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Tom Matlack shares five tips for full-contact fatherhood.
I still remember the first time I fed my son Seamus a bottle. He was 6 months old. I lived alone in a bachelor pad on the corner of Massachusetts and Commonwealth avenues in Boston. It was a moment that saved me. The smell of him. The feeling of his little body going limp with sleep. The sound of him suckling in my darkened bedroom. I held him long after he went to sleep. Finally, I placed him gently into the pack ’n’ play crib I had set up nearby. Still I watched him sleeping, not wanting the moment to pass. Seamus is as big as I am now; a strapping teenager. He has an older sister who just went to her prom. I got remarried after six years as a divorced dad and had another boy, Cole, who is now 6. So I still get to read bedtime stories and lay in his cowboy bunk bed well after he is asleep, just feeling him close and allowing the sensation of fatherhood to sweep over me like a cool breeze in a hot desert. ♦◊♦ Maybe it is my difficulty with words, or my tendency to spin off into a male Eeyore grouchiness, or my struggle throughout my life to feel like I belong—but to me, the touchstone of faith, unplugging, and serenity has always been physical contact with my kids, when they were small and even now when I, bad back and all, play an all-out game of one-on-one basketball with Seamus. I know that I am not alone in this feeling of connection. Moms obviously have deep instinctual drives that take over the moment their babies are born. But the reaction of men’s bodies to physical contact is no less powerful. I have experienced similar relaxation by getting down on the ground and rubbing my yellow lab
puppy Penny’s belly. So, if you are a mom, dad, dog owner, or just an aunt or uncle, listen up. Here are some easy ways to forget your troubles and bliss out.
Help a baby get to sleep.
Rocking chairs are great. The standing sway of the hips works too. Sing some songs that come from the deep recesses of your childhood brain. Use your senses. Feel the child. She will find that little nook between your shoulder and neck to rest her head.
Read more here.
Todd says: February 25, 2011 at 9:52 am
Tom, you have a new reader–I love this post. My girls are now budding teenagers. I remember fondly how I would hold them as babies. To be honest, to this day I love nothing more than snuggling up with them on the couch, or just hugging them and hearing about their day after we all get home.
Lance says: February 25, 2011 at 10:00 am
Emotionally compelling and informationally rich post. My 7 yr old daughter is the only oen, whose diapers I changed and connected with an an infant. Her mom, now my ex wife, was sick with esclampsia so I was the first person to feed her, change her, get her to sleep, bath her, etc. Those fist 3 months of bonding made my daughter and I connected for life. I woild add 4 more things. 1) sing to your child. My daughter still asks about those Beatles songs she heard as an infant. Whenever Abbey Road gets played in the car her face lights up and she makes me Octopus’ Garden and Baby Im amzed at my out of tuned loudest. 2) let them watch you work, make breakfast, and be daddy. Between six months old and two years they soak in every move you make.
3) Have them watch a ballgame with you in your lap or by your side. They will react with your emotional responses to the game and remember it for a long time. 4) take them outside, dig up something, make a gardeb, get really dirty with them. They will apreciate the outdoors adventure and live getting fithy with daddy. My girls still talk about the times we did this. Taking them fishing is right along with this. thanks. Lance
Mervyn Kaufman says: February 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm
“Difficulty with words,” Tom. Really? I’ve been reading you for months; your feelings flow beautifully out of everything you’ve written, and they particularly resonated as I read this piece. When I was a new father, one of my colleagues—Australian born—advised me, “Don’t let them get you changing those nappies!” I was kinda stunned, for by that time I’d probably already changed my baby daughter’s Pampers 400 times. And I knew that the experience was creating a bond between us. Over the weeks and months ahead, I would see, first hand, how she gathered strength and size and pondered what kind of relationship I would have had it I’d taken my colleague’s suggestion. He was perhaps an unwitting spokesperson for age-old and fast-crumbling male role-playing, which I know has gone even further out of favor in the years since my daughter’s infancy. Incidentally, we are still very close, she and I, though obviously not in the same way.
Derek Humphries says: February 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm
Thanks so much Tom. Simply beautiful. So often I have thought the things that you have put into lovely language here.