- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 5, 2004

Sandor and Nicki Kovacs of Boyds will become parents next month. They have done a lot of work to get ready for the baby, including taking childbirth classes, decorating the nursery and reading about what to expect after the baby arrives.

Though the laws of biology naturally make pregnancy a project for the mother-to-be, Mr. Kovacs has put in his time as well. There are more resources and more chances for new fathers to prepare than in the past, and Mr. Kovacs has taken advantage of many of them.

“I feel ready,” says Mr. Kovacs, 32.

He shopped for baby gear and smiled at the shower other couples threw. He is looking forward to taking time off from his job. He has read books on his own as well as ones his wife has passed on to him. He is pumped about the new stroller — an Inglesia Zippy that has enough bells and whistles to impress Mr. Kovacs, an engineer.

Says Mrs. Kovacs: “He was more ready than me. We talked about this for three years, and he was more clear and decisive on the matter.”

He’s so ready, in fact, that he wishes well-meaning advice-givers would stop talking already.

“Everyone who is already a parent says, ‘Your life will change for the better,’” Mr. Kovacs says. Meanwhile, everyone who does not have children is telling him his best days are over.

Mr. Kovacs is hoping for the former.

What to expect?

Thirty years after the resurgence of interest in natural childbirth and a return to breast-feeding, parenting educators, child specialists and baby-product manufacturers are getting wise to the role of fathers.

Though they can’t feel baby doing flips in utero, fathers can — and should — be a major part of the process, says Armin A. Brott, author of the book “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-be.”

That means going to doctor’s appointments, learning how to care for a baby and learning how to support a new mom emotionally and develop competence — and confidence — as a father.

Doing all those things can be challenging when the classic “dad” role model has changed, Mr. Brott says.

“Back when we were kids, the good father definition was kind of a Ward Cleaver kind of guy,” he says. “You were considered a good dad if you worked hard. The role of dads today has changed and expanded. You need to be a good provider, but you also need to drive the car pool and be there as a physical and emotional presence.”

These are the kinds of topics covered in Mark Bleich’s Fatherhood 101 class at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

Mr. Bleich, a father of 1-, 4- and 7-year-old daughters, teaches a two-hour class in which expectant dads can ask questions and talk. It is not so much a lesson in how to change diapers — that part you pretty much pick up after you do it a few times, he says. Rather, it is a discussion of values, changes, emotions and expectations.

“When you tell people you are having a baby, you get all sorts of ribbing and horror stories,” says Mr. Bleich, 37. “They are trying to be funny, but they are also probably adding to your anxiety. So I guess it is better to come to a class and talk about it than it is to have people say to you, ‘I haven’t slept in three months.’”

One of the main points Mr. Bleich tries to get across is to be flexible. He can’t tell expectant fathers how everything is going to be because everyone’s story is different, he says.

“There is so much going on,” he tells the men seated at his workshop May 15. “There is you, the mom, the baby.”

Not to mention the colic, the stroller that won’t fold and the lost love life those well-meaning people keep talking about.

‘Didn’t have a clue’

For many men, the reality of having a baby doesn’t really hit until Junior is home.

Dale Alderman of Chantilly says that is how he felt when his wife, Starla, was pregnant with their first child.

“I didn’t know anything, and she knew too much,” Mr. Alderman says of his wife, a former labor-and-delivery nurse. “I didn’t have a clue. You put them in the car to take them home and say, ‘Now what do I do?’”

Mr. Alderman recently wrote about his learning curve in a book titled “Being a Dad: The Stuff No One Told Me.” His sons, Chase and Logan, are 7 and 4, respectively.

“Everyone said, ‘Nothing’s going to be the same,’” he says. “I didn’t believe them, but they were right.”

Before he was a writer, Mr. Alderman, 42, was a business consultant who worked very long hours.

“He was like work-work-work,” Mrs. Alderman says. “He was a Type A-plus.”

Now he is the dad who picks up Chase at the bus stop and goes with his sons’ classes on field trips.

He has learned to laugh when he fumbles and to give himself credit that the children are healthy, happy and having fun.

“I never mastered the diaper thing, but I am great at second-grade math and coaching baseball,” Mr. Alderman says. “I am the best at letting my kids be kids.”

His advice for new dads: Think about the kind of father you want to be. Mr. Alderman says he looked to his own father for inspiration.

“My dad was around a lot,” he says. “It seems like there is all this pressure for dads to make a lot of money, to be a good provider. But then you end up living your life at work. I found myself working all the time. My advice is to focus on time, not money.”

Greg Bishop, founder of Boot Camp for New Dads, a nationwide parenting education program, says looking to any role model — be it a brother, neighbor or uncle — is a good plan for a new dad.

“Women naturally network,” says Mr. Bishop, a father of four. “Men don’t do that. They are pretty much on their own. Men today know by and large if they missed out on something with their own dad, they know they don’t want to be like that. If they had a good dad, then they know they want to be as good as him.”

Mr. Bishop’s other advice: Be patient — with your wife, with the baby and with yourself.

Mr. Brott says developing patience is particularly hard in the first few weeks.

“They start smiling and cooing at the baby, and not much happens back,” he says. “Then they think they are not cut out for this. They feel left out. I tell them not to back off, that they have a huge role to play. The sooner they get involved, the longer they are going to stay involved and the more involved they are going to be.”

Mr. Bishop says he takes issue when people talk of the father being “jealous” of the new baby or left out of the closeness between mother and child.

“How can you be jealous of a baby? That doesn’t do justice to what is going on,” he says. “Men simply miss their wives. Moms tend to become incredibly focused on the baby. A dad’s job should be to reel them back in, to put the balance back in their lives.”

Pain and hard work’

At Shady Grove, childbirth educator Tibbie Turner is having the dozen or so expectant couples break the ice by saying what the word “childbirth” means to them.

The hesitant participants go around the room with their answers. “Delivery room,” says one mother-to-be. “Pain,” says another pregnant woman. “Pain and hard work,” says another.

“Cigars,” one future father says sardonically.

All kidding aside, men and women do ask different questions and expect different things when a baby is on the way, says Ms. Turner, a registered nurse who has been preparing expectant parents for 22 years.

Still, she has seen childbirth evolve from men in the waiting room to men surfing the Internet, looking for information and advice.

“Men these days want to be much more a part of it,” she says. “The guys are doing a lot more reading. The Internet has really changed the knowledge base. Men know a lot more now.

“The main thing I hear, though, is, ‘How can I help her?’” Ms. Turner says. “One of the hardest things is to watch the mother be in pain.”

Pat Keating, director of perinatal education programs at Holy Cross Hospital in Kensington, says men come into her childbirth classes “wanting to know a lot of statistics.”

“They want to know the odds and chances of having a five-hour labor,” Ms. Keating says. “I tell them there are no guarantees. Childbirth is unpredictable, and so is your baby. This is a chance to learn flexibility. Things are on a new schedule now.”

Ms. Keating has been preparing parents for 24 years. She says today’s parents tend to be older. Being set in one’s ways can make for a tough transition to parenthood, she says.

“A lot of times, there is more set in the marriage and lifestyle, and it is a bigger transition than it would be in their 20s,” Ms. Keating says. “You can never be truly prepared for the ways a baby is going to change your life. It is stressful, but it is also one of the greatest joys. Everyone manages once the baby gets here, though. They all become experts on their baby.”

MORE INFO:

BOOKS —

• “FATHERNEED: WHY FATHER CARE IS AS ESSENTIAL AS MOTHER CARE FOR YOUR CHILD,” BY DR. KYLE D. PRUETT, BROADWAY, 2001. YALE PSYCHIATRIST DR. PRUETT OUTLINES WHY FATHERS PLAY AN ESSENTIAL ROLE FOR BABIES.

• “THE EXPECTANT FATHER: FACTS, TIPS AND ADVICE FOR DADS-TO-BE,” BY ARMIN A. BROTT, ABBEVILLE PRESS, 2001. THIS BOOK DEALS WITH THE QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS OF EXPECTANT FATHERS. THE BOOK COVERS PREGNANCY ISSUES AS WELL AS TIPS FOR PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE.

• “THE POCKET IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BEING AN EXPECTANT FATHER,” BY JOE KELLY, ALPHA BOOKS, 2004. THIS BOOK HAS INFORMATION FOR NEW DADS ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT, FROM BABY’S BIRTH THROUGH COLLEGE PLANNING.

• “BEING A DAD: THE STUFF NO ONE TOLD ME,” BY DALE ALDERMAN, IUNIVERSE, 2004. MR. ALDERMAN, A LOCAL WRITER, CHRONICLES WHAT HE HAS LEARNED BY BEING THE FATHER OF TWO YOUNG BOYS.

ASSOCIATIONS —

• NATIONAL FATHERHOOD INITIATIVE, 101 LAKE FOREST BLVD., SUITE 360, GAITHERSBURG, MD 20877. PHONE: 301/948-0599. WEB SITE: WWW.FATHERHOOD.ORG. THIS NONPROFIT GROUP PROMOTES THE IMPORTANCE OF FATHERS AND WORKS FOR LEGISLATION CONCERNING FATHERS’ RIGHTS. IT HAS A NEWSLETTER, FATHERHOOD TODAY, AS WELL AS A LOT OF INFORMATION ON ITS WEB SITE.

ONLINE —

• BRAND NEW DAD (WWW.BRANDNEWDAD.COM), A COMMERCIAL SITE, HAS MANY BULLETIN BOARDS AND RESOURCES, AND A SEARCH ENGINE FOR EXPECTANT AND NEW FATHERS.

• THE SITE FOR BOOT CAMP FOR NEW DADS (WWW.NEWDADS.COM), AN ORGANIZATION THAT RUNS WORKSHOPS FOR NEW FATHERS AT VARIOUS HOSPITALS AND OTHER COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS NATIONWIDE, HAS TIPS FOR NEW AND EXPECTANT FATHERS. BOOT CAMP FOR NEW DADS DOES NOT HAVE CLASSES IN THE WASHINGTON AREA BUT MIGHT EXPAND HERE SOON.

• ON IPARENTING (WWW.IPARENTING.COM), A COMMERCIAL WEB SITE, AN ENTIRE SECTION IS DEDICATED TO CONCERNS OF FATHERS.

• ON MR. DAD (WWW.MRDAD.COM), MR. BROTT’S WEB SITE, THE AUTHOR OF SEVERAL BOOKS ON FATHERHOOD OFFERS ARTICLES, BOOK EXCERPTS AND ADVICE.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide