HEURISTICS TO BECOMING A BADASS FIRST TIME FATHER
It is 3.08am. Minutes earlier, my 2 week old son’s bowels executed a flawless impersonation of Mt Vesuvius and subjected my caregiving hand to a fate similar to Pompeii circa AD79. As I laugh/cry to myself, he deftly follows up with another impression of tectonic activity by imitating a wild Icelandic geyser. This particular straw-coloured bouquet with light undertones of urea will no doubt be the biggest hurdle I will face in getting my apartment security deposit back. With the wall and my hand nicely redecorated, I put him down in his moses basket and fall asleep on the floor next to him.
Since I first put pen to paper here (or pawed faeces/urine-covered hand to smartphone keyboard), this article has undergone an evolution. What started out as “some jotted down memories for me to laugh at later” has now become a Quora-esque response to the question that every new dad will have in the weeks before birth, namely:
“Sparing me the sugar-coated bu$%*&it freely available across the web, what would you recommend I really do to prepare for becoming a dad?”.
In reality this document is actually a journal of the prodigal talents of my son’s digestive/urinary system peppered with a few other realisations I am sharing with the benefit of hindsight. I hope you can derive some value from it. At the very least you can hopefully laugh at my Hungry Caterpillar-esque transformation from relatively composed husband to absolutely clueless dad. Without further ado…
THE HEURISTICS (Duration: T-6 to T+2)
minus 6 weeks
Spoil your partner with attention and affection. Take her to her favourite restaurants, whatever movies she wants to see and whatever new exhibitions she mentions. As you lie around sending puerile messages on Whatsapp or laughing at a meme of a chimpanzee dressed in a tutu, the lady in your life is growing an eyeball or toenails or some other vital component of a human. She deserves to be celebrated more than ever right now.
minus 4 weeks
Go shopping for the things that your baby will need. As you get home, resist the temptation to leave everything in your garage until game time. Get that breast pump/pushchair/carseat/sling out of the box and try it out. Invariably your first need for it will be when your child is screaming, your wife and you are tired/dehydrated/hungry and you are running late for something important. Also ask other dads or the internet about what you need to do and what you do not need to do. For reference I have shared an excerpt of youtube searches I did that week below:
how do i assemble a medela freestyle breast pump
september earth wind and fire
fitting a maxi cosi into a singapore taxi
lil jon snap yo fingers
how to put on a nappy
how to put on a nappy with one hand
nappy fitting world record
hero enrique iglesias karaoke version
how does the placenta work
did moses sleep in a moses basket? conspiracy theory
minus 2 weeks
Do some things that you might not be doing for a while and get rid of any excess adrenaline or excitement you have. Your home should be an oasis of serenity and calm. I found it useful to see some friends, fit in some extra boxing training and to read some books (Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis is hilarious) Talk to everyone you know who is a dad (across multiple generations) and ask them for any final pieces of advice. Practice swaddling, putting on a diaper and buy some hilarious outfits for your child (shameless plug I know but this process is expensive so I chose to embrace free-market capitalism rather than set up a gofundme page)
minus 1 week
Insurance. Check. Will. Check. Get any admin stuff you need to do out of the way so you can forget about it for a few months. Your most crucial role is the preparation of the GO bag — this will be what you take to hospital when the contractions become 4mins apart lasting 1min each for 1 hour. Stick in some clothes/snacks/home comforts for mum, some clothes for baby and a phone charger for dad. We found coconut water to be invaluable as well as some meditation exercises downloaded onto the phone. From this point on you need to do your best impression of the Greek goddess Artemis and protect your partner from errant taxi-drivers, nosy strangers and unsolicited advice.
The Day aka Day Zero
It is all a blur. But it is the best day of your life. You never knew you could love people as much as you love your partner and your new child. You call family and friends to share the happy news. Endorphins and oxytocin are in abundance — it is truly like no other experience.
Make sure your partner gets to rest as much as possible and bring good snacks for her. I got shouted at by a nurse for sneaking a pizza into the hospital and then argued with over-enthusiastic medical professionals who encroached the personal space of the new mummy. My wife told me she had never loved me more. #smileyface.
Take millions of photos — your baby is changing in appearance every hour. Their age doubles from 24 hours to 48 hours. Get as much time with your child and partner as you can — these are the precious moments that are finite and relatively stress free as you are likely still in hospital. Go home to grab a car seat and on your way back to the hospital start to think in forensic detail about what you are going to do once the hospital lets you out into the world with the responsibility of raising another living being to be a responsible contributor to the progress of society and mankind. No pressure.
Also you will discover meconium. Meconium is this secret that existing parents don’t tell new parents about. Think of it like the worst kind of hazing for an entirely mediocre fraternity/sorority. But with more tar and a worse smell. You will wince in horror but maybe smile in pride that your offspring is able to manufacture such a potent substance. As we were leaving the hospital, we put our fresh-faced son in the car seat and called our friend to come and collect us. As we thanked the nurses, I heard what I can only describe as the “mating call of a tortured duck”. As I glanced down at the car seat, my smiling heir stared at me as he showed us the prowess of his metabolism. Back to the room it was for a nappy change and a phone call to our friend asking him to set off from home 15 minutes later than we agreed.
You will probably encounter one of the most helpless nights of your life. Your baby will cry while developing his core competencies of defecating 10 times a day and draining your wife of the sweet milky nectar that nature gifts the better gender. It will be around this time that you will realise you have no idea what you are doing. If you are fortunate to have your mother-in-law or mother helping you, you will appreciate everything they ever did for you as a child. You will spend large parts of your day quelling a raging storm of yellow liquid poop like a young Kurt Russell fighting fire in the 1991 movie Backdraft.
Around this time, your body will start adjusting to not sleeping anymore than 3 hours at any one stretch. I wish I had a notebook with me to capture some of the weird things that came into my mind. In one particular sleep deprived hallucination, I formulated a crude comparison between infant nutrition and startup financing options. It is riddled with inaccuracies but this exemplifies the somewhat limited capacity at which my brain was working at this time:
Breastmilk = bootstrapping. You know what it is in it and you control it. It costs nothing to acquire but there is of course some opportunity cost to generate it (and yes it is tiring for mother and difficult/impossible for some people to do)
Breast-expressed milk = VC/Equity financing. Comes with some overhead and loss of control but allows you to do the thing you want faster than you otherwise could i.e. provide breastmilk to your child
Formula = whatever is currently deemed as bad for startups (it used to be convertible debt). It is costly, you lose control and you don’t know what you are getting unless you really study the details and which new parent has time for that? (but it is sometimes the only viable option at that time)
Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. BOOM. You just realised that you are spending more on nappies (diapers) than you do on nutrition for your baby. Yes that is correct — you allocate more capital to helping your baby s$%t than you do to preventing your baby from starving. As you become more skilled at changing diapers, your confidence will grow but be wary that it just takes one bad episode to knock you down. As my confidence grew, I started showing off to myself by wearing fancier and fancier clothes while I changed my son. I got cocky. Like Enron cocky. Then one day my luck changed and I hit a bad spell and ruined a lovely shirt. Dejected and defeated I went out to buy some cheap t-shirts to reflect my reclassification from intermediate to beginner status. These shirts have quickly became an organic collage of my son’s biological evolution. Kind of like a weird Damien Hirst exhibition but with fewer animals sliced in half and embalmed in formaldehyde. I hope to regain my confidence soon.
You will spend these days in a cycle of helping your baby get nutrition, defecate and sleep. I became jealous of the fact that my son had a lifestyle perhaps only matched by a small handful of African dictators. Typical day will start at 7am with a feed and a change. As baby sleeps, you have a couple of hours to try and eat breakfast, shower and stick a washing cycle on while also washing the dishes and doing other stuff to keep your household from overthrowing itself. By 10 you need to be ready for the milk/poo/change/lie down process again. Rinse and repeat through to about 7pm. Hopefully you will have found some time to do some of the important other stuff like getting him a birth certificate, applying for a passport and dressing him up in funny costumes to send to your family/friends. When your wife finally orders you to have a shower, you steal a few minutes to realise that you have never been so busy in your life but that you have never had so much fun in your life.
A couple of feeds through the night will present you with some stolen moments of free time to do something awesome. In recent days I have used this time to research the financial reports of various nappy manufacturers (Unicharm who manufacture the Mamypoko brand have doubled their stock price over last 5 years ) and also to study some chinese flashcards (the character for mermaid is literally beautiful+person+fish or 美人鱼). Also in the sleep deprivation phase, I have found myself obsessing over ridiculous things like “how much margin could I make if I bought 10 million nappies from Alibaba and resold them?” and “what kind of regulatory challenges would I face if launched an Uber for breastmilk?”. I did a few push-ups too in a vain attempt to make up for a lack of exercise since the birth.
With any luck, you will not have had to leave the house until now with your child. The first time you do this will be about as well executed as recent global quantitative easing measures. Everything will take twice as long as you think and not really work out anyway. We took our son for his first check-up with the paediatrician. While we were waiting for the appointment, I spent some time observing the dynamics in the waiting room. From my albeit limited observations, I noticed the unfair standards that society hold mum and dad to in providing parental care. A father is deemed a hero for doing simple things like attending a doctor appointment. A mother is tacitly judged when she has to breastfeed in public or is struggling to calm down a crying child. Anyway it seemed a good time to 1. remind my wife that she is doing an amazing job considering a week ago a human came out of her and 2. make fun of some weird looking kids sat near us.
On the plus side, this is around the time that you will feel ready to start getting family members involved in the joy you are experiencing. My wife and I live on the other side of the world from our families. We were hesitant to get our son onto Snapchat (like other children his age seem to be) but we have found video conferencing like Hangouts/Facetime to be a really great way of involving family and friends in this happy time. I am pretty sure babies born in 2025 will be able to use a messaging app to book their own taxi home from hospital and get a loan within minutes of being born to pay for that taxi. Anyway after a few calls, I can confidently say that there is no greater gift that you can give to new grandparents, uncles and aunts than taking the time to let them virtually interact with your child despite the many miles that separate you.
Things are starting to settle down now. You start to interpret different cries as signals for different things. “I am hungry” is slightly higher pitched than “burp me”. “Do you want to see how I digested my lunch?” is more staccato relative to “Can you put me in my crib now please?”. You find little hacks to improve your effectiveness at doing things you have just learnt for the first time.
“Put the new nappy under the old nappy unless you want to get into an infinite loop of costume changes”
“Set your alarm for 15 minutes before night feeds so you have time to slowly wake up”
“Have the nappy bag freshly restocked when you come home from being out rather than doing it hastily before you next go out”
If you are already a father then no doubt you are chuckling at my naivety in thinking that things have settled down. And I guess that is probably one of the biggest learnings so far for me. Everything cannot and will not be perfect. You just have to do the best you can and ensure that it is good enough to make sure your partner and child are safe and happy. You basically have to make sure you don’t completely fail as a husband and a father. Becoming a father is a massive personal change but literally billions of people have done this before you. So before you start to panic, just find someone who has done it before and listen to what they have to say. Then figure out your own way to do the things they suggest.
A final piece of advice I heard was one I wanted to end with. It was something along the lines of not taking for granted the extremely wonderful gift that your partner has given in bearing a child for you both. Babies are fairly resilient so it is not a bad idea to focus your attention as a dad on your partner.
Perhaps tonight at 3am as I dodge poop and burp my boy, I will ponder whether “if humans ever acquired the reproduction profiles of seahorses, would the male of the human species ever be as adept as the female at the gestation process?”. I think probably not but it would be interesting to try. Anyway time to go, the 6.23am train to Turdsville seems to be arriving with a full carriage…
If you would like to buy amusing apparel for all the family, check out our designs at Pundressed. This post originally appeared on www.parin-mehta.co.uk.