Have you heard a new father say: “There’s really nothing for me to do while he’s a baby. My wife pretty much takes care of everything. I’ll get more involved when he’s older”? I’ve heard it quite a few times.
It’s not true. Your baby needs you now. Not just in a few years when the baby stuff is over. Now.
I’ll grant one point: you can’t breastfeed. Fair enough. But you can do everything else.
I’m sure there is all kinds of sciency research to show that babies need daddies. But I just think about it this way. Take the extreme case of a dad who is hardly involved at all with his baby. Then on that baby’s third birthday, bam, bring it on, he’s ready to go. Why should that kid believe anything he says? Where did he come from? Why should that three year old trust him?
An involved father spends all those years of infancy and early childhood building a relationship with his child. Building trust. Building a profoundly deep bond of love and affection.
“But kids don’t remember anything from the first two or three years of life anyway.” It is true most of us don’t have any explicit memories of that time. But does that mean it doesn’t matter what happens to us during that time? Of course it matters. In ways we’ll never remember, in those years we are profoundly formed.
In those years of diapers, swaddling, feeding, holding, consoling, your baby looks up and sees Mom’s face and your face. Being cared for becomes associated with you.
Every little thing you do for your baby is like a deposit in a bank. You are investing in their trust. Before you know it, you’ve saved up a nice little chunk. That is the seed money of a life-long investment.
When dads say they’ll be hands off until the man work begins — maybe what they’re really saying is, “I don’t want to do the unpleasant stuff.” Because of course they do want to experience the cute stuff — the cooing, the toothless smiles, the first “Dada.”
So be there for your baby. Jump in to the unpleasant stuff. Sacrifice your time and energy. By doing this you will ensure your smiling, loving face is branded deep within their being, underneath all the memories that will come later.
Not to mention your wife will appreciate it!
By the time your baby reaches that age of being able to do classic father-and-child stuff, they will have already formed deep, palpable associations. The association of your face, your smile, your smell, your touch — You — with being safe, cared for, provided for, loved.