Papa Tips #3: Asterisk Mode

Okay, your new child is two days old.  You’ve been camped in your bedroom for the past 36 hours, wrapped up in all things baby.  But you’ve run out of bread and milk and coffee and so it’s time to go to the grocery store.

So you leave your partner with the child, throw on some sweats, and head to the store. You wander the aisles, checking off your list, humming along, and in your head you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow.  It’s so nice to be doing something normal again.”

But in your heart all you want to do is race down to checkstand 3 and grab the microphone from the cashier and yell, “WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE ACTING SO NORMAL?  CAN’T YOU SEE — I JUST HAD A BABY!”

You could swear it’s obvious, like there’s a big asterisk stamped right on your forehead.  All your normal routine little things — things you used to do automatically, reflexively, suddenly have this grandiose context wrapped around them.  It’s no longer “getting coffee”; now it’s “getting coffee/just had a baby”. “Paying the bills/just had a baby”.

Of course, nobody can see this asterisk —  but that doesn’t mean it’s not real.  And don’t worry, eventually it goes away.  Well, actually, it doesn’t: instead that asterisk becomes the new normal, and you wonder how you ever managed to pay the bills without it there to keep you company.

Papa Tips #2: Take Time Off

This one is probably obvious to most people, although the reasoning behind it might be a surprise. The days after your baby are born are amazing, energetic, frantic, sleepy, exhausting, exhilarating times. You don’t want to miss a second of it. It’s a no-brainer that you’ll want to take a week or so off work to be there for the first days of your child’s life.

But don’t stop at one week!  You need to take all the vacation, sick leave, and paternity leave that you can.  Because after a week or so, things start to settle down a bit.  Life starts to feel a little bit normal.  But when that “normal” returns, it isn’t the same normal as before.  There are new rhythms and details and unspoken little habits that emerge and become part of your own private culture of parenting.  If you’re not there to understand and help shape those details, then you’ll be playing catch-up for the next 12 months.

Two weeks’ leave is a minimum.  Four weeks should get you well on your way.  The optimum is 6 weeks (best described as “42 nights”).  Or, you can do what I did and make stay-at-home fatherhood your full-time vocation.  Whatever you choose, rest assured that time spent at home in the first few weeks is time well invested.