This week, Joel Warner gives us some insight as to what it's like to be a part-time stay-at-home dad and a full-time neurotic obessessive with fantasies of prehistoric predators eating his young. Read his feature about the baby products industry here.
Wednesday: Most of the time, my four-month-old son spreads joy and happiness. Sometimes he inspires people to attempt to conceive their own bundle of joy — right there on the sidewalk. It’s gross. But that wasn’t the case this morning, when I took him to a meeting of “Boot Camp for New Dads” at a local hospital. There, my baby spread terror.
As I carried in my son, the arms-crossed stoicism of the men sitting around the room splintered into panic. They were all fathers to be. “My God,” each of them was thinking. “Soon I will have one of those.”
I understood exactly how they were feeling. A few months ago, I was one of them. I had taken this class, one of the only new-father courses available. The new-parenting industry seems to me to be completely backward. There’s every type of educational opportunity available for future moms: Stacks and stacks of books on newborn care, month-long classes on breastfeeding and baby safety. Last I checked, most of this stuff already comes naturally to any mother with half a brain. Most dads to be, on the other hand, can’t differentiate between a baby and a chubby Chihuahua, but last time I checked there were two — count them, two — books for sale on fatherhood, one of which is a funny set of stories by Bill Cosby. If upcoming fathers are lucky, they may have access to a local “Boot Camp for New Dads” class like the one I found. The Boot Camp program is essentially the Harvard of daddy classes: it operates in 42 states, and is often called the best program around for getting men ready for the life-changing, all-encompassing bombshell that is the birth of their first child. The class I took was three hours.
Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting any revelations at the class I attended last spring. Imagine my surprise when I actually found a few. Eye-opener number one: Parenthood is a battle — over who asserts final familial authority. Mothers almost always win this melee, since they produce milk. But they also triumph because fathers are downright lazy. “You don’t mind changing sweet-pea’s diaper again, honey? Great. I’ll just sit here and drink beer.” “What? It’s 2 a.m. and she won’t fall asleep? Um, let me lie here for a bit and think about what to … zzz.”
This is wrong, said the Boot Camp instructor with a mixture of drill-sergeant resolve and inspirational-seminar perkiness — damn wrong. We can no longer wait until our children are 12 to bond with them over a fishing pole, he announced. By that time it’s too late. They’ll be mama’s boys and girls one and all, and you’ll be the strange hairy guy they’ll be singing “Cat’s in the Cradle” to at an open-mic night someday. We need to mold these children in our likeness, bend them to our will, said the instructor, and that brainwashing has to start when they’re little, innocent and pliable. Surprise your sweetheart by offering to change that stinky diaper and rock the kid to sleep. She’ll think she’s getting a break, but little will she know you’re planting the seeds of insurrection. Soon you will have a pint-sized Che Guevara in your hands, ready to rise up in revolution with you against the socio-economic inequalities of the supreme maternal dictator. Us dads-to-be heard the message loud and clear. It was time to take back fatherhood! We rose up as one and sang our victory song, ripping off our shirts and banging on rawhide drums. Actually, I made that last part up, but it was this close to happening. Seriously.
There was another revelation at the class, one less encouraging. You know all those stupid “Don’t shake the baby” billboards and commercials everyone’s always laughing about? Don’t laugh at them, said the instructor: THAT BABY SHAKER COULD BE YOU! He wasn’t accusing us of being psychos (I should know; I’ve been called one before). He was warning us about the very strange, very disturbing, brain chemistry soon to occur in all of our heads. Take one part post-traumatic stress disorder, three parts sleep deprivation and seven parts uncontrollably hysterical baby and even the most sensible person starts to go a little nutzo. Be prepared, he warned. Find ways to deal with your insanity other than treating your progeny like an Etch a Sketch that needs to be erased. I took his advice. When I found myself holding a screaming newborn in the middle of the night, I didn’t do anything that would inspire a “very special” TV movie of the week.
Which is why, when recently asked if my son and I would be guests at a “Boot Camp” class, I happily agreed. I wanted to inspire them like I was inspired. Rouse them like I was roused. But more importantly, I wanted to scare the living shit out of them. You see, one of the absolute greatest joys of fatherhood is terrifying all those who will come in your wake. I was ecstatic when, right after my son was born, one of my closest friends told me he, too, would soon be becoming a father. Not because we could bond over fatherhood or anything cheesy like that, but because I could begin sending him daily e-mails describing the intricacies of diaper changing. I think I have successfully sent him into catatonic shock. That’s what friends are for.
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SHOW ME HOW
It turns out my boy takes after his old man. At the beginning of class today, the instructor announced to the consternation of the students that, if all went as planned in my baby’s digestive system, some of them would be changing a poopie diaper. Not two minutes later, my son looked up at me with that conspiratorial grin of his that I knew meant only one thing.
“One’s ready in the oven,” I announced with a cackle.
Viva la revolucion, my little Che. Viva la revolucion. – Joel Warner