Preparing for Fatherhood
Men are disadvantaged in the quest for equally shared parenting from long before their babies are born. I'm not complaining or anything, but by the time a woman gives birth, she has had 9 months to physically prepare - her body has changed internally and externally, she had felt the baby move and kick, she has endured all manner of aches and nausea. Psychologically, I think this is nature's way of assuring that she'll be a strong mother since she has already sacrificed so much before she even meets the little person she'll be responsible for the rest of her life (together with equal responsibility by her husband, of course). Add to this the pains of labor and delivery, and then our culture's expectation that moms are in charge and our workplace expectation that moms get months of maternity leave while dads get a couple of weeks if they are lucky, and you have a set up for inequality. Moms can get way, way ahead of dads.
Parents who plan to equally share childraising can do a lot to overcome some of these barriers - the cultural and workplace ones at least. But the natural ones won't budge (unless more men gestate and give birth).
Well, one guy made an attempt to create his own way around this nature barrier. When he learned that his wife was pregnant, he rather inexplicably started to grow a beard. He didn't plan to do so, but a gut-level urge overcame him and he found himself making a personal vow not to cut his facial hair until his baby was born. The beard grew and grew, getting scraggly and bushy. He became a mountain man who drew stares from strangers.
When I first ran across his story of this crazy stunt (well worth the read - click over), I thought it was kind of corny. A beard is not a living baby. It is completely optional to the baby-making machinery. But his story grew on me (pardon the pun), and I found myself pondering the value of his attempt to prepare for his fatherhood. Did his beard give him a new identity, like a pregnant woman seems to become her pregnancy her near the end? Did it show the outside world something as drastic as a woman must show when her belly is the size of a beach ball? Did it help him feel the weight of this transition from man to father?
I'm not ready to advocate all men immediately make some drastic body alteration upon viewing the results of their wives' pregnancy tests. But I get it at a deeper level. We could do well to prepare to become fathers in a way that approximates what nature forces our partners to do. Because unless our children become ours through adoption, our babies will always be more of a mental, emotional and physical surprise to us than to our partners. It was this way for me, but then again, I'm not much of a planner anyway. I caught up to Amy pretty quickly because we were both dedicated to making this happen. But how might men mark their passage to fatherhood? What have you, or your partner, done to cross this bridge?