The daddy chronicles
Books to turn scared men into less-scared fathers
By John Fladd [www.almostgruntled.com]
For most men (well, okay, me) becoming a father is a lot like buying a TiVo.
It’s incredibly cool and you get a lot of positive feedback from the people around you for it, but sooner or later, you realize that you will have to read the manual.
You don’t want to—manual-reading certainly isn’t very manly—but eventually, you come to the conclusion that you don’t have any clue what you are doing. Unless you want to record a month’s worth of Bowflex™ ads or raise a serial murderer, you will have to read something—hopefully with a lot of simple diagrams and two-syllable words.
Pregnancy for Dummies, by Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman and Mary Murray, For Dummies, 1999, 408 pages.
I’m a big believer in Dummies books.
If I know absolutely nothing about something, they are a great place to start. The writers start from a very basic, first-the-socks-then-the-shoes level and lead you to where you can at least find out what it is that you need to know. After reading it, I don’t feel like I could deliver my baby in a taxicab or anything, but I do have a specific list of what I need to learn more about. Given that I come to this whole baby process with the sum knowledge that they come out slippery and will eventually poop a lot, that is a good place to start. Each chapter of Pregnancy for Dummies is broken down into simple, easy-to-digest chunks. Among many very nifty features is a field guide to reading ultrasound pictures. How cool is that?
Given that I like this book (and I do), I still have three main problems with it:
(1) Some of the material seems a little misguided—OK, flat-out wrong. Not the technical stuff like breech presentations or anything, but still… Here’s an example:
In Chapter 19, which deals with myths and old wives’ tales about pregnancy, there is this little piece of advice: “The Ugly Stick Myth—If a pregnant woman sees something ugly or horrible, she will have an ugly baby. How could this possibly be true? There’s no such thing as an ugly baby!”
Obviously the authors of this book have not been standing in the same lines at the grocery store that I have.
(2) It is really scary. I’m reasonably sure that I will bring enough panic into the delivery room already without in-depth knowledge about ruptured amniotic sacs, Fifth disease or toxoplasmosis (which, frankly, sounds more like something Godzilla would fight).
(3) This book was not written for me. Of its 356 pages of text, Pregnancy for Dummies devotes six pages to the subject of the father. It gives such detailed advice as, “Hold her hand [during the delivery]. Watch it, because she’ll squeeze hard!”
I think I need a little more detail than that.
In fact, by baby book standards, six pages is pretty generous. As I’ve sneaked looks at my wife’s manuals, I’ve noticed that the father is usually mentioned only in the context of finding a way to keep him out of the mother’s hair and is referred to as everything from “Him” to “That Bastard Who Got You Into This.”
Perhaps there is another book with a little more sympathy for my situation. As it turns out, there is:
My Boys Can Swim!, by Ian Davis, Prima, 1999, 112 pages.
The title of My Boys Can Swim! is in the same spirit as the line from an old episode of Seinfeld—“Swimmers, Jerry! I’ve got swimmers!”
This book (more of a booklet, really; I got through it in an hour or two) is not intended to give a prospective father any solid technical advice. It is intended more to ease you into the idea of fatherhood and to keep the whole concept of childbirth from freaking you out too badly. It uses humor to raise some of the bigger issues of pregnancy that, as men, we probably haven’t given much thought to—doctors’ visits, paternity leave, insurance glitches, grumpy wives, etc… Perhaps the biggest issue that Davis tackles is that as expectant dads, the men reading this book will make complete fools of themselves fairly often and spend most of their respective prenatal waiting periods with their feet jammed firmly in their mouths.
Almost everything in My Boys Can Swim! is written in a lighthearted, humorous tone. Although all the issues discussed are serious, very few of them are discussed too seriously. This would be a great gift for a woman to give a guy when she tells him that she is, as an old local term put it, “on the road to Boston.”
“But what,” you may ask, “if I really do want some detailed, nuts-and-bolts information about pregnancy from a man’s perspective?” Ah ha! There is a serious, guy’s book on the subject; it is…
The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, by Armikn A. Brot and Jennifer Ash, Abbeville Press, 2001, 271 pages.
The Expectant Father is a month-by-month breakdown of what a dad-to-be can expect. Each chapter begins with exactly that synopsis—“What’s Going On With Your Partner Physically,” “What’s Going On With Her Emotionally,” “What’s Going On With The Baby” and “What’s Going On With You.”
This book has all the information you will really need as an expectant father and doesn’t dwell on the scary stuff that you will find out eventually on a need-to-know basis, if it comes to that. This is probably the most practical manual for guys, but it does have two small drawbacks:
(1) It takes itself a little too seriously and gets a tad preachy about how unfair it is that fathers have traditionally been excluded from pregnancy. I suppose this is an occupational hazard when a writer is discussing the Miraculous Circle of Life, but it does get a little whiny sometimes.
(2) Once men actually find out what’s involved with their wives’ or girlfriends’ pregnancies, they discover that they weren’t too worked up about it in the first place. What they were really worried about was fatherhood itself. Is there a book that really tells it like it is and lets us know what it will be like to be the father of a very small and drooly person?
As it turns out, yes.
Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads, by Gary Greenberg, Jeannie Hayden, Simon & Schuster, 2004, 240 pages.
Be Prepared is the best baby book ever.
It doesn’t blow off serious topics with a lot of jokes, but somehow, it gives you all the vital information that you will need during your baby’s first year in a light, breezy, incredibly practical way. It is as if you’ve got a very cool buddy who has decided to let you in on his secrets to being a good dad to a baby.
The illustrations in Be Prepared are nothing short of brilliant. They seem to be drawn in a very 1950s, Goofus and Gallant type of way, but are at the same time very, very hip. My favorite is of a Rastafarian dad trying to get his baby to sleep, titled, “No Baby, No Cry.”
On top of everything else, the publishers of Be Prepared have a web site (www.beprepared.net) where you can download useful sound files, white noise that you can record to help your baby get to sleep or a baby on a crying jag that you can use to get your dog used to the whole idea.
This book is so incredibly useful that I am writing this largely from memory—my wife has taken my copy for herself and won’t give it back.
- John Fladd
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH