The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

First Time Parents

The inspiration for this story came about while watching “Late Night With Seth Meyers”. Seth was interviewing an actor who had recently become a first time Dad. Seth asked him if he had “taken all the classes” and they both laughed and agreed that, in retrospect, the classes were a waste. I took the classes too and I have to agree – they didn’t really provide much “practical” information. So I thought I’d share some of my life lessons here.

Childbirth – I’m sure you’ll hear stories both happy and horrid of the pains that will ensue once “the blessed event” arrives. Don’t be scared – it’s too late for that now. And the only measurement that matters is “10 centimeters” – that’s when the birth begins. For the guys, NEVER hold hands at the end of labor – you may never regain use of it again if you do. Hold her arm, shoulder, anything that cannot be crushed. For the ladies, NEVER push until you’re at that 10 cm. mark – if you push too soon you pretty much “reset the clock” and believe me, you don’t want that. And before you know it, your pride and joy will arrive, and that’s where the real work begins.

Our first pediatrician was “Dr. Gene” Swartz. Sadly he was killed in a house fire a few months after my daughter was born, but before he died, he gave me two gifts that were the most useful of my parenting career. The first was a “Daddy’s Survival Kit” – this consisted of a bottle, formula and a pacifier, with these words of wisdom – “Never be afraid of your baby, you can’t break her” and “Mom needs time off – without it you’ll ALL suffer”. The second gift is something only Dads (my experience) can follow. “Your baby will only cry for 4 reasons – 1) it’s hungry, 2) it’s dirty, 3) it’s hurt, 4) for no reason. If you’ve taken care of the first 3, you need to ignore the 4th”. Moms can handle the first three, but that fourth one “ignore the 4th” is usually beyond their maternal abilities, and you, as Dad, need to help her get past it.

The other pearl of wisdom came from a co-worker, Mo, who said “Change your baby often – don’t wait. And use plenty of powder – once diaper rash sets in you’ll never get rid of it”. And he was right – I slipped up once and spent literally months rubbing cream on my baby’s parts (and suffering feelings of compassion and neglect for it) until the rash eventually went away. But for me, the worst part of having a baby was when they got sick with a cold, and all you can do is suffer with them (and use the “snot sucker” liberally).

Aside from those, I’m sure you’ll be able to sift through the myriad of advice to find the true “pearls” that fit your experience. I recently read a list created by writer Susan Sontag (back in the 50s) that I think should/could still apply today, if you’re looking for some additional guidance ( you can tell it’s from the 50’s – there’s no “coddle your child and give in to every whim” rule):

1) Be Consistent.
2) Don’t speak about him to others (e.g. tell funny stories) in his presence.
3) Don’t praise him for something you wouldn’t always expect as good.
4) Don’t reprimand him harshly for something he’s been allowed to do.
5) Daily routine – eating, homework, bath, teeth, room, story, bed.
6) Don’t allow him to monopolize you when you’re with other people.
7) Always speak well of his pop ( no faces, sighs, impatience, etc.).
8) Do not discourage childish fantasies.
9) Make him aware that the grown-up world is none of his business.
10) Never assume that things I don”t like to do are things he won’t like to do.

My last words are this – consistency can’t be expressed enough, and be sure to have as much fun as possible. All too soon you’ll become “an embarrassment” to your child (every parent is) and the days of “wide-eyed wonder” will be past.