Updated February 7, 2022
Every Dad Has Questions
Becoming a parent for the first time is exciting, joyful, and sometimes a little scary. From putting on diapers to heating up milk, to those snot bulb things for baby’s nose, it’s natural to feel like you need an instruction book for the newest member of your family.
New parenthood can be especially overwhelming for parents without much past experience caring for younger siblings or other children. Lots of moms feel this way, and it can be especially common for dads.
“Very often a guy has never diapered a baby until he’s diapered his own,” said Johnny Wilson. Johnny is the executive director of Fathers New Mexico, which connects dads to supports and advocates for dad-friendly systems. He said dads are more likely to feel unsure what to do, especially at first.
“They are generally much more insecure about whether they’re going to be a good parent and capable of knowing what to do than moms. Typically they didn’t get babysitting jobs when they were 13, aunties didn’t give them the babies to take care of … So, there’s a gap in experience and comfort. Can they step up and meet the needs of a child? Yes.”
New Mexico offers programs to help, like home visiting for families who have or are expecting a new baby. Home visitors are trained professionals who visit you in your home (or connect by video call, depending on COVID conditions) to answer your questions and provide support that is tailored to your needs and your family.
Johnny said home visiting would be a big help to many of the dads he works with, but they don’t always want to ask for help. His message to them is that they don’t have to do it alone.
“You can do this, and you can do it beautifully,” Johnny said. “And part of that is getting help. We all do it, we all get help. And if there’s something you’re uncertain with about your kid, it’s way less stressful to get an answer, or a set of answers that help guide you to your own answer, than it is to sit there going ‘I just don’t know.’”
Zack Ben knows about this firsthand. His son was born last spring, and Zack signed up for home visiting, becoming the only dad then enrolled in Northwest New Mexico First Born. Zack knew a lot about the program—his wife, Mary, is the executive director—but he had a lot to learn about becoming a dad himself.
Zack is Navajo, and he and his wife decided to have a traditional home birth in a Navajo hooghan. A hooghan is an eight-sided building, often used for Navajo ceremonies. Zack learned from a medicine man about birth ceremonies and practices, while also building knowledge about child development with his home visitor. Each provided him with wisdom about becoming a dad.
One of the ways Zack prepared for fatherhood was by building a cradle board. In Navajo culture, cradle boards are traditionally constructed by a new baby’s father in preparation for the birth. The boards are full of symbolism, Zack said, with two boards in the back that represent Father Sky and Mother Earth, and straps made from deer hide.
“They say the Diné people are the people between Father Sky and Mother Earth,” Zack said. “So when you look at your child in that cradle board, they are the being between those two elements, protected by those elements."
Home visiting brought different kinds of knowledge: about breast pumps, diapers, wipes, and about their son’s growth before and after he was born. During their pregnancy, Zack’s home visitor shared information about the size and development of the fetus at every stage. “I was just visualizing that and I would look at my wife like, ‘Oh, that’s inside you now. Oh, gosh,’” Zack said.
After their son was born, their home visitor helped with information about his growth and development. “Our baby, he was kind of small but you know, once he started on that milk he just grew and grew really fast and he’s in the 90th percentile and doing really well,” Zack said.
Knowing about growth percentiles and child development gave Zack the confidence to take their son to his six-month checkup—just the two of them. He said he knew the “lingo” the doctors would be using, thanks to his home visitor.
“That confidence was instilled in me like, yeah, I’m a dad and I know these things, and I can advocate if I need to for myself or my child,” Zack said. “It felt good to walk in there and to be that dad and not be the dad waiting out in the car.”