Crossing the fatherhood Rubicon

A good father is a present one

Fathers can create the feeling of belonging and a culture of love.
Fathers can create the feeling of belonging and a culture of love.
Image: 123RF

Change is never easy, especially for expectant fathers.

Hesitation to become fathers can sometimes overcome men, especially when they are reminded of the image that fatherhood has in society: Awol.

It is during this major milestone in the life of a man that he needs the support and encouragement of those closest to him.

Becoming a father

Psychology professor at the University of Witwatersrand and author of Becoming Man, Malose Langa, says that fatherhood has many different faces and begins as early as adolescence.

“Becoming a father is stressful for all men – particularly for a teenage father. If the pregnancy was unplanned, it can become quite stressful and affect them psychologically,” he said.

Anxieties, emotional difficulties and lifestyle adjustments can cast a shadow on the feelings of euphoria and excitement that come with fatherhood.

“Expectant fathers often question themselves on whether they are financially and emotionally ready to have a child. Nevertheless, this stressful period can also become an opportunity for them to grow,” he said.

Malose Langa
Malose Langa
Image: Supplied

Langa advises men who are finding it difficult to adjust to being new fathers to remember that they are not the first people to experience it and that help is available.

“Becoming a father is anxiety provoking and sometimes plays into their fathers being emotionally unavailable for them. This can affect how they father their child.

“Signs to look out for are isolation from friends and family, abnormal dependency on alcohol and cigarettes, aggression and lack of concentration,” he said.

Embracing your place in the preparations

Expectant fathers often need to make drastic lifestyle changes to make room for the new baby. For new dads, preparing for the arrival of the child begins even before the delivery room.

“As soon as they know their partner is pregnant they will need to arrange transport to and from the facility for the duration of the pregnancy, not only when their partner is going into labour,” advised midwife nurse Luthando Madlolo.

During the pregnancy, expectant fathers should look out for the wellbeing and the safety of their unborn baby and partner by becoming knowledgeable with the changes that take place with baby and mom as the pregnancy advances.

“They should be on the lookout for unhealthy cravings like soil, ice and charcoal and promote a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise. Be mindful of the advancement in the trimesters of your partner,” he said.

Apart from having reliable transportation, Madlolo says expectant fathers should plan for their paternity leave well ahead of time and familiarise themselves with the antenatal care of the baby.

Luthando Madlolo.
Luthando Madlolo.
Image: Supplied

“The father can learn to prepare the feed for the baby, clean and sterilise the bottle and the bathing of the child,” he said.

“Antenatal care is equally as essential for new dads as it equips him with how to detect early danger signs and the changes to look out for in the baby which will inform them on whether to seek the attention of a health practitioner.

“Once the baby has arrived, new dads are encouraged to practice laying the baby on their bare chest to promote strong lasting bonds. By doing this, it increases the father’s confidence to better care for the baby.” 

For dads who are unsure of what to pack in their partner’s and baby's overnight bag, Madlolo says it is best to keep it simple and practical.

“Fathers should pack maternity pads and underwear and toiletries. For the babies he should pack nappies, at least two blankets and newborn hat to keep the baby warm.” 

The gift of being present

With the arrival of the new baby, expectant fathers may become apprehensive as they may believe that they will lose themselves in fatherhood.

Langa says this does not have to be the case and encourages fathers to embrace a different kind of independence.

“Things will be different but it is not impossible. It will require that men plan their time very well. However, they should accept that some things will need to change to accommodate the new baby.”  

Regarding the social constructs of what makes a good father, Langa believes the adage that a good father is a present one.

“A man can be a good father who provides materially and is also present at home. They should seize the opportunity for quality time through bonding activities such as offering to bath the child twice a week.”   

Madlolo advises expectant fathers to remember that there is no book for parenting and that it is a journey of exploration.

“Show interest in their activities and assist with the child's vocabulary by reading books to them at a young age. Include the mother of your child in all activities that centre on the child as that will create the feeling of belonging and a culture of love.”

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