Fatherly advice for first-time fathers

Over the last 13 years, helping my wife Maria as she essentially raises our four kids while I commute to work in town, I’ve learned plenty about being a father. I’d like to share a few of hard-won pearls of wisdom with readers who might find themselves in the first-time father situation.

Now that we’ve lost all of the first-time fathers to the colorful lawn mower ads, I’ll instead address this column to you expectant moms, looking for tips on getting that first-time father in your life to do right.

Don’t deny it. You’re reading a column titled “Fatherly advice for first-time fathers.” When we get to the part about what kind of power tools he’ll need to tackle the new baby problem, we can call him back.

Ladies, first item of business is, as always, wardrobe. Obviously, his Pearl Jam and White Stripes concert tees from high school will have to go, otherwise the whole world will know he dressed himself that day, which will ultimately reflect badly on you.

First-time dads need comfortable, loose-fitting and absorbent clothing with a minimum of accessories; cotton, but not denim; fleece, but not sweats; relatively water-and-stain-proof, but not obviously so; blacks, browns and greens, not his usual blue, light blue and even lighter blue.

If he balks, steer him toward a manly-looking hunting jacket with lots of intricate zippers and different sized pockets. He’ll like that, although you and I both know he won’t be hunting for quite some time. In fact, he probably won’t step outside of the house for quite some time, except to earn a handsome salary and bring it home to you and the baby.

Next off, your husband’s friends will need to be organized much like you’d organize a clothes closet, pulling out his old friends that are like the taupe sharkskin jacket with the impossibly huge shoulder pads or the black capri pants you wore last in 2004, throwing the rejects on the thrift-store pile. Many of his friends are probably past their pull date and just taking up space in his limited cranial closet, and they’re not likely to fit your new life with baby.

Let him know that there will be no random beers after work, or partying at anytime, but if he pouts and stares out the window at some distant point on the horizon for hours or the whole weekend even, lift his spirits and let him know that there will be several new opportunities to drink micro-brews with your parents on the baby’s birthday, baptism and first communion.

New car? Check. His ancient, dung-colored Mustang II and your sensible, low-mileage Prius should be traded in for a brand-new, zero-mileage Chrysler-product minivan, or if he can afford it, a Japanese minivan. Get a van with a strong heater, to dry-roast the crying baby to sleep on a long, slow, aimless drive, when she’s developed colic and is crying in tongues, your eyes are burning and you both contemplate a life on the lam, and neither of you can remember reading about this in any of the parenting advice columns.

Your lives will radically change. Many first-time dads will attempt to evade reality and try the new-parents-but-still-cool thing for a while, bringing the baby along like a handbag poodle to activities he enjoyed before you were together, that you, good sport that you are, have tolerated for too long. This is a form of denial that he will eventually outgrow.

Expectant moms, you’ve had a while to ease into the baby situation while your baby has been plugged in and percolating on the back burner, but once your baby is no longer connected to you and thrust into your husband’s hands for the first time, his life will change immediately, radically and irrevocably. It’s no use pretending otherwise, and the sooner he understands that, the easier it will be on everyone.

Oh, and the part about bringing him back for the talk about the power tools? There is no talk about the power tools. Black and Decker doesn’t make breast pumps. His world will be filled with brand names like Graco, Evenflo, Playtex. Let him know that we’re all really sorry.

All those happy words about bringing new life into the world, sacrifice, self-denial and familial love that sounded so false and hollow while he was living a rather false and  hollow sort of semi-life will begin to make sense when he’s changing a diaper and your baby smiles at him for the first time. And pees all over his chin. He’ll eventually learn to duck.

— Kevin Pottinger, his wife Maria and their four children live on Vashon.

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