Confession: I had never held a baby until my first was born. Most first-time dads faced with their newborn child are in the same boat: How floppy will it be? Can you break it? How many years will it be before I can interact with it?
While I was still puzzling this, my wife, without even moving from bed after her exhausting labor, took the newborn back and settled her in the crook of one arm, where the baby adroitly latched on to nurse. Docking complete. Bonding successful. And she’s never even practiced that?
I had always thought I would probably have a kid, at some point, but it’s not like I had prepared for it. I still remember being attached to my dad when I was two or three, and of how he would get me up with him while he was getting ready for work, and come home between jobs, drop his briefcase and scoop me up to go play and talk. But it’s not like I remembered how to do that—I was on the other side of it—and after 30 years even he didn’t remember how to do it. When I presented him with his first grandchild, he stood frozen in the position I left him in, like I’d handed him a glass jug full of nitroglycerin.
Somehow men in our culture grow up without a clear idea of how to bond with babies, and worse, with the idea that it’s something women do naturally and so it’s not really a man’s role. Without a model, and without breasts, we’re a bit unsure what to do, and no one likes to do something they’re not confident about. But I knew if I didn’t jump in and try, I would miss out on one of the closest relationships of my life.
So I was thrilled to bottle-feed my daughter, and take her around in the front-pack, and several years—and two more kids—later, my wife and I wrote a book called The Baby Bonding Book for Dads. What I had most wished for was what any man would want: a to-do list, specific do-able ways to bond, and that’s what we came up with.
None of them are clever tricks; they’re all just normal ways of living and taking care of a baby, but viewed as opportunities for bonding. I’ll be adding some of them to this site as things to try if you, like me, have wondered what to do with a floppy person you want to get to know.
And don’t just try. As Yoda says, “Try not! Do or do not; there is no try.” If you do it, it works. You’re bonded.
– James di Properzio
James di Properzio co-wrote The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, published March 2008 by Willow Creek Press, with his wife, Jennifer Margulis, a writer and photojournalist.