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The Best Dads Are Fathers Even Before the Baby Arrives

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

One of the things that always baffled me about the pregnancy process was the almost-complete absence of guys around the obstetrician’s office during all of the pre-natal visits. I understand that it is not the dad that carries the baby, but given the fact that it takes two to get the pregnancy ball rolling, I expected to see a couple more would-be fathers leafing through old Better Homes and Gardens with me.

Now, the folks at the University of Maryland tell us that the pre-natal period is an absolutely critical time in turning men into fathers, according to a look at more than 1,600 couples, most of them unmarried. How involved you, as an expectant father, are with the mom-to-be has a huge impact on how engaged you’ll be 3 years down the line. This is in contrast to getting married, which doesn’t seem to have much effect on father involvement. As the paper’s author, Natasha Cabrera put it, “It's the personal investment in the child's and the mother's future that counts the most, not the paperwork.”

The link between pre-natal support and good fatherhood is the kind of thing that seems obvious when you look at it with a certain degree of academic detachment, but the way this all goes down in reality is very different.

While moms are bombarded with doctor’s visits, showered with copies of the horror-inducing What to Expect books, encouraged to track their pregnancy with any of a dozen online tools and generally told that the pregnancy itself is the single most important period in their lives, dads are generally left to a supporting role (if they have a role at all). A couple of LaMaze classes is pretty much all that’s expected; if you make it to an appointment or two, you’re ahead of the curve.

In one of my first posts over at On Balance, I suggested that the world would be a better place if more of an effort was made to catch guys at the moment they became fathers, and I threw my support behind better in-hospital efforts and the American Academic of Pediatrics’ push to get dads into the pediatrician’s office. But apparently, I was intervening too late in the process. We need to be nabbing guys almost from the moment of conception. That’s easier said than done, and I’d love your perspective: When did you (or your significant other) really become a dad? At birth? Sometime earlier? Sometime later?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  December 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Comments


"The Best Dads Are Fathers Even Before the Baby Arrives"


Really? What about adoptive dads? Stepdads? Foster dads(The Nativity)?Biodads are always the best? Biomoms are always the best?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 7:14 AM | Report abuse

"I expected to see a couple more would-be fathers leafing through old Better Homes and Gardens with me."

Perhaps the fathers were saving their leave for after the baby's arrival or other purposes.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Have you ever really been pregnant? Most of those visits consist of the doctor answering questions, BP check, baby heartbeat and measuring your belly. 10 mins, tops. I don't think the husband needs to be there for that any more than he comes to my annual physical. My husband came for the ultra sound and whenever there was cause for concern but other than that, I was good on my own. As far as the pediatrician is concerned, he comes to the children's annual well visits but other visits are my domain. Don't think it indicates a lack of involvement as much as a division of labor. You don't need two adults fawning over a 7 year old with strep throat. Good dads come in many shapes and sizes as do good moms.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 18, 2008 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Most of those visits consist of the doctor answering questions, BP check, baby heartbeat and measuring your belly. 10 mins, tops. I don't think the husband needs to be there for that any more than he comes to my annual physical.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 18, 2008 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Brian is the father of twin girls, so there may have been "issues" for his wife that you didn't face with your pregnancies. Otherwise, I agree that the father need not be present for "routine" doctor visits. And either parent is enough for "routine" pediatrician, dental, etc. visits.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Ditto Moxie. With our first, my husband came to every early appointment with me, partly because I was usually so nauseated I couldn't drive myself, and party because after two miscarriages, we both wanted the reassurance of hearing the heart still beating and that she was growing and looking fine. But by about the 5th month, we would both have been done with the process if we could have -- sit, wait, weigh, measure, BP, temp, heartbeat, done. Hugely anticlimactic. So he came to the big ones -- ultrasounds, amnio, etc. -- but I told him he didn't have to come to the others.

Posted by: laura33 | December 18, 2008 7:59 AM | Report abuse

My husband certainly does not have a schedule that would have allowed for him to come to all of my pre-natal appointments. He did show his interest by taking care of me, asking questions and talking to my belly. I think it is that feeling of connection that makes the difference, not sitting in the OB's office, or even the pediatrician's, for hours.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | December 18, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Apple, this is orange. Orange, meet apple. Got it? Thanks.

'Cos that's what a lot of this discussion is. To quote the first para of the UM Press Release:

"The best chance of "reeling-in" an unmarried father and building the foundations for a stable family life are the critical months of pregnancy, says new research from the University of Maryland. Marriage itself is no guarantee, the study adds."

So, UM studied the situation where:
1 - Dick knocks up Jane;
2 - Either:
a. Dick and Jane have a shotgun wedding but Dick remains mostly uninvolved
b. Dick and Jane don't marry, but Dick gets very involved during the pregnancy

and then asked the question "in which scenario, 2a or 2b, is Dick more likely to be heavily involved with the resulting child?"

And the answer, not surprising in my opinion, is 2b.

They did NOT study the more "traditional" situation where Dick and Jane have been married for some time prior to the pregnancy occurring, and drawing conclusions about that "traditional" situation from this study is statistically invalid.

(foamgnome - did I get that wrong?)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

FWIW, with our first I went to almost every OB appointment with DW. With later kids, I went to most of them, because DW didn't like to drive that far by herself. (She wanted to stick with the same OB even though we had moved farther away.) Bring a book, Brian, don't get stuck with the mags in the doctor's office. :-)

As far as pediatrician visits, it was whoever's schedule best permitted it. Mostly that was DW when they were newborns, because she took a lot of time off with each child, but I went when I could or when we were concerned that it was something serious.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 8:17 AM | Report abuse

I'm with the majority here -- most prenatal appointments are brief and uneventful. I'd rather have my DH saving up his time off for when the baby actually arrives. His involvement matters so much more when he can actually hold his daughter and care for her.

Posted by: newsahm | December 18, 2008 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I agree dad should be more involved (if their schedules permit, which is not always the case).
But, I disagree with your implication that leaving them out / relegating them to a supporting role is somehow a deliberate attempt to exclude. First of all, for pregnancy, the dads ARE a supporting role. No way around that. But, more important, if they want a more active role (coming to the dr. visits, etc.) then they should just do so! It was a given that my DH would come with me b/c he was interested in asking questions, seeing ultrasounds, hearing about my progress as we got closer to the due date. He didn't wait to be asked and nor should he have to be asked. It is his child! And he is a great, loving, very involved dad.

Posted by: liledjen4901 | December 18, 2008 8:43 AM | Report abuse

There's other things that pre-natal dads can get involved with other than doctor visits. For instance, since the pussy came bundled with the marriage commitment, I began cleaning the cat box as soon as I found out Ms Weasel was due to pop one out.

Chalk me up for a gold star for just doing that!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | December 18, 2008 8:54 AM | Report abuse

I have horrible first trimesters where I bleed pretty much the whole time and have many ultrasounds. My husband is along for all of those now, especially since he didn't come to my very first OB appt, which was terrible. All I expected was to pee in a cup, not get a bad news ultrasound. What I don't make him do is spend 3 hours a pop in the hospital as I wait for my million RhoGam shots. He also doesn't have to come to the BP, urine, 5 minutes with the OB checks. If he wants to, he can, but until recently it was an enormous pain for him to get time off work. Now that he works for himself, he has a lot more free time, but I'd rather he stay home and get some sheet rocking done! (Yes, back to sheet rocking and the extreme usefulness of the minivan).

Posted by: atb2 | December 18, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Geez, Brian, go to the appointments if you want, I personally don't see how this would make you a better dad though. Maybe you just want more attention? Want a push present too?

Posted by: jjtwo | December 18, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

In French-speaking Europe, an alternative to traditional birth preparation, called Haptonomy, prioritizes the development of an affective relationship between the father and the baby in the womb. Find out more about our experiences at my blog: http://www.rightmothering.com/2008/12/05/31/.

Posted by: rightmothering | December 18, 2008 9:36 AM | Report abuse

how do fathers typically react when they are told during the ultrasound that there is a girl on the way? My husband just shut down. Looked numb. It made me furious and I suppose that is unfair, but it seemed like after the technician said "labia" he just wasn't interested. I suppose I should blame myself for having the expectation that he would express happiness rather than shock. Very quiet car ride home.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 18, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

capitolhillmom- I haven't found out the gender with either of mine at the ultrasound, so I have no experience with it, but this is a stunningly common reaction on the birth boards I've been to. It really raises my hackles, as it seems so insulting to my daughter. My husband is truly OK with daughters, and I prefer them, but it still hurts me to hear that other people don't value females.

Here's an interesting article on gender preference. http://www.in-gender.com/XYU/Gender-Preference/

Posted by: atb2 | December 18, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

My wife and I recently had a little girl. During the pregnancy I went to a couple doctors appointments but because my wife said nothing really happened I skipped most of her appointments. I was very active in other ways though. I read all the books and used all the online tools. Since there is very little information for specifically for fathers I tried to find for my wife information that she couldn't or didn't have time to get to. I think that helped me feel like more of a part of the process

Posted by: Solnoir | December 18, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

how do fathers typically react when they are told during the ultrasound that there is a girl on the way? My husband just shut down. Looked numb. It made me furious and I suppose that is unfair, but it seemed like after the technician said "labia" he just wasn't interested. I suppose I should blame myself for having the expectation that he would express happiness rather than shock. Very quiet car ride home.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 18, 2008 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Why should you blame yourself because your husband is a putz?

Posted by: dennis5 | December 18, 2008 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel - I think the article was neutral with regards to non-biological parents. With regards to adoptive dads, that's a VERY involving process. Not too much to worry about there. Step parenting can be difficult, especially if your son is His Son.

Mind you, I suspect that involvement in the pregnancy is more of a leading indicator. Men who want to be involved fathers get involved early, including during the pregnancy. You've got it. Or you don't.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 18, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

atb - tell him to get over it.

Since going back four generations on both DW's side and mine the oldest child is ALWAYS a girl, when I found out the first one was a girl it just confirmed my expectations. No disappointment there.

Since I wanted one son and one daughter, when I found out the second was a boy I was thrilled. Yes, I *might* have had some temporary disappointment to find out it was a girl, but I'd have gotten over it. (The opposite would have applied had the first been a boy - I'd have really, really wanted the second to be a girl.)

After that, it didn't much matter to me.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"Jezebel - I think the article was neutral with regards to non-biological parents."

The article wasn't "neutral" with regards to non-biological parents.

"Non-biological parents" were OUT OF SCOPE of the study. They simply weren't addressed.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse

"Non-biological parents" were OUT OF SCOPE of the study. They simply weren't addressed.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 10:09 AM | Report abuse


The title of today's blog is:

The Best Dads Are Fathers Even Before the Baby Arrives

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Step parenting can be difficult, especially if your son is His Son.

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 18, 2008 10:04 AM | Report abuse

But what an "in" with the Big Guy!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Yet another simpleton who can't differentiate between correlation and causation.

If a man goes to every silly OB appointment with future mommy, he obviously is going to be the type of person who is going to spend a lot of time with the kids.

But that doesn't mean cajoling a man into an OB's office is going to make him more generous with his time after the baby is born. All that does is eat into his vacation time.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | December 18, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I should follow up that my husband and daughter are now very close and loving. So a father's first reaction is not at all an indication of how things will be down the road! He could have certainly been a more supportive partner during my pregnancy but he has been just as involved in parenting her as I am. But future daddies, please consider how you will respond to news of gender and consider what will not piss off your partner. Thanks!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 18, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

AB- It wasn't my husband! He's perfect and wonderful in every way. In fact, he's on his way to sainthood.

Posted by: atb2 | December 18, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like Brian had a really crappy/ineffective father and isn't quite sure if he can be a good father - that modeling thingy.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

atb - whoops, sorry! Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

captiolhillmom - tell him to get over it! Whoops, sounds like he already has.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Telling people to "grow up" or "get over it"? Does that really work? Or do the people who get nagged become more skilled at hiding their emotions to avoid the nagging?

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 18, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

"For instance, since the pussy came bundled with the marriage commitment,"

I should hope it did.

Posted by: anonfornow | December 18, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

I'd rather my husband save up his leave for after the baby than spend 30 minutes traveling each way and waiting in the doctor's office for my monthly 5 minute "Everything ok?" OB appointments.

Posted by: MPAmom | December 18, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

My second pregnancy was twins, and my husband came with me to many of my ultrasounds (there were a ton of them) in case I should find out something was wrong. He almost never came with me to the regular OB visits, though. Why should he take off work to watch me pee in a cup and have my blood pressure taken? We knew he was going to need to save his leave for after the babies were born.

Oh, our first was a girl, and he was very excited when we found out. I don't think that being disappointed with a girl is universal at all. I know my SIL's first was a girl and her husband was very excited about that as well. With my second pregnancy, we didn't find out we were having twins until the 20week u/s, and my husband just about passed out in the dr's office.

Posted by: floof | December 18, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

My husband came to every pre-natal appointment. At some point I mentioned him not "having" to come b/c they were getting very frequent towards the end. It was so insulting to him! I felt bad. Now, he even will take our son to the pediatrician on his own and is very good!

Posted by: CTJM | December 18, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

DH quit his job and moved 2k-miles-plus when we found out we were pregnant with older son. That WAS NOT the plan before the surprise pregnancy. He was supposed to stay employed and sell our rental property first, and *then* follow me to CA.

But our plan had always been that he would be the SAHP, and next month will mark 17 years of him fulfilling that role. And who's more involved with their children than the parent who is with them all day, every day?

Posted by: SueMc | December 18, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

capitolhillmom- I haven't found out the gender with either of mine at the ultrasound, so I have no experience with it, but this is a stunningly common reaction on the birth boards I've been to. "It really raises my hackles, as it seems so insulting to my daughter. My husband is truly OK with daughters, and I prefer them, but it still hurts me to hear that other people don't value females. "

What a load of crap. You pillor men who want boys and then in the same breath, say YOU prefer girls. That's ok though right? What a hypocrite.

Posted by: pwaa | December 18, 2008 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I haven't had time to read all these comments today but I am surprised at all these anti girl comments. I thought most Americans wanted a boy and a girl.

My husband really wanted our first child to be a girl. I actually wanted both to be girls but now that I have my son, I think he is really terrific.

Of course for Asians, boys always trump girls. There is a saying there are only two purposes for females. 1) bare sons 2) go to college. In that order! :)

I have to say I am surprised by some of these comments.

As far as today's results, I don't think the study is proving that going to ob visits will cause a father to be more involved. I think more involved men probably are interested in the early days. My husband was trying to save his leave because he had not been working long at his job when I got pregnant.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 18, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I do prefer girls, but I wouldn't be disappointed in having a boy, and I certainly wouldn't pout about it or refuse any involvement.

Posted by: atb2 | December 18, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"all these anti girl comments" ??? foamgnome, what are you reading?

The only two comments I've seen that can be remotely construed as "anti-girl" are:
- captiolhillmom's comment that her husband was disappointed to find they were having a girl
- pwaa calling atb a hypocrite for preferring girls while criticizing men who prefer boys (although that could easily be construed as "anti-hypocrite" vice anti-girl)

atb claims that (presumably men) not wanting girls is a common sentiment on birthing boards on which she participates, but there's been no evidence of that today (and in fact the link atb provides is pretty neutral on the topic)

Anti-girl? Nope, haven't seen that on this blog today.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | December 18, 2008 3:54 PM | Report abuse

AB: I was talking about capitalhill and atb claim. I don't know why you don't think it is anti girl when you hear fathers are disappointed when they hear they are having a daughter.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 18, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure my husband was actually disappointed. He just had zero reaction to the news. And I interpreted that to be disappointment. My choice to make that interpretation, but his lack of evident inthusiasim hust my feelings. which means it is less likely that I'll have another kid with him unless I have some indication of what his looking numb was about. Still too soon to talk about this. Isn't it odd how the most dramatic, memorable moments in life actually involve the absence of something? the silent car ride was crackling with drama but I'm sure looked very boring to an outsider.

I always thought parents would be all "Yippee! I've always wanted to have a ____! It can teach how to ___ . . . we can go to ___."

As a new mom, I suppose I should manage my expectations and I suppose no one can read my mind, but I think daddies-to-be should be super considerate of how their action (or lack of actions) are going to impact the mommy-to-be who are hopped up on crazy hormones. Just a little advice I wanted to put out there.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | December 18, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I think it's kind of natural for parents to want a child of their own gender -- it doesn't mean they don't value the other, just that they want someone who's like them.

Back when we were very, very naive, DH and I assumed we'd have a girl and a boy, preferably in that order. We were thrilled when the ultrasound revealed our first child to be a girl. If I'm being totally honest, I'll admit we were both a tiny bit disappointed at first when we learned this baby is also a girl, because it means we'll never have a son. But still, we know we're insanely fortunate to be able to have this baby at all, and we're now both very excited to welcome another little girl.

Posted by: newsahm | December 18, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse

DH really wanted a girl both times, and I was completely neutral about gender both times. We have two boys, and we both think they're the greatest kids in the whole world. Of course, we could be a little bit biased. ;)

Posted by: SueMc | December 18, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm a throwback when it comes to finding out the gender also...I refused to find out with both our kids at the ultrasound, much to my husband's chagrin the second time. Both kids are girls, and that doesn't stop my husband from loving them to death. Of course, they're not dating yet....

When our first daughter was born, he stated that any guy who wanted to go out with her had to survive four obstacles: a) land mines in the front lawn, b) German Shepherd at the front door, c) 9mm loaded with hollow-point bullets in the house, and d) mousetrap down her pants. Any of those get tripped, GAAACCCK! *mimes slitting throat* After our second daughter was born, we added my husband sitting on the front porch in a rocker with a shotgun in his lap!

I must admit there was a bit of fretting on his part about being "the last of his family name," but the way he cuddles and plays with his daughters tells me he doesn't love them any less because of their gender. They've got him wrapped around their fingers, and we're loving every minute of it.

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | December 19, 2008 9:13 PM | Report abuse

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