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Books on impending fatherhood I’ve hated, and recommend you ignore

Books about impending fatherhood are often rubbish.

Their basic premise seems to be that a functioning adult in our society shows his sophistication by not being emotionally moved by things. As a defence, if something might be emotionally moving, a man is to deflect with humor, possibly of the self-demeaning variety. Therefore if you are about to experience fatherhood, you may be in the odd situation of confronting something about which it is socially acceptable to feel emotions. To deal with this odd state, humor is your best defence, preferably humor which makes you seem like a bit of a fool.

The problem with this is that it is fundamentally about maintaining the pretense that you don’t care deeply about your child being born. This is not true. You are not authentically preparing yourself for the birth experience, or what follows after, if you think you need a series of gags to get through it. Book after book will use the phrase “Man up!” for humorous effect: “Do the laundry! Man up!” but none of them face the glaring truth that a book about moving into this new phase of your life, manning up, can’t be written from a pose of ironic detachment to the birth of your child. Ask your partner if she really wants you acting like an observational comedian in the birthing suite.  My bet is “no”.

The other key problem is that it in no way supports your partner. A lot of the books hide behind a pro-feminist line, saying that if you let her make all the parenting decisions you are giving her the power, and that shows how sensitive you are. Actually, it looks to me like you are giving her all the work. Researching childcare is tricky. Deciding how to rework your lives to add an extra person to them is hard. Sure, the decisions about the birth itself are hers alone, because it’s her body, but the way some of these books treat the bit that comes after that is just woeful.

There’s also this odd thing you find in book after book which implies or says straight out that men are basically like dogs and that women need to train them. Ask if she really wants to be the one who is training you to be a father. Again, my bet is “no”.  So far as I can see, that’s just men getting a free pass for laziness. Do you want a free pass to lounge around while your wife does all the parenting? I mean, really, in an utterly unironic way, I presume you signed up for this parenting thing deliberately. Why read books which tell you that you are genetically programmed to be terrible at it?

Being dad

The DVD is perhaps worth watching for the supporting material in which there’s an obstetrician being interviewed about the birth process. The other piece of supporting material, where an actor pretending to be a barman is interviewed about what a new father should drink (golds or lights, preferably by a particular company which I imagine sponsored the DVD) gives you an idea of the tone for the rest of the experience. I don’t need humor as a way of getting past the seriousness of fatherhood, thanks. If you don’t have a group of mates who you can go to the pub, get drunk with, and mourn the passing of the period where you get to act like an adolescent fool, and you wish you did, then this DVD is for you. Watch for the moment, during the delivery, when the presenter’s wife decides to kill him. The book is little better. It has more information, but holds even more strongly to the view that you are basically rubbish at facing up to being an adult, let alone a parent, and probably need to be trained like a dog.

Keeping the baby alive till your wife gets home: The tough new how to for 21 Century dads.

Seriously…set the bar higher. Saying that I’m incompetent and so I should let my wife do all the work isn’t actually funny the first time, and doesn’t become funnier with repetition.

DadLabs guide to fatherhood

Uses white-collar managerial jargon to try to cushion the blow of communicating new concepts. At some point actually does give information, and so is a little better than some of the others. At the same time, I believe most people are outside the demographic of a book which suggests men have an easier time if they think of their partners as Chief Mommy Officers.

Any of the small books filled with affirmations or quotes

We have heaps of these. Basically flip through a book and if the author hasn’t bothered to put more than a paragraph per page, assume it’s just going to stroke your ego, and find something else that is more useful. You can’t fit a useful guide to fatherhood on fridge magnets.

What to expect when you’re expecting

Not about fatherhood per se, but I just thought I’d also guide you away from this. Yes, yes, I know you’ll ignore me and read it. A librarian warning you not to take this out is like giving away free lollipops and telling you about the dangers of sugar. I’d just like to note, though that it’s a truly dreadful book which seems to take a fiendish glee in telling you the tens of thousands of things which might, on an asteroid hitting Earth and wiping out civilisation level of likelihood, happen to your fetus. The new edition does now have little “Sorry we freaked you out, let us reassure you by telling you why you don’t need to worry” sections, but frankly that makes it little better.

I know you are going to ignore me and read this. More power to you. Just make sure you get the newer, Australian-adapted version, and that you go in knowing it covers its bases pretty thoroughly when it comes to the terrible, terrible, terrible things you really shouldn’t worry about, because they are unlikely (but terrible).

The Library Service is having three months of activities dedicated to child development. Later on, I’ll give you my (and my wife’s) other list: books which you really should read, when you’re expecting.

Any other books on parenting you loathed?  Save some parent-to-be’s time: complain in the comments!