Grandma’s home cooking and my best dad so far
It was my first job in Los Angeles — in a homey house in Brentwood, so much larger than the tiny New York apartments I was used to — and my 21st baby. Grandma flew in from New Jersey to help the first-time parents, but she kept a respectful distance while they learned the complex dance of newborn life. Note: If you’re staying with a new family for only a short time, be like this Grandma and cook up a storm. (Her lentils were my favorite.) When you have a new baby, you forget to cook — and to eat!
I took a short Las Vegas vacation. The parents were excited to practice caring for their daughter on their own. On my last day away, I checked in with Grandma.
“They were great.” She hesitated. “But I don’t think they’re on speaking terms.”
I loved this couple, and I remember the father as my best dad, because of his commitment to spending time with his newborn baby. It’s hard for dads, who go back to work so much sooner and often come home tired, to put in the hours needed to bond with a new baby. As this dad proved, it’s entirely possible.
He woke early, attended a spin class (this couple got me into SoulCycle), and returned home to dress for work at an investment management firm. He’d stop by the nursery at 7:30 am, just when his baby girl was waking, to hold her. In the evenings, he’d call me on his way home from work, asking, could I delay the baby massage? (The parents took it in turns.) If he hit heavy traffic, I couldn’t compromise the baby’s bedtime schedule. But he’d be there for bath time, rolling up his sleeves and kneeling on the bathroom floor in his office clothes. This dad threw himself into fatherhood, and it was beautiful to see.
Be gentle and sympathetic, but always tell the truth
Early that morning, as dad held the baby, I asked how they’d fared. He explained that he felt like his wife didn’t trust anyone else (this is a really common feeling for new moms). He tried to help by changing change a diaper, but the baby was crying and his wife was barking instructions and it just became too much. He forgot a crucial step — a Viva paper towel placed over the genitals. The paper towel is a diaper-changing must, so I’m not surprised he got peed on. With a mess on his hands, his wife took over.
“I feel like giving up,” said My Best Dad.
“You have to be patient,” I told him. “Your wife’s still recovering. She’s hormonal and emotional.” (But about the Viva paper towel, she had a point.)
“Yes, but then again—”
He was all nerves because they’d soon be on their own, the two of them caring for this fragile, startling creature whose cries were earthquakes.
One day the earth really did shake. I found myself holding a baby in the doorway of the pink-and-gray themed nursery while a 4.4 quake rattled the pictures on the wall. Now I tell my parents in L.A. to be sure paintings in the nursery are securely fixed.
This dad threw himself into fatherhood, and it was beautiful to see.
Later, I spoke with mom.
“He was trying to help,” I said. “You have to give him a chance.”
“Yes, but then again—”
Talk to the baby instead of hectoring Dad, I urged her. Assure your crying daughter that daddy’s learning, we’re all learning, and shush to calm the baby’s cries. What she didn’t realize was she was trying to give dad advice at the precise moment he couldn’t hear it.
He was all nerves, because they’d soon be on their own, the two of them caring for this fragile, startling creature whose cries were earthquakes.
My new mom had a realization of her own: she and dad wanted the same thing — to care for their daughter. Why were they fighting when they were on the same team?
Couples work through knots and thorns in their relationship after baby arrives. It’s normal — maybe even necessary. As they make their way through the nettle forest of exhaustion and anxiety, they might get a few scratches. They’ll also learn to parent as a team.
Why were they fighting when they were on the same team?
I remember Father 21 as my “best dad” so far. Why? Because he didn’t give up, even when he felt his wife was pushing him away. My new mother also learned to be patient with him — I think she knew what a gem she had. Grandma helped by feeding us all so lovingly, and in their home, I learned to love the show Shark Tank. A third party treads delicately in the context of a new parental relationship — there’s no room for judgment in the hectic fourth trimester, only kindness and understanding.
Advice for the new parents in your life
What do you say to a young couple, when an argument boils over?
Tell them it’s normal. Tell them, Be patient with each other, and don’t give up. Parenting is a high-wire act best performed together.
As the world changes, I hope to see more dads as involved in newborn life as this one. Because moms are often home all day in the early weeks, they spend more hours with their babies. The result is that they become an expert, at least in dad’s eyes, and if dad feels like he has no role or lacks the proper skills, it’s easy for even the best-intentioned fathers to fade into the background. My best dad (with the help of a great mom) found a way to stay involved by carving out the time and refusing to get discouraged. Becoming a part of a baby’s routine early is part of learning to be an involved father, and it will pay dividends for a lifetime.