From dude to dad

Hugh-Weber-1When Hugh Weber found out his wife was expecting, his initial thought was “Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap.” Although parenthood was a dream for he and his wife Amy, the realization there was a baby on the way was daunting. Women often have a community of mothers who generously dole out advice and swap stories, but as a dad-to-be, Weber found the male support system to be lacking. One hundred days before the birth of his daughter Emerson four years ago, Weber started the blog Dude to Dad, asking fellow fathers for advice and even offering words of wisdom as his readership and confidence in his new role grew. Now, with a healthy dose of experience under his belt and a virtual Rolodex full of online parenting peers, Weber has published a book, also called Dude to Dad, chronicling his journey into dad-dom. Here, he shares a glimpse of what baby-brewing looks like from a father’s point of view.
Q: Where were you when you found out you and your wife were expecting?
A: I had just landed on this island in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska. I grabbed the satellite phone and called my wife to tell her that some fellow dudes and I had made it to our ultimate man trip destination. She told me she was convinced that she was pregnant. When I got home a week later, she took the test, but I knew as I paced that gravel runway in the middle of nowhere that everything had changed.
Q: Women typically have a network of fellow moms and moms-to-be to turn to for encouragement, counsel and consolation. Did you find the same was true for you as you prepared for fatherhood?
A: I think the support system is missing for dads culturally. Look at everything from baby showers to baby manuals—they’re about the mother transitioning to care for the baby. Don’t get me wrong, this is important, but it overlooks the modern reality of co-parenting. To complicate matters more, popular culture actually undermines new dads by repeatedly serving up the imagery of “dad as buffoon.” Even a dad who wants to be engaged is provided very little in terms of guidance or encouragement.
Q: Who did you look to for advice on pregnancy and parenting?
A: I turned to a small-but-growing community of dads online. I feel like this presence has exploded in the four years since I went through the “dude to dad” transition. Remarkably, I still keep in contact with many of those dads. We went through something transformational together.
Q: Why did you start your blog Dude to Dad? And what do you hope readers can gain from your recently released book?
A: The blog was a personal cry for help. I knew how I’d gotten myself in the father role—that was a participatory exercise— but I had no idea how to transition from the dude I was into a truly engaged and dedicated dad. The book was much less selfish and self-centered. I wrote it for my dad, who was 19 when I was born. What would he as a young, overwhelmed dad need to hear to get him through? I hope that new and expectant dads will see a place for themselves as parents. I hope they’ll take the time to look out for themselves, because the sad truth is nobody else is going to. Everyone is focused on the lead actress, not the supporting cast, which is the way it should be.
Q: While women are the ones physically undergoing pregnancy, men are also part of the experience. What was your pregnancy journey like?
A: My transition was one from oblivion to terror to amusement to terror to excitement to terror to acceptance. I have enjoyed a wonderful professional career, but I simply couldn’t visualize myself as being successful as a dad. I had an incredible dad and just didn’t think I could measure up. I also felt invisible much of the pregnancy, which had a way of magnifying the self-doubt.
Q: Women go through many physical and hormonal changes while pregnant. What changes do men go through?
A: For me, the biggest change was simply recognizing that everything had changed. In general, men are “fixers.” When everything has changed, things feel broken but there is nothing to fix. This will sound crazy, but it’s like if you own a pet—say, a dog—and overnight that pet changes entirely— it becomes a penguin. There’s nothing there to fix and yet everything feels broken. It’s simply a process of acclimation and adaptation, which is very different from all previous experience or expertise.
Q: What do you think men wish women knew about what pregnancy is like for an expectant dad?
A: I think we just have a desire to have our partners understand that the emotional and spiritual changes are just as dramatic for a man as they are for a woman. We escape the physical adjustments in most cases (though I gained more weight than my wife), but the reality of “everything has changed” is shared and is equally dramatic for both parties.
Q: How has your perception of fatherhood changed since you first joined the dad club years ago? What advice would you offer fellow fathers-to-be?
A: I realize now that there is nothing I can do to “fix” the situation. Everything has changed. I also recognize my role isn’t to make my child great, but rather to help her be the best possible version of herself.
Q: Where (or who) would you recommend expectant dads go to for advice and support?
A: I’d recommend that they form a dad triangle. Find a single guy, a long-time dad and someone in the same stage as he is. Then, allow that trio to guide you to a middle ground. If you only talk to your dad, decades past his fatherly prime, you are going to be out of date. If you only talk to your single buddy, you are unlikely to even survive the experience.
Q: What are some concrete ways fathers can be involved during pregnancy and beyond?
A: In my book, I talk about “learning the language” and “knowing the team.” If you don’t know the doctors or midwives and can’t tell the difference between a mucus plug and a breech birth, how can you expect to be taken seriously? The best thing you can do is prepare and plan to become a dad. Don’t just expect it to magically happen. This involves more commitment than one ultrasound, but ultimately it’s worth the time.
Q: How can society provide more support to fathers and change the “dad as buffoon” perception?
A: This is tough, because I believe “dad as buffoon” is really just a way of dealing with “dad parents differently than mom.” To shift away from this mindset, we have to genuinely believe that dads are equal parents, capable of contributing in their own unique way. If the child thrives, it may not matter whether her pants match her shirt. If the child is happy, it may not matter that she had a Happy Meal instead of veggies. If we accept that dads are different from moms, we’ll have taken a big step.

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