From lad to dad in just nine months

Mon, Feb 7, 2005, 00:00

Books for first-times fathers imply that men have never given a second thought to babies, and their lives will be over when Junior arrives. Dad-to-be Shane Hegarty looks for inspiration.

For men like me, facing parenthood for the first time, there are plenty of books. Most, though, are written by women and assume that the man is an appendage to the process, there to pick up things around the house and be yelled at in the delivery suite. Recently, however, there has been a glut of books by men, for men. Their angle: the man is an appendage to the process, there to pick up things around the house and be yelled at in the delivery suite - but here's how to do it well.

They have such titles as From Lad to Dad and The Bloke's Guide to Pregnancy, based very much on the idea that fatherhood drags men from a happy life of watching football in the pub and drops them into an alien land called Responsibility (following a stopover at Maturity). They are written in mates-down-the-pub language. If women's books can be earthy, men's tend to veer toward the crude. How does Stephen Giles, author of From Lad to Dad, react to the prospect of being a father? "I'm shitting myself," he admits. Telling people the good news, though, was "a piece of piss". He mentions his genitals a lot. He recommends reading basic pregnancy books because, if nothing else, they are full of pictures of naked women.

While books for pregnant women are very much manuals for a changing body, men don't have to deal as much with the medical stuff, so the books go down the personal route. It means that they are a mix of helpful information and man/child angst.

Perhaps books for men used to be so rare because it was believed that they didn't really get involved with their offspring between conception and somewhere around the teenage years. Now books are written by and for New Men, but based on the assumption that their readers have been enjoying the advantages of being Old Man for a while.

One thing comes across immediately: the men really hadn't thought about babies before. That was the woman's job. So, each book takes a standard route: She's pregnant. Oh God! I've to change my lifestyle. Oh God! She's in labour. Oh God! I'm a father. Oh God!

It's nine months of constant surprise.Overall, men are advised to tippy-toe through the term, nodding where appropriate. A supportive man is one who accepts that he will never fully understand his partner's experience, who gets used to his new role as domestic slave and who doesn't complain about her unavoidable flatulence. What else, though, can a pregnant man learn about impending fatherhood from these books?

The pregnancy

Learning that your partner is pregnant is the scariest thing that can happen to a man. Ever. It is so scary for men because (cue apocalyptic music) it means having to "grow up". In Fatherhood: The Truth, Marcus Berkmann is somewhat more forthright than is necessary. "Coming to terms with impending fatherhood has much in common with the process of bereavement," he writes, melodramatically. "First you feel anger (it's not mine, you bitch), then denial (whose is it then, you bitch?), then despair (oh f--k, oh f--k, my life is over), then bargaining (well, you never know it might not be too bad), then finally acceptance (will you marry me?)."

There are quite long sections on money, most pithily summed up by The Bloke's Guide to Pregnancy through the title of a section: "Me, hunter-gatherer". Men lie awake worrying about supporting the family, although each book is quite broad-minded about the idea of becoming a house-husband. Sure, you'll get some funny looks, but if you want to go for it, then why not? The coffee mornings are good.

Men wish to avoid being like their dads, and they fear the worst. "Will I be able to restrain myself from imposing my views on the poor kid?" wonders From Lad to Dad. "Will I make them support my team and follow my uncertain footsteps or will I force the little soul to become a lawyer or a doctor, or something else "worthwhile"? Will I be a pushy dad or a laid-back dad? Will I be like my own dad or the complete opposite?"

The Bloke's Guide says that most men want a boy, and that the idea of having a girl is intimidating to fathers. Girls get pregnant as teenagers, boys score winning goals in FA Cup finals. It's a straightforward choice. But when asked what they want, a man should reply, like a mantra, that he "really doesn't mind either way".

The partner

Women have hormones. The exact detail of these hormones is not important; their unpredictable effects are all that matter. These books reflect the general bafflement with which men greet women's mood swings. It is, as The Bloke's Guide calls it, "pregnancy venom" and it gives men a temporary partner in place of the woman they used to know. It can be cute though, as women suddenly cry at the slightest thing such as a bad movie, baby clothes or "a two-for-one deal in Iceland".

Each book advises that the reader does not get angered by these emotional swings, especially given that a man cannot blame his hormones. Some of the tips seem quite straightforward. "Don't tell her that her bum is getting bigger," for instance, is sound advice. Some of it, though, seems oddly suicidal.

The Bloke's Guide suggests that if her transformation from object of lust to mother puts you off sex, then just explain this to her. Great advice, as long as you have prepared the spare room in advance.

The bedroom

In many of the women's books, sex is dealt with in a no-nonsense way. In Dr Miriam Stoppard's Pregnancy and Birth Book, for instance, pencil sketches of hippies in sexual congress are included without the slightest snigger. In the men's pregnancy books, though, a lot of the information is laced with a bit of Hugh Grant-esque awkwardness and embarrassed talk about "bits".

The Bloke's Guide is actually very honest and open on this topic, but it makes sure to soften it up with a bit of lad-speak about being a "shag monster" and the opportunities that are presented when the pregnant woman gets a visit from "the Breast Fairy".

Its section about the possibility of sexual frustration arrives with the sensitive euphemism, 'Pamela and Her Five Sisters'.

Oddly, it also feels the need to warn readers that even if there is a lack of action at home it is not wise to have a drunken fling with another woman. There are men who need this advice? Good luck to their partners.

The labour

The man's job is to bring a camera, have enough change for the parking meter, make sure the birth plan is adhered to, and be shouted at without ever shouting back. And by the way, the birth is messy. Very messy. When mother and child are in hospital recovering, then this is the last chance for some time that a man will have to get very drunk. He should take it.

The baby

Fatherhood: The Truth covers both pregnancy and the early months of being a dad. Finally, after nine months of feeling slightly disconnected and ineffectual, the man can look forward to . . . well, several more months of feeling slightly disconnected and ineffectual. A new father can also expect, like the author, to be "Competitive Dad": "If you told me that you had an ugly baby, I would probably say that mine was uglier."

There are plenty of books on actually being a dad, although too many are American ones written like corporate self-improvement books. The One-Minute Dad, for example, is from the people behind The One-Minute Manager and applies business techniques to being a parent. Sounds like fun.

Another American book, Come On Dad: 75 Things for Fathers and Sons to Do Together, is for fathers who want to either a) bond with their son or b) exclude their daughters. It is filled with advice that is both practical and pushy. For instance, why not set up a lemonade stand with your son? ("He'll learn the rudiments of setting up a business and earn a few dollars as well.")

It also suggests ways to make each activity harder: "Explain that in real business, the key to success is selling the product for more than it cost to acquire and produce."

To be honest, I'll wait until I actually have the child before I start attracting the attention of the anti-child labour laws, but thanks for all the advice.

  • The Bloke's Guide To Pregnancy, by Jon Smith, Hay House, €12.95

  • From Lad to Dad: How to Survive as a Pregnant Father, by Stephen Giles, White Ladder Press, £7.99

  • Fatherhood: The Truth, by Marcus Berkmann, Vermilion, €15.80

  • Come on Dad: 75 Things for Fathers and Sons to Do Together, by Ed Avis, Lobster Press, €8.85