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Becoming a Dad: A Spiritual, Emotional and Practical Guide
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'Becoming a Dad'

By Belinda Elliott
Contributing Writer For many men there is no greater or more thrilling adventure than becoming a father. But for a new or expecting parent, the journey may seem rather scary at first.

Family counselors Stephen James and David Thomas discovered this when they learned they were to become fathers and they felt unprepared for the role. Stephen said he decided to get ready by arming himself with knowledge from people who had traveled the road to fatherhood before him. He hurried off to his local bookstore, but he was quickly disappointed.

“I bought every book they had on their shelves for fathers,” Stephen said. “I read them, and some of them were somewhat helpful. Some of them were really funny, but none of them really addressed the heart of the man and the idea that God has created us to be fathers.”

Stephen said he was looking for a book that addressed the role of fathers from a Christian perspective. Practical information such as choosing the right car seat, furnishing a nursery, and stocking up on baby clothes and diapers was beneficial, but he wanted something that addressed the feelings that he was experiencing as he looked forward to raising a child.

It was after this experience that he and David Thomas, also a family counselor, decided to write a book on the topic because David, too, had trouble finding books and information that approached fatherhood from a Christian worldview. It wasn’t long before their book, Becoming a Dad, was born.

The book includes helpful tips about the practical aspects of parenting, such as which items to purchase and how to prepare before the baby’s arrival. However, the majority of the book is dedicated to addressing many of the issues that new or expecting fathers encounter, including their pre-baby jitters and the twinge of guilt many men feel because they are not as excited about the pregnancy as their wives are.

“One of the things we wanted to accomplish in this book is giving men permission for that to be okay,” David said. “The idea that if you aren’t as excited -- or if you are not excited in the same way or in the same timing as your wife is -- that is not only okay, but it is pretty normal. In the early stages, you can’t see a baby. You can’t even see your wife pregnant. The only thing you can see a lot of times is her being nauseated. It’s normal that a man wouldn’t be excited about that because he can’t see anything except his wife feeling sick and miserable.”

Many times, David said, men tend to be more excited during the birth of their child or later in the child’s development when the baby can laugh or make eye contact.

Even when men do share their wives’ level of excitement about a new baby, many of them still find themselves fearful about stepping into the role of “Dad”. They realize that their wives have motherly instincts that allow her to connect with the child growing inside her in a way they are unable to do, so they feel unprepared.

“Men are doers and fixers,” David said. “So the idea of stepping into something that we don’t necessarily have instincts about, and a process that we feel on the outside of, brings about a lot of fear.”

“And I would add,” Stephen said, “I think instinctively we know that it’s a big deal. Being a father is really important because we’ve all had fathers, or not had fathers, and we know what that has done and been for us.”

So what advice do they have for expecting fathers who want to be prepared for their new role? The authors suggest that men begin with prayer and submit their anxiety to God, asking Him to guide them through the process. Secondly, they suggest the men keep the lines of communication with their wives open and share their feelings with them.

It is also important, the authors say, for men to realize that they need to be prepared not only for changes in their daily routines and sleeping patterns, but for some changes within their hearts too.

“We get to engage our own stories,” Stephen said. “We get to remember and reflect on what it was like for us to be children and for us to be parented. There is a lot of change that can take place. There is a lot of room for God to move in those moments.”

Part of this process, David said, can involve remembering hurtful memories of your own childhood and working through them. Although it may be painful, the author suggests that it is necessary to do this.

“I think it is important because I think all of us, despite our best intentions, tend to parent out of our experiences of being parented,” David said. “So it is important not to do the exact same things that you remember and didn’t want to do to your children.”

It is also important for new fathers to realize that at some point along the way they will unintentionally hurt their child.

“We have to realize that we all fall short of the glory of God,” Stephen said, “which means as parents we are going to screw up. We are going to harm our kids sometimes, but that is not an excuse to not parent them or love them well. Loving them well is not an absence of sinning against them.”

The authors suggest that it is this idea of not always being able to do things correctly that often keeps men from being actively engaged in parenting, especially in the first few months. To help them, they encourage women to give their husbands extra time to adjust as well as the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.

“One of the most important things is just allowing your husband, the father of your child, to be clumsy and awkward in this process,” David said. “The baby’s bath is a good example. If the objective is just that the baby gets clean, even if it is water poured all over the place, and the baby is crying through the process, still he had a chance to connect and engage.”

“The best thing a guy can do is be willing to screw up,” Stephen said. “He may not know how to do something, but he should just try anyway. I mean, I’ve put diapers on backwards before, and they still go on. They still fit. You may not exactly how to give the baby a bath, but if the baby is dirty, give it a bath. If the diaper is dirty, change the diaper.”

The authors also suggest that once the baby arrives, it make take more work to maintain a healthy and growing marriage. They include suggestions for husbands to continue to date their wives and spend time with them. They also encourage men not to view this time as a battle in which they are competing with their children for their wife’s affection.

“As men, we need to understand that this season is not about us,” Stephen said. “You need to ask how you can still engage your wife and love your children. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The way to woman’s heart is through her children. If you want your wife to love you well, then be a great father.”

Most of all, the authors say, men should take time to examine what is taking place in their hearts as they become a father and allow the Lord to work in their lives during this new journey.

“I would say that I believe the process of being a father will make you a better man than you are before you start it,” David said.

Stephen agreed. “Buckle up tight and hold on, and 18 years from now you will have some great stories to tell.”

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