My wife and I recently invited a younger couple over for dinner. They were both in the mid-20s with a new baby. And yes, I am aware that I just wrote “younger couple” which makes me sounds incredibly old. I’m not all that old, mind you. I’m 37, but I have been married from 15 years, and I have three children ranging from 5 to 12. In that time, I have learned a few things.
That’s the funny part of being a father just a little further along. It’s hard not to look at a younger father, still figuring out his role, and not want to give advice. Sure, when I was in my early-20s with a new baby, I hated advice. In fact, I promised myself I’d never give advice. I turned down a lot of advice, and I almost never asked for advice. I assumed I had it handled, which was a stupid assumption considering I’m 12 years into being a father and I still don’t have it handled.
But now, looking back, I realize that I was told so many gems that could have made my life a lot easier if I’d only listened.
But this new father, he did something I never did. He looked across the table at me, and said, “You’ve been a dad for a while. Do you have any tips for me?”
I paused for a moment. Then I laughed, and assessed at the situation. I was done eating and my children were upstairs playing. My wife was almost done eating, and that new father, he was finishing off his second plate. But his wife, she’d been breastfeeding the baby. Her plate had hardly been touched, and it was getting cold. Moments before he asked for advice, I’d put my hands out and said, “Let me hold that little guy. I’ll bet you’d like a hot meal.”
The baby was in my arms, sleeping across my chest, as the new dad asked for advice.
“Here’s my first tip,” I said. “Ask your wife when she last ate a hot meal.” He did, and she said, “I can’t remember.”
“You might want to make sure your wife has hot meals,” I said. “That’s my first tip.”
She smiled, and his face got a little red. I told him not to be embarrassed. “I did the same thing,” I said. “A lot of new fathers do.”
Then I gave him three more tips. I told him that when he’s out to dinner with friends, make sure he takes the baby for half the time. “Just look around any restaurant and you will surely see a mother walking around, holding a fussy child. But how often do you see a dad doing that? Encourage your wife to interact with people outside the house. She probably needs it more than you.”
Then I told him to schedule night shifts with his child, so that he and his wife would get the same amount of sleep. “Split the night in half. And don’t use the fact that she’s breastfeeding as an excuse to stay in bed. Once that baby is done eating, you can get him back to sleep.”
And then I gave him the best tip I had in my arsenal. “Let her talk, and be sure to listen.” I told him not to give advice or to try to fix anything. “Just listen to her and affirm her. Being a new mom is really tough. Be the person she can talk to.”
Once I got done speaking, it got quiet at the table. I worried that I’d said too much. I wondered if he’d never come to my house again. But then he said something really insightful, something that made me feel a lot of hope for this young father.
“This sounds more like marriage advice than new father advice,” he said.
I smiled at him and said, “Being an attentive husband, the kind of man that pays attention to his wife’s needs, really is the gateway to becoming a wonderful father.”
He gave me a confused look, and I said, “Your wife is going to use everything she has, from her mind to her body to her soul, to love and nurture that child of yours. It’s one of the most wonderful things about a mother. If you want to be a good father, partner with her in that goal. Your marriage will be stronger, and you will feel more connected with your child. By focusing on the needs of the mother, you will become a better father.”
I shrugged. “It’s just that easy.”
I don’t know if he took all of my advice. I’m not sure if I offended him. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But what I can say is that by the time I was done giving him advice, he was holding his new baby as his wife ate her first warm meal in months.