As a new dad, I welcomed every opportunity to prove my manhood.
Got an extra smelly diaper, kid? I'll change it. Fast. Gonna wake up at 3 a.m. for a feeding, my boy? You sleep, Mommy. I got this. Feel like crying and crying and crying tonight, son? Let Daddy hold you. I've got patience for days.
But my supposed Super Daddy skills were tested when my wife went back to work full-time.
Suddenly, Daddy was left home alone with a 7-month-old until I went to work in the mid-afternoon. It was the most exhilarating, frightening experience of my life. Forget playing golf, working out, or parking on the couch. My time was no longer my own.
My wife would walk into the bedroom around 7 a.m. and place our son on the bed next to me. The sight of his cherubic face thrilled me. But boy, I could have gone for another 30 hours of sleep.
I was on the clock, charged with keeping baby alive and kicking while I daydreamed of soft pillows and down comforters.
Many of my male friends and acquaintances are playing mommy on a daily or semi-regular basis. I tell them it's the best opportunity they'll have to bond with their child.
Here's what I learned:
1. Establish a routine. It gives you a script and gives baby structure. From eating to activities, play time to story time, you and baby will take comfort knowing what is coming next.
2. Plan ahead. Organization and preparation are key. Make sure the bottles and dishes are washed the night before and that there's plenty of formula or food. Make a list of the things you need for the day and check to make sure everything is ready ahead of time.
3. Tire baby out. Engaging baby's senses with a brisk walk full of sights, smells, and sounds seems to energize them immediately. The lasting effect is to tire them out and make them ready for a solid nap. Same for dad.
4. Keep your cool. If baby isn't cooperating — he/she won't eat, can't get comfortable, or is resisting a nap — use a technique that works for you to maintain your composure. Whether it's a deep breath, counting to ten or walking out of the room for a few minutes, a brief respite should calm you and baby down.
5. Enjoy the moments. For new dads, there are so many doubts. Can we handle this kid without the requisite mothering instincts? Will we be able to understand his cries and soothe him? Will we be a walking zombie at work? Yes, yes, and yes. But we will survive whatever our child throws at us.
6. Live your life. In the beginning it feels more comfortable to stay in the house, surrounded by toys, diapers, and everything you might need. But by venturing out, you feel a sense of accomplishment and expose baby to new surroundings. Plus, it makes the day go by more quickly.
I wouldn't trade the experience with my son for any amount of sleep or extra time at the gym or in front of the television. It's hard to quantify but I believe my son and I grew closer each day. This was daddy's time and I look forward to each moment.