This is a column that I've written for the esteemed organ that is the Colchester NCT and District magazine, on the subject of preparing to be a dad. For those who don't subscribe, here it is, by the power of cut and paste.
Dads! We’re everywhere these days. At ante-natal classes, in the birthing room, holding up our end at stay and play, and waiting in line for the nappy change. You can’t get away from us.
Research by bodies like the Fatherhood Institute has shown that men are increasingly looking to play a bigger role in the lives of their children. There is also evidence that active dads have a profoundly beneficial effect on the lives of their children across a range of measures, including happiness, academic achievement, and staying on the straight and narrow.
I always thought I would be a dad. It just seemed the natural state of affairs that I would look to start a family at some point.
However, looking back on that time when my wife and I discovered we were expecting our first child, I don’t think I really knew what we were letting ourselves in for. Like many dads to be, my feelings were a mixture of excitement, apprehension and anticipation. There was also a sense of the whole process being slightly unreal, especially for me. My wife, Charlotte had the benefit of morning sickness to remind her that, yes, this really was happening.
For me, the clincher was the first scan. At that stage there was little outward sign of what was happening to Charlotte’s body. The visual evidence from the scan suddenly brought home the fact that things were developing very fast. I remember particularly being amazed that the identifiably human shape displayed on the monitor at 12 weeks. Suddenly everything seemed very real indeed.
A big concern at this stage is wondering what sort of dad you will be. My own dad passed away when I was 13 so I was never able to ask him what it was like. However, I had strong and happy memories of him which are probably the basis of everything I try to be as father.
I wanted to be as involved as possible in the pregnancy, to understand what was going on, so I attended midwife appointments as well as scans and ante-natal classes with Charlotte. Maternity services are becoming more dad friendly so there is no reason why you shouldn’t be present. Being involved in as many aspects of the pregnancy as you can really does prepare you for what’s ahead. It also makes you a bit more able to make choices about the sort of pregnancy and birth you would like.
One of the great things about pregnancy is that it covers quite a long time – certainly long enough to consider the many and varied implications of the new life for your future and relationship. The first few months when practically nobody else knows are a lovely time of planning, dreaming and scheming, before you let the world into your secret.
Pregnancy is also a worrying time. In the early stages of the pregnancy I don’t think either of us wanted to get too excited about things in case anything went wrong. Like many first time parents to be, we were probably over nervous, and our second pregnancy was more carefree in this respect.
One thing that surprised me about my own feelings was how quickly I developed a sense of protection towards both my wife and my unborn child. It was almost a primal thing and I did start to feel a bit of a caveman which was something I wasn’t expecting. This was accompanied by the realisation that I was about to become the main breadwinner, which provoked more of a nervous gulp than Neanderthal roar.
If I could offer any advice to first time dads, it would be this:
· Try not to worry and enjoy the pregnancy. It’s very different to being a parent. Not better, or worse, but different, and it’s just the start of a long and exciting journey.
· Your partner is your closest ally in the unfolding adventure. Take care of each other.
· Enjoy your last moments of being child-free. From now on everything is going to be very different.
There’s a great quote by screenwriter William Goldman in his book Adventures in the Screentrade. He says “Nobody knows anything.”
Goldman is saying that there is no replicable formula for creating a hit film. What works for one blockbuster will be box office poison the next time round.
There is a similar logic to fatherhood. You can learn valuable lessons from other people, but ultimately it’s a journey of discovery and there is no one route to becoming a great dad.