New dads….. this is for you:

by Rod Smith

A week of Mercury columns written to a dad-to-be….

A colleague and his wife are soon to be joined by a son. Earlier this year he informed me that he respected my insights. I published these 5 columns as letters addressed to Zach as he prepares for the arrival of his son. What amused me was the amount of mail I got telling me that mothers are important and that girls too are born. I am going to run this today in the hopes that it will be passed around and that a few new parents will read and be edified. By the way I am fully aware that mothers are important and that girls too are born. My friend and colleague Zach is about to be a DAD to a SON and the letter is to Zach….:

• Day 1

Dear Zach:

I am delighted to hear you will become a dad to a son in January and delighted you respect my insight.

Before the baby is born:

You have probably noticed a shift in some of your thinking since you know you will soon be a dad. Trust this. It’s the “divine download.” It will continue from now on and it won’t ever stop. Any understanding you think you lack will be yours when you need it.

You are the only dad your son will ever need and you are sufficient for this joy, this 20-year active assignment, by which time he’ll be fully prepared and launched.

Relax always. Your capacity to relax will be among your greatest gifts you offer your wife and son. Anxiety is useless. It helps nothing. Babies need relaxed parents more than perfect cribs or the latest new-baby stuff. On that matter buy as little baby stuff as possible. Most of what’s suggested as essential you will never use.

Open a savings account for your son immediately. Contribute to it monthly until he’s ready to manage it himself. No withdrawals at least for 30 years.

Decide now that you will share in every joy and responsibility with the baby. Apart from the obvious (breast feeding) there is NOTHING you cannot do.

• Day 2

The birth

Be there and involved every step of the way. If hospital policy won’t allow the father to be present choose another place for your son to be born. Be present for your wife.

Try to be the first or second non-medical person to touch your infant son.

Remember exactly where and how you first touch and hold him. This will be something to tell him during his toddler years, and, if he’s like my boys, it will be something he holds onto.

With my first-born I was the first non-medical person to touch him.

Within three minutes of his birth I gently placed my two fingers a little left of center upon his chest before holding him.

I met my younger son on his seventh day. I held his sleeping face in my hands to greet him.

These moments are important to me. They are seared with love into my memory; they are touchstones of first encounters.

They make interesting toddler-talk and undergird the narrative of belonging. They are touchstones I need more than the boys appear to need them.

I access these intentional memories it when things are beautiful and when things are tough.

• Day 3

In the first weeks:

As the time approaches for your son to enter this fabulous world you will hear a lot of talk about sleep deprivation. Don’t let it bug you.

The night hours are invaluable: the joy, peace, and communion you will enjoy with your boy is something you will forever remember. I found this (almost) always to be a time of rich communion. Sometimes I was too tired to enjoy it. Many babies sleep through the night from a tender age.

Invite your extended family into your baby’s life early and a lot. They too want to love and bond with your son. The more committed people you can gather around to love him the better. If it takes a village to rear a child (chickens a raised) then the village must be invited to do so as soon as possible.

Babies need space. Give the boy time to be alone. Let him begin to learn he is a separate being who belongs to a very loving community. This is a wonderful rhythm that you and your wife will be in charge of setting.

You and your wife are the experts when it comes to your son – he needs the two of you to enjoy him and each other as much as possible – more than he needs any clinical theory, routine, or rigidity.

• Day 4

Here are some early principles that really helped me when my children were very young:

Don’t start something you can’t continue or that you don’t want to continue. For instance, I came under some heavy criticism because I never gave my sons pacifiers (called “dummies” in some cultures). I’d seen so many battles with parents over these things that I decided my sons would never have them. It seems parents need pacifiers more than the child. If this “deprivation” has lasting negative repercussions we are unaware of them.

The understanding that I was my infant’s home. Home is not our house or his crib. It’s me. This gave me the sense of freedom I needed to explore the world with my sons. While my sons were with me – about 30 countries later – they were home. The pediatrician (Dr. Yancey) who taught me this is worth his weight in gold.

Talk to your son a lot right from the start. Tell him about your day. Tell him what you are thinking, reading, and planning. Engage him in conversation as you would any person in the room with you even though he’s just a few days or weeks old. This is good for both of you. He’s learning he’s more than deeply valued and included, your voice soothes him, and you are learning to share your life with your son.

• Day 5

I trust you – and other dads-to-be have enjoyed the week of columns about babies.

Here’s the last one, perhaps the toughest:

You are not parenting for dependence or for independence but for interdependence. Everything you do is for your son’s greater, highest good. He’s not your trophy or a sign of your success or your means to regaining your unhappy childhood. He deserves complete freedom from delivering you or your wife from any unresolved issues. Parenting is the growing-up machine and it will do its wholesome work on you – if you allow it. Please, welcome it. Resisting will prolong the inevitable.

Your son comes loaded. Like you, he comes jam-packed with latent talents, latent skills, and potential waiting to be unfurled, guided, and trained. It’s your joy to help him identify and welcome all that he is into a context that will welcome and embrace all that he is. There are only really two things that will help you to do this well: first – be sure you are embracing and allowing your skills and talents and dreams to be fulfilled. Second, get out of his way.

I will close with a lines from a poem that have been my guiding light:

“Selfhood begins with walking away; love is proved in the letting go” – Cecil Day Lewis, Walking Away.

May the cumulative joy of a millions happy and fulfilled dads be yours.


[Readers: your responses, reflections, additions are always appreciated]

One Comment to “New dads….. this is for you:”

  1. I’m a new dad, about 5 weeks in. Your letters to Zach are on point!

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