

    I keep trying to keep all these things in perspective. My mother never fed me breastmilk for various reasons, and actually started me on cereal mixed in with the milk within only a few weeks of my life. We didn’t have all of the fancy hypoallergenic, baby-safe stuff we have now when I was a kid, and I doubt I really got all that much DHA during those  early years when my brain was forming. I turned out fine – really, I did – and so will my kid. It’s not an excuse to be completely laissez about the whole deal, but this perspective is what keeps me from getting too freaked out when things don’t go as planned.

  • The generational differences between our fathers and fathers now is astounding. I, too, was born via C-Section in 1975. I told my Dad about being in the operating room with Danielle, cracking up the nurses and doctors on the other side of the screen, then cutting the ceremonial length of umbilical cord they had left for me. We was astounded, “You were in there with her?” It didn’t dawn on me that my dad was actually one of those guys pacing in the waiting room while I was being delivered. Same goes for caring for the baby. Danielle’s parents were here helping us for the first couple of weeks. At one point, her father said something to the degree of, “We didn’t have this kind of help when you were born.” Danielle later said to me, “Yeah, that’s because mom did all of the work.”In our house, it’s a pretty even split – I’ve changed more poopy diapers than her (not keeping score as some kind of bitter ammunition, I’m keeping score as a sense of pride) and done more bottle feedings, but that’s only because she was mostly out of commission the first week. Now that she’s healing, we’re on a more even keel, and I really wouldn’t want it any other way.  I take great pride in caring for my son – in really knowing how to care for him. I don’t pass him off to mom when he starts screaming, I don’t freak out when he cries in my arms, I don’t panic over his poopy diapers (I swear he holds it in all day just for me sometimes, though – I call these the “apocalypse diapers”). If I see him crying, I go through the four most likely reasons – hungry, wet/poopy, cold, gassy – and respond accordingly. If he were on a regular sleeping schedule, it would actually be easy. And, those moments when he’s done crying and just sitting contentedly in my arms, often looking back into my eyes, really makes all of the exhaustion and stress totally, totally worth it. I actually daydream about this kid.
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