by Tobi Millrood

On the list of life’s superlatives, the greatest day in a man’s life is the day he becomes a father. Whatever was the scene of his life before, the portrait is forever changed the day a man becomes a father. Life will never, ever, be the same again. With so much anticipation, anxiety, and yes, even fear, how does one prepare for fatherhood? After all, becoming a parent is not like taking a driver’s test where one can study or practice. There is no handbook, and there is no prep course. But there are indeed ways to prepare for fatherhood. While there are fewer gender definitions in the modern family than generations before; it is the case that biologically and physiologically, there are simply some things that a mother can do that a father cannot do. And, for better or for worse, there are still societal norms that direct many of the roles of fatherhood.

The very best starting place for the expectant father is in the numerous books that can provide tremendous guidance and orientation to the father-to-be. Among the beneficial titles are The Expectant Father, What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding, Dad’s Pregnant Too, or Be Prepared. From scientific to practical to anecdotal to humorous, these books reduce anxiety and provide perspective on how the baby is growing inside the womb, how Mom is feeling and what her body is experiencing, the delivery experience and the initial child-rearing responsibilities like bottle-feeding, diaper-changing, swaddling, rocking, burping and more. So much of the initial fatherhood experience is wrestling between the excitement for a new child and the terror of not knowing what to do. These resources help reshape the balance more in favor of excitement.

The physical demands of fatherhood catch many first-time Dads off guard. Many new fathers believe that the overwhelming feelings of love and excitement will provide whatever necessary energy and physical attributes are required for raising a child. The truth is, becoming a Dad is mentally and physically taxing, so it’s important preparation to try to get in the best of health in anticipation of becoming a Dad. Sleep, of course, is no longer on a dependable rhythm or schedule. Mom will often need a break from feeding or nurturing the baby at night. If bottle-feeding is an option, Dad will need to be ready, willing and able to take the nightshifts. Having the energy to share in the responsibilities means a sound mind and body: cut out any smoking habit, eat better foods and have the body in the kind of shape that the new baby can depend on.

Preparing to be a father means that it’s time to really up the game on communication and teamwork. Being a Dad requires a lot of decisions to be made. And most of the time, they’re not decisions that Dad alone can make. Because the very nature of parenthood comes with doing what’s in the child’s best interest, there will be constant moments where just that decision has to be made: should baby go out for a walk in the cold? Should baby switch to formula bottles? Is daycare the right decision for the baby? Should we let the baby cry to sleep or go in and soothe? It’s one decision after another, and for that reason, preparing for fatherhood means getting on the same page with the other parent through good communication and a commitment to teamwork.

Part of being a good Dad is being an active Dad. There are so many logistics that come with raising a new child: installing a car seat, setting up new paperwork with the state, getting together the baby room, choosing the best baby strollers and carriers and jumpers and play seats and bottles and diapers and on and on. All of these things should not be left to the other parent. A good father will get engaged in these logistics. Beyond that, a good Dad will also get involved in the responsibilities of a new baby: changing diapers, reading to baby, giving baths, bottle feeding, and most importantly, caring for the other parent, too!

In the end, the biggest and most critical preparation for becoming a father is to peer into the future and decide the kind of Dad to be. Understanding that a father is a role model, a cheerleader, a teacher, a cook, a cleaner, a nurturer, a memory-maker, a mentor, an inspiration will guide the expectant father on the kind of person he wants to be. Bringing a child into this world is indeed a miracle—it is a gift that never stops giving. It is also true, though, that being a caring, communicative and involved Dad is a gift as well to your child. With preparation and the right mind and body set, you will be ready for a lifetime of joy as a father.