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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.

Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh...

I received the below note from a friend who just became a father:

“I gotta say I first really felt like a father when I was holding her after she was born...she looked up at me and something inside me turned on, that I'd never felt.”

Powerful stuff indeed… Interestingly, I had a similar experience when the nurse put my first son, Jamin, in my arms. I was just 20 years old and, admittedly, a bit scared. I was clearly more comfortable on a football field than in a delivery room, and more comfortable with a football in my arms than a baby.

But when they handed Jamin to me, something in me just…clicked…like a light switch. When he looked up at me I said to myself, “Wow…this is my son.” Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Fatherhood changes everything.

I also remember feeling that I was grossly unprepared for my new role, especially since I grew up without my dad. Sure, I had attended LaMaze classes and a few prenatal doctor visits, and read selected pages from my wife’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. But none of these things really spoke to me or seemed to be for me. And it seemed that my feeling and experience were not unique. In our Pop's Culture Survey, we found that nearly ½ of the fathers surveyed reported that they were not prepared to be fathers when they first became one.

That’s one of the reasons that when I joined NFI 8 years ago, I championed our efforts to develop resources like “Doctor Dad™,” “When Duct Tape Won’t Work™,” and “Daddy Packs for New Dads™” to equip dads right from the start. Unlike me, fathers need to walk into the delivery room with more than just a bit of anxiety and a checkbook and need to walk out of the delivery room with more than just the bill and the baby.

In any case, got a story about becoming a dad for the first time? I’d love to hear it. Also, if you are about to become a father and want to share about what is going on or if you’re a mom and want to tell about how becoming a dad affected the father of your children, chime in as well.

A time to advise

Washington Post's Tom Shales had a nice article on the forthcoming "16 and Pregnant" documentary from MTV. Tonight's opening show profiles Maci and Ryan from Chattanooga, TN. Ryan doesn't come across very well, post birth of his son:

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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