Advice for New Dads

 

Twenty-five years ago, “Mr. Dad” Armin Brott set out to write the definitive book for men about to become fathers, covering everything that was happening over nine months and beyond to their female partners, developing babies and, importantly, themselves. While a lot has changed in a quarter century – Brott’s own babies who inspired the book are now 31, 27 and 18 – the Larkspur author says expectant dads have the same quintessential question: “Oh my God! My wife is going to have a baby. What am I supposed to do?” 

The fifth edition of The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be (Abbeville Press, 2021), written by Brott and Jennifer Ash Rudick, provides updated nuts-and-bolts answers to that question, plus new material for adoptive fathers, military dads, couples struggling with infertility or using assisted reproductive technology, and information on the benefits of “father-friendly” workplace policies.

Brott spoke with Bay Area Parent about his book and decades of advocacy for dads. For more information on Brott and his series of books for fathers, visit mrdad.com.

What has changed about fatherhood, and preparing for it, in the past 25 years?

There are a lot of things that have changed, and a lot of things that haven’t.

Society’s expectations for fathers have changed. There’s an expectation that you’ll … go to childbirth classes, be there at the birth and be an involved father and support person to the mother when she needs it. It’s a good thing that’s changed, those expectations. But what we haven’t kept up with is giving dads the support they need to fulfill those expectations. That’s been somewhat of a disappointment.

The images in media – in movies, TV commercials, children’s books – it’s still fairly stereotypical that the dad is a buffoon and won’t be taken seriously by his partner. That’s not doing anybody any good.

There are still situations with family leave. We remain one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t have a national family leave program, particularly a paid one. Even when there’s talk of family leave, it’s looked at as a women’s issue. Dads are very much impacted by family-work stress. … We’re still looking at moms as the primary parent. We need to be talking about parental leave, and there needs to be specific outreach to fathers to take family leave if they need to do so.

We’ve done a terrible job of socializing men and women in that women still think they need to be the primary parent and men still think they need to be the primary breadwinner. Guys in the position of being the primary parent or stay-at-home dad often have trouble with it. They love it, but they have trouble with it.

I think it’s slowly, slowly changing with the younger generation of guys who are a little less stereotypical in their thinking. But when you look at Millennials and Gen Z, they still place provider-protector close to the top of the list of priorities for a father.

What can change this?

At work, if a manager or CEO takes time off to spend with a baby, that really sends an important message that it’s OK to do. When they encourage people below them to take family leave, the benefits are tremendous. (Employees) are more productive, more loyal, less likely to quit their job. Guys working their way to the tops of organizations now are taking family leave and encouraging others to do it.

Guys have to develop a strong stomach and say, … “I’m going to show people by example that being a father is an important thing for me.”

Go to all the OB visits with a notebook with questions you have. It’s easy to go to an OB visit and feel left out, or actually be left out.

As a culture, we need to start seeing that the psychological journey that men go through during pregnancy is the same as the mother’s: “How is this going to affect me? What kind of father will I be? What kind of role model will I be? Can we afford this? How will this change me?”

Fathers and mothers contribute different but equally important things to their children.

What’s your best advice for dads-to-be?

Close your eyes and jump in and make as many mistakes as you possibly can. The only way you’re going to be a confident and competent dad is on-the-job training.

It’s going to change your life, but what that means and how life is never going to be the same is really up to you, and the type of father you become is really up to you. … You’re going to choose the kind of dad you want to be that is best for you and your child and your partner.

 

 

 Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.