1. You are not, and will never be, a mother.

In this age of growing equality – sexual, racial, interspecies – men are still second class citizens when it comes to parenthood. Never mind that your sperm helped make the whole kid and caboodle: your lack of breasts and a vagina will forever be held against you. In fact, if you do grow breasts – or a vagina – it will only make matters worse. Men are still portrayed in the media as cartoonish fools, incompetent diaper-illiterate Stooges who are about as capable of looking after a baby as they are of making a casserole. Women, we are told, have an innate ability to nurture, which includes a genetic predisposition for cleaning up poop with moistened wipes, and a built-in Spidey-sense that detects squalling infants at a range of up to five miles. Men, meanwhile, are quite good at playing games. Or pulling faces. Or, in the case of the truly talented, both at once.

If you choose to be your child’s primary caregiver, this genetic inadequacy will be pointed out to you in movies, novels, magazines, parenting manuals, commercials, and conversations until you’ll start to wonder if it might actually be true. It isn’t. Take strength in proving the parentists wrong every day. And get used to being the (playful, face-pulling) elephant in the room.

2. Breastfeeding is not the solution to all of mankind’s ills.

La Leche League may have minted it, but we’ve all heard it: Breast Is Best. We’re told that breastfeeding your child isn’t just free and completely natural, it also increases their antibodies, regulates their intestinal flora, and probably gives them the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. On top of all that, the LLL would have us believe that it’s the simplest thing in the world. Just show your baby a breast and he’ll latch on like a laser-guided milk-seeking missile.

In some cases this may be true. In many it isn’t. There are so many potential stumbling blocks surrounding breastfeeding – latching, low supply, over supply – that it’s a miracle anyone manages it at all. And if the mother of your child is one of the multitude who encounter feeding issues, then expect tears. Expect stress. Expect heartache. And, most of all, expect spiraling, Greece-sized debt. In a country where healthcare doesn’t come cheap, this free, natural process can end up costing you a small fortune.

But here’s what the Leches keep close to their swollen chests: breast is best, but formula is okay too. Talk to someone who was raised on formula and you’ll find that they aren’t a sickly, one-legged, drooling idiot. Admire the healthy luster of their hair. Swoon at their admirable physique. And then, when you encounter problems with breast feeding, go out and buy yourself a can of formula.

White lines. Do it.

3. Just when you get a handle on it, that’s when it all changes.

Consciously or not, we all try to control our children. We want them to eat right, behave well, go (the fuck) to sleep. We want the best for them, but we also hang on to a semblance of our previous life, the gossamer-thin wisps of adulthood that cling to us from the years we now know as B.C. (Before Children). We secretly hope that our lives will continue pretty much as they did before, but with a little Mini-Me in tow.

This will never happen. Babies are an elemental force of nature, a squealing, squalling, time-and-energy-draining disaster in a diaper. This doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to control them. It just means that you will fail.

There will be moments when you fool yourself that you’re finally getting a handle on things, that a corner has been turned and real life is about to resume. These are a mirage. As soon as you conquer one hurdle – sleep routines, solid food, potty training – another springs up in your path, sending you tumbling flat on your face again. If there is one constant, it’s that each day will be utterly different from the last. So savor the good days, and allow yourself to wallow in their easygoing, gurgling charm. Because there’s already another shitstorm gathering on the horizon.

4. It’s the end of your life as you know it…

Your Xbox is now obsolete. Your Netflix subscription is now obsolete. Your sports package is now obsolete. Your Bluray collection is now obsolete. Your cds/records/books are now obsolete. Your alarm clock is now obsolete. Your best going-out clothes are now obsolete. Your golf clubs/baseball mitt/hockey stick/basketball hoop are now obsolete. Your season ticket is now obsolete. Your gourmet cooking skills are now obsolete. Your 20-year old single malt Scotch is now obsolete. Your Napa wine club membership is now obsolete. Your friends are now obsolete. Your penis is now obsolete.

Your credit card, however, is surprisingly useful.

5. And you feel fine.

The biggest surprise of fatherhood isn’t its energy-sapping relentlessness, or the fact that you can actually survive on three hours sleep, or that something so small can spit, pee and excrete several times its own bodyweight every 24 hours. It’s that none of it matters. Not really, not when you finally have a moment to sit back and take stock of where you are in your life. Yes, you’re exhausted beyond reason, and you haven’t seen your friends in a month, and the last time you saw a movie Edward Norton was still the Hulk. Yes, you barely have the mental energy to formulate a thought, never mind articulate it in a sentence. Yes, you now live a life that would be turned down by most prison inmates.

But, beyond all reason, you’ll find yourself smiling through the blowouts, and the screaming fits, and the 2 a.m. feeds. You’ll find yourself buoyed even as your tired limbs drag you down. Every time your little one smiles and gurgles and hiccups and burps and laughs you’ll feel that tiny fire glowing inside you, that spark of home and a lifetime of love that makes it all, somehow, worthwhile. And you’ll huddle around it for warmth, your cupped hands shielding its flickering flame, as your bundle of joy lays waste to everything that used to be your life.

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DAN COXON is the author of Ka Mate: Travels in New Zealand and the Non-Fiction Editor for Litro.co.uk. His writing has appeared in Salon, The Weeklings, The Good Men Project, The Portland Review, and in the anthology Daddy Cool . He currently lives in London, where he spends his spare time looking after his 18-month old son, who offers more plot twists than any book. Find more of Dan Coxon's writing at www.dancoxon.com, or follow him on Twitter @DanCoxonAuthor.

12 responses to “Words of Advice for New Fathers”

  1. Summer Block says:

    Nice work! and may I add, is that your baby pictured in the article? It’s a cute one.

  2. Dan Coxon says:

    Thanks! It’s not his best photo by a long shot, but there’s hopefully still a residue of cuteness. The pout helps.

  3. Ann Charles says:

    My husband was laid off while I was preggo with child #1, therefore, he became the stay-home parent. Then we had a second and his workload doubled. I’m betting he would toast to your post.

  4. Sara Thompson says:

    Really enjoyed this! Took me right back to the time when we were making the same discoveries with our little people too. Beautifully written, amusing and I’d love to read more. Keep them coming!

  5. Alasdair Jones says:

    All seems very familiar, as one of the stay at home Dads, I can confirm you are spot on. Our eldest is about to enter her teenage years and I’m finally getting use from the golf clubs again and it’s been so long since I saw a film the wasn’t Harry Potter that I thought Eric Bana was still the Hulk.

  6. “Women, we are told, have an innate ability to nurture . . . and a built-in Spidey-sense that detects squalling infants at a range of up to five miles.”

    I can attest that this is actually true. Not an opinion. But true. My wife and I will be sitting downstairs while our 15-month-old daughter is napping and she’ll say: “Did you hear that?” I never do. My wife can actually hear a mouse rip a silent fart. It’s amazing. So can her sister. I witnessed it on vacation just this week. Granted, I did once fall out of bed with a Q-Tip lodged in my ear when I was 11-years-old and played in a punk band for five years so my hearing may be slightly compromised as compared to theirs.

  7. Dan Coxon says:

    Thanks Summer, Ann, Sara, Alasdair, Jeffrey and Suzanne. I’m still waiting for someone from La Leche League to denounce me as a breastfeeding socialist…

  8. I really resent the way men are portrayed in the media as “incompetent diaper-illiterate Stooges” (haha). Because I know a lot of writers, musicians, and artists, I probably know more stay-at-home dads than most, and it makes me mad when they’re portrayed as bumbling idiots. I had no previous baby experience before I got pregnant, and my husband, who had been a nanny, had to teach me how to change a diaper. He is a loving, nurturing, and extremely efficient caregiver to our son, and an excellent cook, as well. So suck on that, American media.

    I am constantly amazed by the number of people who can’t seem to accept number 4, and fight it with everything they’ve got, either burning candles at both ends until they are exhausted, or trying to take a baby where a baby has no business hanging out. It’s not about you anymore, folks. You will be playing the part of the grown-up from now on… deal with it.

    On a positive note, for those with infants, I would like to add to number 3 that it gets physically easier as they get older. Take heart, because at some point in the next few years you will realize it has been weeks since you touched the poop of another human, and you will do an inner cheer of joy and relief. You will also, at some point, realize that your constantly-waking baby is now a child who sleeps through the night. You will be able to get 8 hours of sleep in a row again. Because I had a baby who didn’t sleep more than 3 hours in a row until he was 9 months old, I feel compelled to give people with babies my new parent-themed version of the It Gets Better Project. Humor me, please. (:

    Spot-on and cleverly written piece, Dan. Thanks. I truly enjoyed this.

    • Dan Coxon says:

      I just saw a trailer for the NBC show ‘Guys With Kids’, in which it takes three men to get a bottle of milk. Nice to see it’s still business as usual then… Clearly the networks still think it’s the 1950’s.

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