9 Things I’d Do Differently to Prepare For Being a First-Time Dad

My brother’s expecting his first kid. Since I was in his position almost exactly two years prior, he asked me, “What should I do to prepare for being a dad?”

He’s a lot different than me and I only have one go-around’s worth of experience in the matter. So, instead of telling him what he should do, I responded with what I would do if I could do it again.

Some of what I said surprised my brother and he said it was helpful perspective, so I figured I’d share them here, too… 

…Quickly.

Before Zac wakes up and I have to go prepare him breakfast.

If I could write advice to my younger, countdown to Zac self, this is what I’d say.

Countdown timer showing time left to prepare for being a dad

Dear Chris,

Two-years-older-than-you Chris here. I wish I could tell you to sell your stocks before November 2021, but that’s against the rules. All I can share with you are my recommendations on how to prepare for being a father.

Take heed, young man:

Treat it as if a stork were dropping you off a surprise.

The sum of your pre-fatherhood day’s well-being would probably be higher if you had no idea Kim was pregnant, then, one day out of the blue, “What the…?!,” a big white bird drops a 6.9-pound outdoor fetus on your patio for you to try to keep alive.

Because no matter how hard you try to prepare for being a father, you won’t be. You’ll over-prepare, worry about unnecessary things, and be completely unprepared for things that matter.

It’s going to be chaos. You’ll figure it out on the fly. And you’ll have to figure it out on your own, because everyone and every book and every stupid blog post (yes, like this one) has conflicting opinions.

Positive pregnancy test
The diagnosis is in: Your independence has less than nine months to live.

Throw an extended farewell party.

Sorry for sounding macabre, but those two red lines on Kim’s pregnancy test are kind of like being diagnosed with a terminal illness. But it’s not your life that’s doomed. It’s your independence.

You’re not going to be able to sleep in whenever you want, jump into an evening of beach volleyball games on a whim, or live a calendar-free life anymore.

So suck every last drop of independence you can out your final months of youthful freedom and savor them. Treat it similarly to your answer to the cliché question, “What would you do if you only had nine months to live?”

Give your pre-fatherhood period a name.

Your home country isn’t called “that giant swath of land at the far north of the world’s westernmost continent full of friendly people who like hockey too much.” It’s called Canada.

And you aren’t called “that crooked-nosed tall-ish guy from that aforementioned country who likes sports, exploring, and sharing ideas.” You go by Chris.

What I’m getting at is this: A name wraps a whole lot of concepts into one tidy package. And it gives that package an identity. It’s branding.

So give your nine-month pre-fatherhood window a fun name to make the most of it.

My suggestion?

Call it your preternity.

best travel tips and tricks cover image of Kim in jeep with locals in Jordan
Unfortunately, car seats and cribs don’t fit in this jeep.

Hit the unpaved road.

Go on one last off-the-beaten-path backpacking adventure—a trip like Southeast Asia in 2008, your 2013 pretirement tour, Kenya in 2017, the 2018 South African Hectic Route, or Namibia in 2019.

You’ll still be able to travel with your precious new carry-on, but it won’t be the same.

  • Less improvising, less minimalist packing, and less packed public buses like in Sri Lanka, Peru, or Nicaragua.
  • More preparation, more distraction having to ensure the guy’s ok, and more time back at the hotel/hostel recharging.

By the time your kid’s old enough to want to travel like you used to, you’ll be old, soft, and boring. So this is your last chance for a wild foreign adventure.

Chris bumping the volleyball
The clock’s ticking for you to get any less bad at beach volleyball.

Learn things you won’t have time or energy to do for a while.

Dedicate your brain cells to things other than fatherhood because:

  1. It’s going to go into maintenance/survival mode for a while.
  2. Your brain won’t be the same again.

So get on mastering Spanish, go to improve classes, or take harmonica lessons. Whatever. Learn something fun for yourself.

If you must read a book on parenting, read Expecting Better.

It’s an economist’s objective analysis of what science says about conventional parenting and pregnancy advice.

My biggest takeaway? Very little is conclusive. Hence my earlier recommendation to not bother trying to figure anything out beforehand.

My son in a swing beside his friend
Your kid’s going to hang with kids his age, and you’re going to have to be there, so get your friends to get knocked up.

Try to convince your friends to conceive, too.

Since having Zac, the pie chart of who we spend time around has made a dramatic shift:

  • Way less time with your childless friends, and random strangers at fun places like sports courts and wine tastings.
  • Way more time with your parents and other people with babies the same age as yours.

Some of these other new parents you will meet are cool. Others… you’ll spend time with them mostly because they happen to be adrift on the same parental boat as you. It’d be super awesome if you could share the journey with people who you are already close friends with beforehand.

Get your sh*t together.

Since you get no paid paternity leave and can’t afford an abundance of childcare, do what you can to get ahead of the game. Mentally prepare for a professionally unproductive few months, too.

That tiny little package is going to cause a lot of craziness. You’ll want to clear up the breathing room to ba able to:

  • Laugh at the insanity of it,
  • Not miss out on moments because you’re distracted,
  • And definitely not resent fatherhood for all the new responsibilities that come with it.
Pregnant Kim
That belly is the trump card.

Do whatever your pregnant partner wants.

Speaking of minimizing stress…

Kim gets the short end of the stick magical experience of growing the little guy inside her along with all the related hormones, nausea, and discomfort. Worse still, she can’t soothe it with a couple glasses of wine.

So use her as a designated driver.

But, more importantly, if she disagrees with any of the above (which I don’t think she does), let her have her way.

Trust me. You’ll want to save up a stash of brownie points to spend when the kid comes.

Don’t read this next.

My post, What’s It Like Being a Dad? Objectively Worse, will spoil some surprises for you.

But I think other people may find it to be worth reading.

All the best!

Yours truly,

Chris

P.S. Please, please write a big, long letter to your future self with all the things you’re worried about and your predictions for how things will turn out. It’ll preserve memories from this unique time in your left and give me a lot to chuckle about.


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