Joe & his son Mason

Down the Homestretch

Take This Time to Find Your Own Stress Relief

By Joe Mastropiero as part of To All Dads, a compilation of open letters from real men spotlighting #RealStrength stories and advice for modern fatherhood


What an exciting time to be in, am I right?

You are in the homestretch now. You and the mother of your child are at the “any day now” threshold. There are a cornucopia of emotions playing out in your head, along with countless scenarios depicting deliveries, C-sections, and the end result: the birth of your first kid. The new and brightest light in your budding family is almost nigh. It is an intense state to be in; I know, I’ve been there. You’re happy, and anxious, and scared, and a little sad too. Also terrified — don’t forget that — all of that is insulated by a nice all-encompassing terror. This is normal. It’s fine to be terrified; who wouldn’t be?

By now your nursery is set up. You have read your books, and you’ve prepped your overnight hospital bag. You read your parenting books cover to cover. You’ve been to Lamaze class and had infant CPR training. You are as prepared as can be. You. Are. Good. To. Go. Nothing will stand in your way to becoming a mighty dad. Three cheers to you, for every good new dad is an important part of the global world of fatherhood. You did your homework. You’ve been there for everything, through it all, from the moment the test said “positive.” But even if you haven’t, and you’ve wavered, you’re here now, and you’re ready. Good job.

By now you’ve had moms, dads, grandparents, and even strangers on the street tell you everything you can think of about parenting. You are up to your ears in advice about breast-feeding, co-sleeping, when to hold them, when not to hold them, how to get them to sleep and stop crying. You’ve taken what you wanted from that because it’s all you can do. It’s a tsunami of words and thoughts and anecdotes hitting you from all sides. And here I am now with mine, and I promise to keep it simple and easy, and you’ll listen to me, and I can tell you why.

My advice has absolutely nothing to do with how to raise your child.

It’s YOUR kid. Do what you got to do, man! You’ll figure it out; the kid’s the easy part. My honest advice to you is this: Learn how to relax. Find a way to bring yourself down and mellow out before the kid is even on the table. Reading or music or meditation or video games — it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s fairly quick, and it works, because you won’t always have a lot of time to bring yourself down. It is paramount that you do this, and I can tell you firsthand of its importance, because I didn’t. I spent all my time preparing and going through the motions because I’m already an incredibly laid-back guy. But the first few weeks my son was born, I learned that even the coolest of cats can have crazy anxiety attacks.

There was a four-day period where I only had five hours’ sleep. I was so high-strung I was hearing my son’s cry in ambient sounds, like a shower running or a computer humming. It’s a thing; I looked it up. It got so bad that eventually I just kind of sobbed on my couch for an hour, and I eventually passed out from exhaustion. I learned the hard way, but you don’t have to. If you practice your method for stress relief to the point where you can do it in your sleep (you’re going to need to), you can skip all the problems I had in the first bunch of weeks and go straight to the amazing joy and love and serenity that comes from holding your newborn in your hands, and you feel the weight of new life and endless possibilities.

Then they’ll pee on you. Again, that’s normal. But you’ll be calm and ready to handle everything being a new dad will throw at you.

Just relax. You’re gonna be fine.

Sincerely,

Joe M.


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