From dude to dad: journey into fatherhood
The journey from dude to dad is a difficult transition for many men. Without a rite of passage or elders to guide us, we’re making it up as we go along.
Women are blessed.
Yes, you read that right. But, before you get your knickers in a twist I’d better explain myself.
Women go through a 9-month warmup to motherhood culminating in the ultimate rite of passage: childbirth. Childbirth is a game changer in so many ways and, while I was there every step of the way during my son’s birth, and, you could say we were in it together if you were going to be delusionally generous, I did not do the deed.
Ringside on fight night
My role was akin to the skinny guy with the sweat towel and bottle of water in a heavyweight boxer’s corner. Between rounds of contractions she’d stagger back to the corner and I’d be fiercely mopping a dripping brow, struggling to stay perched above turbulently rolling eyes.
I was generally encouraging and upbeat without offering any actual advice, like a newly qualified counselor. But I do have two pieces of advice to partners on the night of the fight:
1) Don't give any advice under any circumstances whatsoever.
2) Don’t pay any attention to what she says.
Forgive and forget with a graceful smile any curses or insults or misrepresentations of your good character or suitability to walk upright on this good earth on hind legs.
Remember that you are not the one tasked with gently escorting an inebriated kickboxer from the premises after insulting their mother in an unfair drinking match.
Instead, you are Sideshow Bob to Krusty the Clown and you are not getting your own show. Ever.
Dishwashing and dadding
The long months ahead, stretching into years, will enable you to hone your skills in dishwashing, laundry, housework, cooking and food shopping. You will become a master of the 80/20 rule, delivering 80% productivity in 20% of the time. You’ll marvel at how little you did with the almost endless amount of time you had before being a father. But leave the laundry and dishes for a minute and join me on a trip down memory lane. Remember the dude?
The dude knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it. He worked hard and he could play hard. His interests took him on fun adventures with his friends in exotic locations around the world. He was also not afraid to explore the world on his own.
The dude engaged in challenging yet satisfying work that tested his skills and he overcame enough obstacles to be realistically confident in his ability as a leader. He was experienced in many different environments and relationships. The dude had principles yet he wasn’t rigid. The dude had a confident, yet easy-going vibe. He was a man with time on his side and money in his pocket.
But the dude also longed for something deeper. He had moments where he felt there was more to life than how he was living. He was searching for a bigger challenge and he longed to commit himself. He knew he didn't belong at the center of the universe on his own. He wanted to serve and protect.
In stark contrast to the dude, the dad starts out his career with no career counselor or clear job description, and only a rough idea of what is needed. He faces another challenge: what is needed is constantly changing. The dad learns humility and patience at baby bootcamp, being hosed by bodily fluids from both ends. The dad learns the art of dynamic problem solving on sleep deprivation. The dad staggers through the snow pushing the stroller in the darkness at 4am listening to Tim Ferriss and The Joe Rogan Experience podcasts.
The dad goes to work. The dad comes home. He cooks, cleans, washes, wipes, encourages, carries, reasons, plans, dances and plays. The dad dreams of sex and holidays. He wonders why no-one told him it would be this hard… but then he realises that no-one would have children if they knew… really knew. The dad remembers that this too shall pass… and it does, almost too quickly.
The dad is also randomly subjected to advice from anyone who ever thought of having a child on what is best for their child. The dad wrestles with balancing family life with the needs and demands of society to create a useful member: future worker, stable, compliant and happy citizen. Personally, I doubt that’s possible!
The dad is expected to possess endless amounts of patience, humility, flexibility, acceptance, forgiveness and courage in the face of endless obstacles while maintaining a good sense of humor and a certain spring in his step, while practicing random periods of enforced celibacy.
Hang on a minute!
If you made it this far, then you may need to lie down. I’m feeling quite tired myself. Which reminds me that the dad is also a ninja at napping!
But seriously, the demands of early-stage parenting mean that you’re going to be more dad than dude for a while. The trick is not to get stuck in dad land becoming a toothless, compliant servant to both mother and baby. The dude is also needed, and it’s the dude that will save your marriage/relationship because there’s a difference between what is needed and what is desired.
What is needed of the dad may even be appreciated but the magic that the dude possesses brings a little danger and tension, and a little tension goes a long way in stirring the fires of desire and attraction.
Integrating dude and dad
In fact, it’s your job to look after the dude. The dude is resourceful and can get things done in a way that the dad can’t. What this means is that there's a level of healthy conflict needed in a relationship for it to survive early-stage parenting. The truth is that while you may deserve respect, you’re unlikely to get it unless you demand it. The dude knows this.
Disclaimer: just to be clear, I neglected the dude and avoided conflict in my last marriage. Even though I doubt this would have changed the end result, which was divorce. But I wouldn’t have lost so much self-respect in the process. Self-respect that was hard-won as I rebuilt myself and my life post-divorce.
Here’s another shocker that will likely cause a few female pulses to skip a beat. Your partner is almost entirely dependent on you during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first year of your child’s life. That’s 18 months (or more if there are complications) of total dependency in a modern day society that's obsessed with equality and independence. This causes big issues for many of today’s modern women who often express a demand to reclaim their “independence” after having a baby.
Overcoming 3 powerful myths
The truth is that there's no such thing as equality or independence. Fairness is also a pipe dream that we all cling to. But, before you get all riled up on your hind legs, I’m not for a second saying we should encourage inequality, dependence and unfairness.
Quite the opposite: we should promote the good qualities of equality, independence and fairness. But know that they are ideals which can trap us into having expectations that just can’t be met in real life.
It’s also hard to see clearly when you’re in a difficult situation and it’s often with hindsight that we can see what was going on for us. In times like these I always refer back to the serenity prayer. And journaling daily is another essential tool.
As you enter fatherhood, you’re going to have to work out (mostly on your own) how to support your partner, child and sustain your romantic relationship while also keeping an eye out for the dude. The dad is needed but the best chances of success lie in making sure that you integrate both the dude and the dad. It’s going to be one hell of a ride, but I know you can do it!