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The Father Factor:
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Gift of God: A Father's Reflection on the Birth of a Child

This is a post from Michael Yudt, NFI's Director of Program Support Services.

My third son, Nathanael Wayne, was born on February 18th at 8:25am. When my wife (Kelly) and I went to bed on Friday, February 17th, I was thinking we would awake the next morning just like we do on a typical Saturday. However, this was no typical Saturday.

Apparently, Kelly tried to wake me up a couple times at night to let me know she was having contractions. I have no recollection of that whatsoever… I eventually woke up around 4am and had this feeling that I was not going back to sleep. I noticed that I was alone in bed and figured that Kelly must have made her way to the couch, which is typical for her during the last trimester (she finds the couch to be more comfortable).

With my mind racing about a number of things, I made my way close to where I thought Kelly was sleeping to find her wide awake and having contractions. It became clear pretty quickly that this was the “real deal.” As a father and husband, I knew my job at that point was to “spring into action” (a favorite phrase of my near-4-year-old son, Caleb)

Our youngest son at the time (Joshua, nearly 2) is an early riser and this day was no exception. He was awake shortly after 5am and with the excitement of the day we knew he was up for good. When Kelly’s parents arrived at our house, we finished getting everything together, said our goodbyes, and headed for the hospital. Before leaving, I told our oldest son, Caleb, “Today is the day the baby is going to be born.” He responded with a sense of great joy in his voice: “That’s right, today is the day!” Excitement was welling up inside of me knowing that this was the day we would hold our newborn baby.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I knew that Kelly was disappointed when we were taken to the triage room, instead of the labor and delivery room. It’s rather funny, but the unspoken truth at the time was we both were hoping for an even faster labor than the rather quick one we had with Joshua (4 hours). With Kelly looking at the clock, I knew she wanted the baby to be born before 8:30am and she got her wish. Arriving at 8:25am, Nathanael Wayne was 8 lbs 7 oz and 20 ½ inches long. However, that’s not what defined him at that moment. When Nathanael first appeared, my wife and I shared his name with the medical staff that were present. Kristin, one of the nurses, didn’t miss a beat in sharing her knowledge of the name when she remarked that Nathanael means “gift of God.” Indeed, that’s exactly what he is and will always be!

As fathers, our job is to cherish each of our children as a precious gift. And that doesn’t end after the emotional high of the child’s birth. That is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week role that lasts a lifetime. I wonder how our world would be different if we had more fathers that viewed and treated each of their children as a gift from God. Nathanael, just like my other sons, was a gift the day he was born, is a gift the day I am writing this, the day you are reading this, and he will always be a gift - each and every day of his life. My encouragement and challenge to all fathers is to look at each of your children regardless of how old they are (yes, even adult children) with the same sparkle that you did the day they were born. After all, every child needs and wants unconditional love from their father. And that is a gift that we can give our children that is truly priceless…

What's in the bag for Dad?

When It's Over But It's Not

People Magazine recently reported that the on again/off again engagement of Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston is…well, off again. Bristol asserted firmly in the article that “it’s over.” Apparently, the news that Johnston may have gotten another woman pregnant was the last straw. She said, “Levi was just like, ‘Bristol, there is a possibility that I could be a father of this other baby.’” Through tears she told the People magazine reporter, “The fantasy I had of us three being a family was a game to him. He’s never going to change.” Frankly, I am a bit surprised that Bristol is surprised. He posed nude for Playgirl for goodness sake…

I remember when I first saw Johnston on stage at the Republican National Convention. He looked extremely uncomfortable in his suit, a bit like a little boy someone dressed up for Easter Sunday. Looked to me like he couldn’t wait for the “service” to be over so that he could go and slide in the “mud” in his new suit. When you’re Levi’s age, this is usually a co-ed activity.

Now, I was a bit sympathetic to his plight. I even wrote this article in my Washington Times column to help folks get a better understanding of what I think is going on in a teen father’s head. You see, I have a some experience in this area. When I was about Levi’s age, I got my girlfriend pregnant. But, I married her because I knew instinctively that fatherhood means the death of boyhood. Indeed, the difference between boyhood and manhood is the ability to say “no” to the wrong things and “yes” to the right ones. I have a feeling that Levi has yet to learn this lesson.

And that’s the problem. By the time he does get “schooled” on the fact that his actions have consequences, chances are that Bristol will have built a nearly insurmountable wall of resentment that could make it very difficult for him to see his son. Moreover, his son too may have years of hurt and anger built up because his dad valued “reality TV” more than the reality that he needed to be an involved, responsible and committed father.

Alas, despite Bristol’s firm declaration to the contrary, when you’re a father, it’s never “over.” I have taken more than enough calls from fathers in his situation to know that this is just the beginning. And there is no fantasy about that.

Don't Fumble the Baby...

Last week, I had an opportunity to speak at a briefing hosted by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL). The purpose of the briefing was to present these findings of the Commission on Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes, a project of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. A key aspect of the commission is to determine ways to reduce infant mortality, which is surprisingly high in the US.

As a member of the commission, I had an opportunity to share a pretty personal perspective on how, as a very new dad, I first learned just how important fathers are to the health and well-being of infants. A reporter wrote this story about my remarks. Are you ready for some football?

Mother's Day - Take 2

There was a lot of pressure on Vinny and I to make mommy's first Mother's Day memorable. I knew that getting a Hallmark card and some flowers would not be enough. The "thought" only counts for so much...

So, we (notice how I am attributing rational thought to a 4-month-old) decided to make mom a homemade card and other hand-crafted items instead.

So, I headed over to Michael's to pick up the materials the Friday before Mother's Day. I wanted to make a cast of Vinny's footprint or hand print, so I bought the kit to do so. I also wanted to make a card with his hand and footprint on it, so I bought construction paper and finger paints (nontoxic, of course; do they sell toxic finger paints?).

The next step, of course, was to go retrieve Vinny at day care so we could make the gift together in the one place where mom would not be around - my office.

When we got to my office, I was ready to create. Vinny was asleep. Had I fully read the instructions on the footprint-making kit, I would have known that it was best to leave the child asleep while making his footprint. Instead I woke him up, and upon inserting his foot into the plaster gel, he began kicking, squirming, and crying. I tried to do the same with his hand. In seconds, he had space-age gel between all of his fingers.

I knew I had to act fast. The gel was hardening. My co-workers (Renae, Jason, Mike, Amy, and Natalie) were doing their best to help, but it was too late. The gel hardened and the project was lost.

Good thing I had a Plan B. The finger paints. I decided to use red, because it stands out on light-colored construction paper. It also stands out on clothing. Mine and the baby's. All of my co-workers had deserted me at this point, except Renae, who must like crying babies trying to make handmade Mother's Day gifts.

Nevertheless, after much more kicking, squirming, and crying (mine and the baby's), we were able to get two decent footprints and two decent hand prints onto the paper.

I was sweating by the time it was over. After many paper towels, we were able to get all of the paint and gel off Vinny's hands and feet. There would be no trace elements left for mom to ask about when we got home -- "Why does the baby have red paint on his feet? And why are your pants covered in that same red paint?"

Alas, mom did not suspect a thing. Baby was clean, and I had changed my clothes by the time she got home. Whew...

So, on Mother's Day, when mom opened her card, the hard work paid off. She loved it. Vinny and I did a telepathic high five. To prove that I did not make any of this up, here is photographic evidence of happy mom and baby, with handmade Mother's Day card. If you stare at the picture long enough, Vinny will give you a telepathic high five, too.

There is a Reason for the Gaping Hole in My Trousers

Ah, the joys of fatherhood!

This morning, as I was dropping my little guy off at day care, I bent over to pick up his diaper bag and heard a thunderous roar come from behind. No, it wasn't that. It was the sound of my pants splitting.

So, there I was, in a room full of infants, toddlers, and women, with a six inch tear right down the buttocks of my nice pants. Fortunately, I was wearing a jacket, so I could conceal the "important stuff," but it was still embarrassing.

It was 8:20, I have to be at work at 8:30, and home is 25 minutes away. Doesn't take a math genius to figure out that I would be late to work. And I had someone coming in for an interview at 9.

So, I finished handing the baby off to the kind day care people (who were shielding their eyes), and headed home to change my pants.

If this happened to me a year ago, I probably would have been a lot more flustered and upset by the situation. But the fact that I ripped my pants open for a noble cause - getting my son safely in the hands of his caretakers - made it seem not so bad.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that having a child does indeed change everything. It made an impatient guy who hates being late not care about being late.

Tomorrow, I plan to have my shirt burst open while I lift my child out of his car seat.

Lessons from a New Dad

As followers of this blog know, on January 15, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. He got my name (Vincent), and my wife’s good looks.

I really did not know exactly what to expect when I became a dad. I picked up a lot of great skills beforehand, but the experience itself has been my best teacher.

So, now that he is 10 weeks old, I thought I would pass on the most important principles I have picked up on this first leg of the fatherhood journey. Since my son is a “chip off the old block,” here are my CHIPS for being a new dad.

Compassion. For the first several weeks of fatherhood, both mom and baby are in relatively frail states. They need your compassion. Mom likely has just gone through the most painful experience of her life (my wife did natural childbirth), and the baby has just been plucked from the warmth and comfort of the womb to face a bright, cold world. Be as compassionate as possible for them both.

Humor. Without a sense of humor, you will not survive. When you are awoken for the third time in the middle of the same night, you can either laugh or cry. I suggest laughing. You’ll live longer.

Imagination. Just about everything you do as a new dad is going to be something you have never done before. There really isn’t a non-baby-related analog to changing a diaper. Maybe if you are Greek and have wrapped ground beef in grape leaves, you will have some idea of what is ahead. Otherwise, you are going to have to use your imagination at all turns in order to figure out things like applying diaper ointment, bathing a squirming, slippery infant, and other new daddy tasks.

Patience. With a newborn, patience really is a virtue – perhaps the highest virtue. You will make mistakes. You will get frustrated. You will long for the days when the baby will respond to you, talk to you, and read with you. But be patient. This time of the baby’s life is just as important, and you are just as important during this time, too.

Serving. You will spend much of your time as a new dad serving others (hint: the mom and the baby). Don’t view this as something you are above. In fact, being a servant is an integral part of being a leader (look it up). Embrace your role as someone who can be relied on to help mom and baby, and the rewards will come back to you in spades.

The Great "Milestone Marathon"

If there is one thing I have learned about babies in my first two months as a father is that they change --- fast! Since I am out of the house at work for about 10 hours every day, the changes in my now two-month-old son, Vinny, appear to be taking place at a supernatural rate. Even my wife, who spends all day every day with him, can't believe how fast he is changing.

Right now, the categories of change are in "physical size" and "level of interaction and alertness."

As for physical size, the little tyke came home from the hospital on January 17 weighing 5 lbs. 9 ounces. He has nearly doubled his weight in less than two months. Yep - he weighs about 11 pounds now. I will hold him for a few minutes in the morning before I leave for work, and then when I get home 10 hours later and lift him, I nearly dislocate my rotator cuff due to the "surprise" extra pound the kid put on during the day. What is my wife feeding him?


As for his level of interaction and alertness, he is making similar leaps and bounds. It seems overnight he went from staring blankly into space (or the nearest light bulb) to intense, sustained eye contact that would make a wolf blush. And when he is not sleeping or eating, he wants to be entertained. If you are not in his face (a la Earl Weaver arguing with an umpire) talking and singing and making weird noises, he will cry (or scream) to get your attention. He now smiles, and makes cooing sounds and other new faces that only a few days ago would have been the result of gas. Now they are "real." The pressure is on - I have to force myself to be entertaining whenever the little guy needs it!

Well, before I know it, I will be coming home to him playing cards in the basement with his buddies.

All that said, he still is a tiny baby who mostly eats, sleeps, and messes up diapers, but with each passing day, he makes noticeable strides towards college graduation. It is time to open up that 529 plan....

Getting into a routine ... sort of...

Well, when he hit about 4 weeks old, the Little Guy got his first cold. It probably made mom and I more upset than it is making him. They say babies will have colds for 10 to 14 days. We are on day 11 and it looks like it is almost done.

Our baby's cold taught us a good lesson about parenthood - expect the unexpected. We did not expect him to catch a cold, but he did, and it has interfered with the routine we thought we were starting to get into. Eat, fuss, calm down, sleep, wake up, change diaper, repeat. The cold lengthened the amount of fussing time and caused the sleeping time to become more erratic.

Now that the cold is coming to an end, the baby will return to his routine... or not! I have learned to be prepared for anything.

One change that is certainly welcome is that his "calm down" time before he falls asleep is getting longer and longer and he is more alert during it. My wife and I are using more toys, books, movement, and talking to stimulate that little brain of his while he is awake and paying attention (a little bit).

Maybe the bigger lesson here is that you will create routines for the baby, but they will only last a few days until you have to create a new one. But they are routines nonetheless and, darn it, we are sticking to them!

If anyone remembers the "routines" they had when they were raising a newborn, please share!

Paternity Leave is Over...

My two weeks of paternity leave are over, so here I am back at the office. As any new dad knows, it is hard to leave the family on that first day. I know my wife still needs a lot of help, and I know I am going to miss the little guy a lot during the day. But I also know that there are bills to be paid, and part of my responsibility as a father is helping to pay those bills - so I am grateful that I have a great job to come back to!

Now begins the "work-family balance" phase of my fatherhood journey. Already in my first day back I have made a few decisions differently than I would have before the baby came - I turned down an opportunity to attend an event on Saturday, and I scheduled an afternoon meeting a little earlier so I can get home on time tomorrow.

Once my wife goes back to work in March/April, then the real work-family balance challenges will start. But it is good to have this warm up period where I can adjust my perspective.

I will close by talking about the two activities that I have found to be most satisfying at this very early stage of the baby's life:

- Reading to him. Sure he can't understand a word I am saying, but the sound of my voice relaxes him after he eats, and he seems to fall asleep faster while listening to my dulcet tones as I read epic fantasy novels aloud. They say it helps his brain develop its "language part" by hearing the rhythm and tone of the language being spoken, so I am all for that!

- Helping him fall asleep. He has started to enjoy lying on my chest to fall asleep. I guess the rhythm of my breathing and the sound of my heartbeat is relaxing. Once he falls asleep, it is fun to turn him over and see how the side of his face is all scrunched up from being pressed against my t-shirt. Very cute.

In closing, here is a moment that my wife captured on camera when the boy and I fell asleep together - like father, like son!

A+ Health Reports!

In my continuing "new dad" series, I thought I would touch on one of the "firsts" that new parents experience - the first visit to the pediatrician.

I am happy to report that Vinny is getting perfect health reports. We are going to an amazing pediatrician that we knew through church, and he and his staff have used the word "perfect" several times to describe our little boy. I never want to take his health for granted, so I will take this opportunity to say how grateful we are that our little guy is healthy. It has been one less thing we have had to worry about in our new, very busy lives.

A sign of Vinny's good health - he gained over a pound in 9 days! He is now 8 ounces above his birth weight and he is only 12 days old. The goal was to get to birth weight after 14 days. Little Vinny is quickly becoming Big Vinny. Although I got on the scale today at the doc's office and noticed that I am about 15 pounds heavier than I was about a year ago .... uh oh. I guess I am Bigger Vinny :)

Now that Little Vinny is starting to become more alert between feedings - rather than just sleeping all the time - my next post will be about how we are interacting with him and the activity that I have found, as a new dad, to be especially fun for me and, I think, the little guy.

He's Here!

Vincent Andres DiCaro was born at 4:41 a.m. on Friday, January 15, 2010. He weighed in at 6 pounds, 3 ounces and 19.5 inches long. He is amazing, wonderful, beautiful!

My wife was in labor for 25 hours and was unable to receive an epidural. She was so incredible, and fought bravely through the pain to bring our Little Guy into the "outer world."

There is so much I can write, so instead of trying to say everything about everything, I will summarize the "highlights":
  • Vincent is named after me. His middle name, Andres, is his grandfather's middle name (my wife's father) and his uncle's first name (my wife's brother).
  • No words can do justice in describing the moment when he first came out. It was easily one of the most awesome moments of my life, perhaps only behind the moment I saw my wife begin to walk down the aisle on our wedding day.
  • We have learned so much during these first 4 days of his life. As much as there is to know, we just have to remind ourselves that babies are built to survive. If we fretted over every bit of knowledge, we would drive ourselves crazy.
  • Vincent had his first full appointment with the pediatrician today. The doc and the two docs who visited him in the hospital have all said the same thing - he is perfect. What can I say - my wife and I have good genes (Italian and Bolivian - what a combo!).
  • Mom is recovering well. Still some pain and discomfort and some challenges around breastfeeding (I will post more about that later this week). But overall, she is doing great.
  • Both sets of grandparents have been extremely helpful, and they are happy and proud to say the least. I think we have made our parents very happy - or at least Vinny has :)
  • It has been so much easier than I expected to introduce my dog to the baby. He is an Irish Setter, which are notoriously loving and friendly dogs, but he has behaved so well. He is curious about the baby, sniffing in his general direction, but he is not getting excited or forcing the issue. Usually he just lies down near the three of us and relaxes. Good dog!
That is all for now. I will continue to post updates as our first two weeks unfold! So without further ado, here's Vinny!

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