100 Rules for Fathers
Introduction and a disclaimer
I have changed over 10,000 diapers and lost at least 10,000 hours of sleep raising my children. I know a few things about taking care of babies. I know my way around a changing table and know how important cornstarch can be to a baby’s tender bottom. My arms are stronger from playing “Airplane” and “Choo-Choo Train” at feeding time. My nose is immune to the aroma of formula and bodily wastes. I can probably still button a child’s Onesie in my sleep. Though I am certain mothers out there will correct me—as is their right—I hope you enjoy these rules.
Just know, fathers and fathers-to-be, that you are not alone. There is a brotherhood of baby-raising men out there who have been there, done that. In no way am I an expert on any of this. I learned on-the-job, but as they say, experience is the best teacher. Learn from what I did well, and learn well from what I didn’t do well.
#1: Babies cry. That is what babies do. Deal with it. Learn the cries. Shrill and fierce cries usually mean, “I need to fart or burp.” A low, moaning cry means, “Feed me, you moron!” A constant cry with no tears means, “Pick me up, you idiot!” Try to be happy when babies are not crying. Just know that they will probably be crying again soon.
#2: Babies get fussier and develop worse attitudes as the day wears on. This is normal. This is also how you will behave as the day wears on. Beware of quiet mornings as they rarely translate into quiet afternoons. Beware also of awful mornings, as they will only get worse.
#3: Time loses meaning when you are taking care of a baby. It will be Thursday, and you will still be searching for Monday Night Football on TV. This is normal.
#4: Because one thing worked with the baby today does not mean it will work tomorrow. In fact, because it worked today, that automatically dooms it from further use. Be creative and flexible.
#5: Everything often happens at once when you are taking care of a baby. The phone rings, the doorbell rings, you are using the restroom, a sibling falls and skins a knee, and the baby demands to be fed—all at once. This phenomenon happens at least once a day and will definitely happen if you try to get cozy with your baby’s mother.
#6: There is no such thing as feeding time. Either the baby will eat or the baby will not eat.
#7: Always have a bottle ready to warm up, 24 hours a day, and another on deck to “top the tank.”
#8: Never microwave a bottle in haste though you will really really want to at 3 AM. Warm up the bottle by dunking it repeatedly in a mug or a glass of hot water. Test the milk or formula on your wrist. Do not go by the feel of the bottle though you will want to late at night or just after a rare shower. Formula will be your scent, so wear it with pride.
Burping and changing
#9: Burping is an art, not a slap-fest. Pat, coax, and rub out the burp. The baby will often burp when you stop patting, coaxing, and rubbing. Burp infants often because one tiny bubble will ruin your hearing for hours. Burp older babies less often as they tend to vomit with each burp.
#10: Babies aim their vomit at your shirt. They rarely hit the burp towel. Do not wear nice shirts when burping a baby.
#11: A baby will poop as soon as you have changed one diaper, gotten the baby secured in a car seat, put the baby down for a nap, arrived at the doctor’s office, or a combination of the above. Always have another diaper ready and in hand.
#12: Changing a diaper is relatively easy. Pop the buttons on the Onesie, and peel the Onesie back toward the baby’s head. Secure the unused diaper. Open a clean diaper and slide it under the dirty diaper. Pull the tape off the offending diaper and secure the tape to its original location so you don’t “stick” the baby. Press the front of the offending diaper to the offending area before using wipes. Remove all fecal and other unidentified matter with wipes. Remove the offending diaper, taping it shut as best as you can with the tape strips. If redness and chafing are present on your baby’s behind, swath areas liberally with ointment or dust with cornstarch. Secure the unused diaper to the baby’s body, making sure not to give the baby a “butt crack” view. Snap the buttons on the Onesie. Give the baby a kiss. The total time for this task should be one minute or less. Count on doing this eight times a day, 56 times a week, 2,500 times a year, or about 5,000 times until the child is potty-trained. Keep these statistics, but don’t share them with your male friends unless they are in the same situation.
#13: A teething baby generally has diarrhea. Have plenty of ointment, cornstarch, and diapers handy, and avoid public events—unless you plan to use the baby’s diarrhea as an excuse to get out of going to public events.
#14: For a colicky baby, try sitting the baby on the washer or dryer. The vacuum cleaner trick does not always work and could cause your child to be afraid of vacuum cleaners for life. If these two methods do not work, go for a long drive over bumpy terrain.
Bathing and sleeping
#15: Whenever you wash your baby, make sure to clean the following areas thoroughly: under the neck where food congregates, the hands, the feet, and the folds in the skin just above the privates … where food can also congregate. You will wonder how food arrived there. This, too, is normal.
#16: Trim nails (yours and your baby’s) often, but wait until after a bath or a feeding to trim the baby’s tiny nails. Babies will sit still to have their nails trimmed until their last finger or toe, and then they’ll fidget. That last untrimmed toenail or fingernail will remain sharp, and your baby’s mother will notice.
#17: There is no such thing as naptime. Either the baby will sleep or the baby will not sleep.
#18: If the baby is tired, put the baby to sleep. Do not put the baby to sleep if you are tired.
#19: You can rock, sway, coo, and hum a baby to sleep. This also works on you, so make sure that you are sitting while you rock, sway, coo, or hum. A sleeping parent can create future disasters—witness the inordinate number of politicians, journalists, and lawyers in the world.
#20: The old adage, “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” is false. You have no time to nap. You will spend your “nap-times” cleaning up, doing dishes, preparing a meal, changing “burp shirts,” and doing laundry.
#21: Babies will wake up whenever they please. Loud noises, creaks, door slams, and thunderstorms do not always wake a baby. Trust me on this: a baby wakes a baby.
#22: Sibling rivalry begins at the birth of the child number two. This is normal. It will last for the rest of their lives.
#23: The sibling, who has been a perfect angel all day, will act up as soon as your baby’s mother comes home. Your baby’s mother will blame you for this. This, too, is normal.
#24: The sibling will accidentally hurt the baby with a bumped head, a pinch, and maybe even an “accidental” bite. Do not sign up the offending sibling for counseling. Yet.
#25: The sibling will wake the baby, and this will hurt you. Take deep breaths and refrain from hurting the sibling.
#26: The sibling will wait until you are busy with the baby before asking you to do something: “Open this, Daddy!” “Get me this, Daddy!” “I am so hungry, Daddy!” You will get tired of saying “Wait” and “Not now,” two phrases the sibling does not seem to hear.
#27: Siblings are not very good at shopping. They actually expect you to buy something for them every time you go to a store to buy something for the baby. This is normal, but it is really freaking annoying.
#28: You will tell a sibling to do the following until brain cells leak from your ears: “Sit down … be quiet … the baby’s sleeping … go outside with that noise … find something to do … do not wake the baby.” You may need to use the burp towel to collect your leaking brain cells.
#29: You can never keep the house clean enough. The house will look as if a hurricane or tornado has hit it. This is normal.
#30: Your baby’s mother will complain, “This house looks like a hurricane has hit it!” This, too, is normal.
#31: Buy the following in bulk: diapers, formula, wipes, toilet paper, paper plates, bowls, spoons, aspirin, and T-shirts in your size.
#32: Wash towels and baby clothes separately to avoid pills, fluff, and lint that your baby’s mother will notice on the baby’s clothes.
#33: Always get the opinion of your baby’s mother on what your baby should wear before you leave the house. If you don’t, you will find out later, and it will not be pleasant.
#34: Plan simple meals well in advance. Defrost foods in the morning by putting the frozen stuff in the sink. Remember that a meal is more than a pan full of Hamburger Helper. A frozen pizza, an excellent standby, does not a meal make either, however. Although it is made of bread, dairy, and meat products, you must add an apple to hit all the food groups. Do not expect your baby’s mother to enjoy her meal, no matter how well planned.
#35: Always know the location of the pacifier. Your sanity and relationship may depend upon this knowledge. To be absolutely sure, have two pacifiers in rotation at all times.
#36: You will need a mobile floating over your baby’s crib. Time it and learn the words to the song. You will hum or sing this song in the shower, in the elevator, and at restaurants. This is normal.
#37: Never put a crying baby in a swing. Calm babies swing better and for longer periods. Remember to time the swing. If the baby falls asleep while swinging, the baby will wake up when it stops swinging.
#38: Bibs are overrated. Towels and old blankets work just as well. Since formula stains match just about anything eventually, you do not necessarily need a burp towel ever.
#39: Teething rings are overrated. The baby will chew anything handy, including your fingers. Make sure your fingers are clean at all times.
#40: Keep the stroller, shopping cart, and vehicle rolling, and take the longest way to your destination to keep the baby happy. Like you, babies hate stop signs and stoplights.
#41: Use plastic grocery bags for full and nasty diapers and double-bag the “bigguns.” Your baby’s mother can smell a dirty diaper a mile away even if it is double-bagged, so take the extremely nasty “gifts” to the outside trash as soon as you can.
#42: You will change your baby in fast food, mall, gas station, and store restrooms, and nine times out of ten, there will not be a changing station in the men’s room. Bring a blanket to lay the baby upon just in case. Do not lay the baby on a table in a restaurant. Other guests (and the management) take a dim view of this.
#43: The well-equipped diaper bag contains a minimum of five diapers, a small container of wipes, two bibs, two changes of clothes, two pairs of socks, two blankets, three toys, an extra pacifier, a tube of ointment, a container of cornstarch, a teething ring, two bottles (one warm and ready), and a baggie containing a jar of food-like substance and a clean spoon. This is just for a trip to the convenience store. For longer trips (i.e., the grocery store), triple the above list and put all in a large backpack.
Entertaining at home
#44: Let a sibling play with the baby as soon as the baby comes home. This creates an extra babysitter and might give the sibling a sense of sympathy for you.
#45: You will watch every episode of every Disney Channel and Cartoon Channel show until you have them all memorized. This is normal.
#46: Teach siblings games that you like to play (i. e., Yahtzee, Connect-Four, and Battleship). Mind-numbing games like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Go Fish, and Match lose their appeal quickly. If you must play the mind-numbers, change the rules to make them more fun for you. In Candyland or Chutes and Ladders, if you land on another person, that person has to go back to the beginning. Or, play those games backwards. In Chutes and Ladders, then, the child wants to do bad things (the chutes) and avoid doing good things (the ladders) to win the game. Call this your first attempt at using reverse psychology on your children.
#47: Take your baby to bathroom with you. This will help later when potty training begins.
#48: Dance with your baby often but not in front of your baby’s mother or her family. Babies like rhythm and blues or anything with bass and a beat. If you cannot dance, make sure to close all the drapes and blinds.
Going out in public
#49: Never drop your baby in public, especially in the checkout line. They have cameras there.
#50: Never leave the baby alone in a vehicle for any length of time. The police can arrest you for child neglect and endangerment. Therefore, you and the baby must pump gas and change the occasional flat tire together. You will grow to respect the inventor of the drive-thru.
#51: Take free or cheap excursions with your baby that will make the day fly by. Go to the mall to window-shop and perhaps check out “the game” at the local electronics store. Go to Wal-Mart just to walk the aisles or to local parks on cooler days. Or, go on drives around town looking at houses because you are going to need a bigger house eventually. If nothing else, go grocery shopping often and walk every aisle even though there are only two items on your list.
#52: Small children love to touch babies in the face. You do have the power to stop them.
#53: Adults love to touch babies in the face. You have the power to stop them as well. Tell them “My baby is contagious” or “I don’t know where your hands have been.” You won’t make any friends, but you will keep their nasty germs off your baby.
#54: Adults have to ask the age and weight of your baby. Always add two or more pounds to the actual total or they will say, “Your baby must be a fussy eater” or “Your baby must have been premature” or “What are you feeding your baby?”
#55: Some adults assume all babies are female. To combat this if you have a boy, dress your son in primary colors or a sports jersey and say, “That’s my boy!” as often as you can.
#56: Older adults will compare your baby to their grandchildren. Naturally, their grandchildren are taller, stronger, faster, and better able to leap tall buildings than your baby is. Do not fight this even though they are, indeed, wrong.
#57: People will tell you that your baby does not look like you. Do not take offense. Most babies look like Gandhi, Buddha, and the mailman at first.
#58: When people say, “You have a beautiful baby,” they really mean, “How is that possible? Your baby must have a beautiful mother. Is this baby really yours?”
#59: When people say, “You certainly have your hands full,” they really mean, “You are an idiot to take your baby out in public, and I am so glad I am not you. Where is the baby’s mother?”
#60: When people say, “Your baby is an absolute angel,” don’t say, “My baby really is not an angel. I just overfed him so he will appear angelic. Watch out! My boy is about to spew! Do you want to hold him?”
#61: When people say, “Your baby certainly is alert,” they are really wondering what you are feeding your baby. Do not tell them, “I imagine it has something to do with the four ounces of Pepsi I put in the baby’s bottle this morning.”
#62: When people ask, “How is the baby’s mother?” they are really asking, “How did she get you to take the baby out?” and “Do you have a brother?”
#63: If someone comments, “Oh, your child has cradle cap,” do not say, “Just like grandma.”
#64: People will ask a sibling, “So how do you like your brother (or sister)?” Prep your sibling to say, “I love him or her” or you will get “Okay,” a shrug, or no response at all.
#65: People will ask you, “So, how do your children get along?” Do not tell them the correct answer—“They will never get along.” Say “Okay,” shrug, or give no response at all.
#66: Train a sibling to push the shopping cart while you play “Indy 500” with the baby stroller on shopping trips. Wear ankle and Achilles heel guards, however, because the sibling will try to keep up with you.
#67: Because of recent media coverage, you cannot spank the sibling in public. Find an empty restroom. Do not attempt to spank your children in a moving car either because folks have cell phones with cameras, too.
Going to the doctor
#68: You will speak with authority to your baby’s doctor and babysitter, and they will call the baby’s mother for confirmation. This is frustrating but normal.
#69: Your baby’s mother will try not to attend doctor’s visits involving shots or blood extraction. Your baby, then, will associate pain with you forever. Have a supply of candy on hand to sweeten the pain.
#70: When the baby is well, the baby’s mother will take the credit. When the baby is sick, it’s your fault.
Your baby's mother
#71: When you say, “I just do things differently than you do with the baby,” your baby’s mother hears, “I am an idiot and just do things wrong, I guess.”
#72: Your baby’s mother will resent the fact that the baby sleeps, eats, and sits still for you. Do not brag about this unless you actually enjoy sleeping on the couch.
#73: If you use diaper ointment or cornstarch, your baby’s mother will say, “Not so much.” If you do not use diaper ointment or cornstarch, your baby’s mother will ask, “Why not?”
#74: If you put the baby into the swing, your baby’s mother will say, “Hold my baby, fool.” If you do not put the baby into the swing, your baby’s mother will say, “Put my baby in the swing. Why do you think we bought it?”
#75: If you put a sleeper on the baby, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby needs to wear a Onesie.” If you put a Onesie on the baby, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby needs to wear a sleeper.”
#76: If you take a shower with the baby, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby needs a bath.” If you give the baby a bath, your baby’s mother will say, “You could have given my baby a shower, you know. It is so much quicker, right?”
#77: If you put a non-matching outfit on the baby, your baby’s mother will not talk to you, possibly for days. If you put a matching outfit on the baby, your baby’s mother will say, “I am amazed! Now if only you could do the same with what you wear.”
#78: If you feed the baby out of the jar, your baby’s mother will say, “Use the bowl!” If you feed the baby out of the bowl, your baby’s mother will say, “Use the jar. It is so much quicker, right?”
#79: If you wrap the baby tightly in a blanket, your baby’s mother will loosen it. If you wrap the baby loosely in a blanket, your baby’s mother will tighten it.
#80: If you wrap the baby in a blanket, your baby’s mother will say, “It is too hot.” If you fail to wrap the baby in a blanket, your baby’s mother will accuse you child abuse.
#81: If you take the baby outside, your baby’s mother will say, “It is far too hot (or too cold) to do that!” If you do not take the baby outside, your baby’s mother will say, “Why not take my baby outside? It is a beautiful day!”
#82: If you allow the siblings to dress themselves, your baby’s mother will say, “Why did you let them do that?” If you dress the siblings, your baby’s mother will say, “They can do it! What are you trying to do, spoil them?”
#83: When you think the baby’s hungry, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby is not hungry.” When you think the baby is not hungry, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby is hungry!”
#84: When you think the baby has gas, your baby’s mother will say, “My baby is just fussy.” When you do not think the baby has gas, your baby’s mother will say, “Burp the baby!”
Her family and friends
#85: You can never dress, feed, or care for your baby correctly if you are a man. Women will find something wrong with the baby, especially if the baby is happy and content.
#86: No matter how well you take care of your baby, there is always a woman who will tell you that you are doing it wrong. If it isn’t your baby’s mother, it will be her mother.
#87: Perfect strangers and friends of your baby’s mother will give you more compliments than your baby’s mother ever will. Go out in public often for a self-esteem boost.
#88: You will use lines from cartoons or children’s shows in front of her family and friends. This is abnormal. Do not do it. Her family and friends had many reasons for you not being with her before. Do not give them any new ammunition now.
#89: Never buy cost-cutter or bargain brand diapers or wipes, not that they fail to do the job. These products simply cannot be seen by her friends and family anywhere near the changing table.
#90: Shaving and bathing are not optional. You still have your baby’s mother to please when she gets home. Simply shaving and putting on deodorant does not count. Try to smell nicer than the baby does at all times.
#91: Never wear nice shirts in the house. Wear ratty T-shirts and sport that green bean stain with honor. Only wear your “nice clothes” when far from the baby or after the baby has finally been potty-trained.
#92: You will wear the same ratty T-shirt for days on end. This is normal. It will also help you keep track of what the baby has eaten. Simply check your shoulder and sniff.
#93: You will gain weight. This is normal. You will eat breakfast, lunch, a snack, dinner, and a large dessert every day. Eating passes the time, the baby is happy, you are happy, and you will need all the calories you can get to make it through the day.
#94: You will watch SportsCenter, talk shows, and even a few soap operas while taking care of your baby. This is normal. Talking back to the TV, though, is abnormal. The cast of Guiding Light cannot hear you.
#95: If you attempt to read while minding the baby, you will read the same page many times and end up laughing yourself silly.
#96: Your male friends, if you have any left, will not come to visit you—unless they are in the same predicament. This is why “play dates” were invented.
#97: The only private moments you will have will be in the shower or bathroom, provided you do not take the baby with you. You may find peace in the car on your way to the grocery store at 2 AM to pick up something you forgot from the grocery list like diapers, formula, and dinner because you are so sleep-deprived that you cannot form a coherent thought.
#98: If you are going to forget something from the grocery list “on purpose” so you can get some “quality free time” by yourself, make sure you discover the “missing” items at a reasonable hour when the sun is still shining and the stores are still open.
#99: You will not have the same sex life as you did before the baby arrived. It is impossible to rekindle what you once had, especially if your baby’s mother says, “I want another one.”
#100: Do not expect any woman to thank you for any of this. Mothers have been doing all this and much more for thousands of years. You are just doing your small part to thank every mother who has ever lived.