Hello, my name is Jason, and I was scared to be a dad. You know the scene. You’ve seen it a million times in movies, or more specifically, Lifetime movies. The pregnancy test sits on the counter. The couple waits for it to turn blue, reveal a blue + symbol, or see 2 thin pink stripes that will rock their world—something along those lines. And then, boom!
The blue + symbol fades in, and they rejoice. They may joke about being nervous about having a baby (ha!), but ultimately, they’re just thrilled for the precious moment they discovered their family of 2 would become a family of 3. Now picture one half of that couple in a state of pure bliss and the other half looking pale, bending over to attempt the retrieval of blood flow back into his brain—anything to avoid a possible concussion from headbutting the bathroom walls, and passing out. It’s precisely the image I have in mind when I look back to that “magical” moment we learned we were pregnant.
For the record, I dislike the “We are pregnant” catchphrase. It’s like if I replace the roof of the house, then my wife goes, “We put a new roof on the house.” Girl, you didn’t risk your life up there! It was all me. Anyway, that’s how I feel about pregnancy.
If this sounds like something you’ve experienced or just a mere projection of what you might experience soon, don’t worry. You are not alone. Let me see if I can help you.
Fear of fatherhood
Before I continue, I must tell you that I love my son more than anything else in the entire world. I want to issue this disclaimer because when I tell you what my feelings were at the time of his conception, I may seem like a callous and heartless narcissist. Granted, it might be slightly right, but even the most loving, caring parents can go through periods of complete and utterly selfish terror.
My wife and I tried to get her pregnant for 8 months. It took us a while. It got to a point where I assumed the universe was telling me I’d make a terrible father. Great! I wasn’t really into the idea of having kids anyway, so I didn’t want to try in the first place. In general, I was the one who was always less inclined to meet any of the “life milestones.” I didn’t want to have kids. Period. So this time, I had put my foot down. And then, after a few choice words, I picked my foot back up and we started giving it a shot.
Here we were, in the bathroom, staring at this plastic wand, collectively placing more emotional pressure on it than we had put on any inanimate object in our entire lives. The 2 minutes it took for it to turn positive felt way longer than the SATs I took back in high school.
My whole future flashed before my eyes. My acting career hadn’t yet reached a point where it would make sense for me to be the breadwinner. It wouldn’t sustain us, which meant that I would have to be a stay-at-home dad! Would I be able to take care of someone other than myself? Could I change a diaper? Multiple diapers? What if I dropped the kid? What if I let him or her try a sip of beer, and he or she becomes an alcoholic? What if I pass along my genetic inability to save money, and they end up homeless at 65 because they couldn’t plan for their retirement? Do I even know the words to The Itsy, Bitsy Spider?!?!?!
I was spiraling. And this was all just before I found out my wife was pregnant. The moment after, I stayed numb with fear and a fake smile plastered on my face. I felt so alien pretending to have a normal, happy human reaction to this bit of life-changing news. I obviously couldn’t pull it off. My wife asked me if I needed to lie down—a classic fear-of-becoming-a-dad syndrome.
How to deal with becoming a father
The test results are in; the strip turns blue or whatever it turns to. (At that moment, for me, the color of the strip is the absolute last thing I’d remember.) You’re now about to become a father. Once you pick yourself up from the floor, you will have a myriad of emotions all centered around “HOLY %$#%!”
You pull yourself together, for fear that you will anger your significant other, and come to terms with the situation. So begins the next phase of terror, the pregnancy itself.
Once I came to grips with the fact that the baby was on its way, whether I liked it or not, I had to figure out how to deal with becoming a father. I was able to pull myself up by the Baby Bjorn straps and dig right into the work at hand the best way I could.
The greatest medicine to quell the fears of a new father-to-be is what I like to call “jobs.” In between bouts of severe anxiety, I found moments of fun building a crib, painting some walls, and assembling the coolest stroller we could afford. I figured that I might go down as a terrible dad, but at least an outsider would be able to tell others that did it with flair.
You have 10 months to prepare. You can’t sit and stare at a wall contemplating joining the military. So, find things to do to occupy your time. Clean out the garage, dust off some old toys that your wife made you put in a box in the attic, build a swing set if you have to. It’s called “mesting,” the male version of nesting. Get on board. It will help you a great deal during this phase.
But don’t get too excited. As time goes, the fears don’t go away; they transform.
Dealing with (baby) bumps in the road
We had a new kind of scare. We found out that my wife tested positive for a genetic disease that, if I then were to test positive for the same illness, our kid would most likely be born with it and wouldn’t live past a year. So I had to get tested.
And here we were, waiting again, only this time for the phone to ring and the doctor to inform us whether we should proceed with the pregnancy. My fear pendulum suddenly swung from fear of having a kid to fear of NOT having a kid. This scenario was specific to us. But I’ve heard countless stories about issues that arise during pregnancy. Or even just a slew of potential problems that might arise during pregnancy. This is the next level of fear.
Thankfully I tested negative for the genetic malformity, and the pregnancy was back to full health. But I learned something in that moment of terror. You don’t raise a kid in 2 minutes. In that defining moment before in the bathroom, I had seen my kid’s entire life and got overwhelmed by all the decisions I’d have to make. I would be responsible for all the trials, tribulations, and the sheer number of diapers I’d have to change. It all landed on my brain in one quick montage.
But when the possibility of something actually going wrong before I even had a chance to act on it as a father happened, I realized that this whole process, the pregnancy, the birth, teaching my kid to ride a bike, was going to have to be taken one moment at a time. Baby steps.
As odd as it sounds, this one bad moment led me to step back, take a breath, and see that I needed to slow down. I had to put aside my fear of fatherhood and focus. First, I got my wife comfortable and gave her everything she needed. Then we got the baby out safely, and then we could worry about who changed the first diaper. Baby steps.
Will I be a good father?
The answer is no. Not inherently anyway. No one is born a good father. People might think they are, but they have no idea. If you’re scared to be a dad, fine. You should be. It’s scary. Sit in that fear and feel it. Then take a deep breath and trust the process. But don’t worry, nature has done some prep work for you.
There are theories of the baby resembling the dad more than the mom. It’s an in-built neonatal defense mechanism against the putative father’s instinct to run away, especially when the dad is not likely the biological dad. For animals, I believe the theory leans towards the idea that this resemblance keeps the father from eating his offspring. So, nature knows that you, as a dad-to-be, are instinctively inclined to be a “bad father.” It’s your job to look at nature in the eye and say, “No. I’m going to be amazing. Watch me.”
First-time father advice that works
I guess what I’m trying to say is chill out. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will the life of your child. Take the steps that nature gives you one at a time. Address each issue as it comes. And when the moment comes, you’ll be ready. And guess what? You’ll most likely be scared still. It shows that you care. If you care, then that means you want to succeed. And that’s half the battle.
I think it was Socrates that once said, “The road to a thousand ways of being a great dad begins with the first step, which is getting your wife a blanket and then settling in next to her to watch whatever she wants to watch on Tv.” Truer words were never spoken. I know that fresh, newly minted dads-to-be will go into full panic mode, like me. It’s normal. It’s a stereotype for a reason.
But, here’s some first-time fatherly advice: If you slow down during the pregnancy and take everything in, one little moment at a time when it’s time to meet your child for the first time, you will forget everything else. For a moment anyway, and you’ll see that your baby doesn’t care about the 401K retirement plan just yet. She only cares that she has a warm, dry place to drink her milk. And as a dad, if you focus on that, everything else will fall into place. There’ll be more fears to come, but it’s in moments of terror that you’ll find the magic.
And, just for the record, I changed the first diaper.