When my wife and I found out earlier this year that we were expecting our first child in September, all the predictable feelings followed. Happiness and joy because we’d done it on our terms, waiting until we were ready rather than following some set of cultural guidelines, quickly followed by anxiety and worries of unpreparedness.
The anxiety is useful more than crippling, a response rooted in the staggering amount of work that needs to be done before the baby arrives. Both my wife and I felt we were ready to be parents in the important ways—our relationship is strong, we love where we live, we’d each settled into something vaguely resembling careers—but the day-to-day details of actually caring for a child felt overwhelming. Things like baby-proofing our apartment, planning a labor that made sense for us, putting a nursery together, and trying to imagine what those first few days and weeks with a baby would look like, with another life suddenly your full responsibility, was daunting to say the least.
So, we did what we always do when confronted with something new and unfamiliar: We read a ton of books. That’s my coping mechanism. Reading one book after another, for me, provides a necessary comfort. How much of the information I read sticks in my brain is up for debate, but the process itself is a way to calm the mind and focus on the future in a meaningful way.
But here’s the thing I discovered while checking out numerous books from the library and buying them at my local bookstore: Parenting books aimed at dads-to-be are astonishingly, shockingly inadequate. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of books out there that aim to prepare dads for what’s to come, but let me tell you, trying to find one with worthwhile information that reflects our current culture leaves you feeling like Indiana Jones looking for the Ark of the Covenant; you know it’s out there somewhere, but miles and miles of tangled jungle stand in the way.
The books I read covered a variety of topics. Books about what to expect in the first few weeks after the baby’s arrival, and about stages of development and ways to stimulate positive growth. As the cook in the house, I read numerous books about what to make for my wife during the various stages of pregnancy while also storing away recipes for healthy purées and snacks for the baby. In preparation for a home birth, I read books about natural births, coping mechanisms for pain and what to expect as the labor progressed. Books like Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery and Guide to Childbirth were integral to helping me feel prepared to be my wife’s birth partner.
When it comes to actually parenting, though, just about every book I read felt dated, as if it was crafted by a committee at the Mad Men offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Both older and more contemporary books contain advice and tips that are laughable in their reductive nature. Part of the problem is that much of the advice that has survived the years still relies on ideas of traditional gender roles. Reading these books, it’s clear the presumption is that there is a division of duties in any male-female relationship, one that creates a divide between work at an office and domestic duties at home. The number of books that I read that contained sage advice like “cook your wife a nice meal now and again while she’s pregnant” or “try helping out with household chores like vacuuming and the dishes” is staggering.
Just about every book I read felt dated, as if it was crafted by a committee at the Mad Men offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Surely this kind of dated advice should be eradicated by now. Many, though not all, studies show that housework is being shared more evenly than ever before—though a gender gap still persists—but what’s undeniably true is that most millennial couples have to work full time to afford even the basic necessities, which ideally leads to a more collaborative effort at home. Parenting books rooted in defined gender roles do little to help fathers-to-be.
And that’s the biggest issue here. It’s not that these books are vaguely insulting to men, presuming a level of incompetence you often only see in TV commercials, or that they still see the raising of a child to be largely the mother’s responsibility. It’s the fact that as more and more men start to raise their children as stay-at-home dads or simply more involved fathers (in my home country of Canada, the number of families with stay-at-home dads has risen from 1 in 70 to 1 in 10 in just 40 years). There should be reliable resources available that reflect their reality.
Right now though, the selection of books for expecting fathers is seriously lacking. We need more books with emotional nuance, that talk about the fears and anxieties specific to fathers, and that lay out ways for them to be a good parent and partner in a way that doesn’t patronize to them, and isn’t rooted in being the breadwinner.
Have you read any books on fatherhood that are written for a 2018 father? Please share with us below!