I’m at work listening to the “Yellow River Concerto” and marking students’ coursework on the same subject, but my focus is not what it should be. At home, my three-week-old baby is charming his mum and grandparents with yawns and little waves. Being with him restores balance to the mind as I hone my fatherhood skills.
In February 2014, the Legislative Council tabled and later approved a bill which gives dads three days at home with their newborns. I was lucky, my company gave me five days and I then had a two-week holiday.
Going back to work when my son was three days old would have been heart wrenching. Collecting your new little family from the hospital is a bewildering day, but as fatherhood starts you accept a type of love you didn’t know possible. I had time to decode the cries and practise dodging bodily fluids, but if I’d had just three days I would have felt guilty leaving my young family so soon.
Mums get a bit more time with baby before having to go back to work and so become the childcare expert. Dads sitting in meetings about data management three days after their baby is born don’t have time to carve out a fatherly role for themselves or really bond with their little one before being snatched back to work.
Nurturing the bond
My father-in-law, an Irish, rugby-playing builder who raised four wonderful people gave me some advice: “Fatherhood is like most things in life – you get out what you put in and bonding is easier when you have got shared memories. Take your family for days out, have fun together and make sure you give your children a sense of worth.” Good advice, but it is big picture stuff. So how do dads make sure that they don’t become a spare part when caring for a child who hasn’t yet learnt to kick a ball?
Midwife Karin Siegler believes, “Some people have a romantic idea about bonding with little babies but it happens all the time. Whether you are sick or tired you still need to look after your little one, and going through the daily routine provides the basis for a stable family bond.”
“In the first few days after birth a dad’s role is vital. Giving birth and nursing is tiring and Mum needs to rest, so Dad should take on all the other jobs. At this time, dads change nappies better than mums and are able to burp and calm baby down faster because they don’t smell like breast milk.”
“When Dad goes back to work, Mum becomes the expert in baby’s routine, as she does things more frequently and faster. Most babies become a bit more fussy and whiney the closer they get to bed time, which also happens to be about the time Dad gets home from work. Dad’s different way of doing things might make baby cry so a worried mum might want to help, give advice or correct Dad. Bad idea. If mum takes over the job, Dad could end up as a happy baby playmate.”
“I have spoken to mums who feel like the time baby and dad spend together should be happy, quality time and so do everything to bring a smile to their faces. I think bonding with Dad will only work out if he has the same responsibilities every day, regardless of his or baby’s mood, even if it is a small thing like putting pyjamas on. If this is not possible on weekdays because of irregular working hours, at least on the weekend it should be clear that Mum has a weekend too.
“Parental bonding for me is not only having a happy sleeping baby or skin-to-skin contact, it is so much more, taking on responsibilities on a daily basis in good and difficult times. That is really what parenting is.”
Another good source of advice for new dads is Neil Sinclair’s book, Commando Dad. Sinclair is a former Royal Engineer Commando, PE teacher, UN security guard and a police community support officer. But as he explains on his website, “By far the most demanding job to date is as stay-at-home dad to my three kids: Samuel, Jude and Liberty.”
His tongue-in-cheek book uses headings like, How to prepare base camp (baby’s bedroom) for the trooper. Instructions are mainly in bullet points and there are some amusing cod-military pictures that explain all the basics including how to change nappies and pack baby’s kitbag.
The Commando Dad website forum is a handy place to ask questions. When my wife was pregnant I asked her a couple of baby-related questions, which resulted in her throwing her head back and laughing at me like a musketeer. I suppose asking, “Why do newborn babies need clothes?” was not such a bright question, but “What to expect at prenatal classes,” is fair enough.
Three days of real-life, hands-on newborn babycare experience won’t ever be enough to answer all a new dad’s long list of questions…