The Uselessness Myth

Here, in no short order, is a list of things that were repeated to me endlessly before major events that pissed me off:

“It’s her day” (before Kate and I got married. I didn’t keep a checklist but plenty of the day was about me, or more importantly US)

“You can never prepare” (Before Olivia, our first kid, was born. Thanks for the encouragement!)

“Olivia is going to want to send him back” (before Jake was born. Again, thanks for the encouragement)

But here’s the big one I want to address today, vis a vis parenting. Before Olivia was born, many people (mostly men, but some women) asserted to me a well-worn piece of wisdom.

“You will be useless in the beginning” when your child is born.

That is some GRADE-A bullshit.

Faulty Nipples

It is true, that if you’re going to breast feed your kid, you are basically shit out of luck as a man for filling that role in an infant’s life.

That’s it. Does a newborn infant need to eat pretty frequently? You bet! Does that make you “useless” as a father? Hell no!

I’m not sure why this myth pervades, exactly. I think it’s partly a vestige of dads excusing themselves from parenting (why start if you’re not going to later anyway?), partly women getting frustrated with inept partners.

Whatever it is, it sets you up for failure if you truly want to share parenting with your spouse. Fathers are not useless, and in fact can make a huge impact the earlier they take an active role with their kid.

Mothers who breast feed are basically forced into an instant rhythm and connection with their new baby. Fathers have to work at it.

Here’s a small list of important things you can do with your newborn baby (excepting all the stuff you can do to help your spouse while she completely loses her personal space):

  1. Calm a non-hungry infant when they cry. Hold them, talk to them in a calm voice. Tell them you understand. “But my baby doesn’t even understand words!!” You might say. They can understand much more than you think, and the rules of comfort are the same regardless of age.

  2. Put an infant to bed. Again, it’s good for all involved if you practice putting your kid to bed. They will learn to trust you. If you only do this randomly, your kid will scream at you because it’s strange and you will learn that “only” your spouse can do it.

  3. Go for a walk/Stay at home while the spouse has alone time. Again, build trust between you and your infant by making yourself the only resource for short bouts of time.

  4. Change diapers. Dad’s who refuse to change diapers should be wrapped up in a man sized poopie one and forced to walk around uncomfortably in it.

  5. Just hold the infant and talk/smile/play. New babies are learning the world. Let them learn what you smell like, what you sound like, and what you feel like. They will remember it, even if they don’t have any memories of it when they’re older.


The last point there is worth repeating. While it is true that we don’t have any memories in our conscious brain (the part we are aware of) from earlier than 2-3, that doesn’t mean your kid won’t remember things from the very moment they are born.

The old brain, the limbic system that makes us like other sentient beings, remembers a lot. I can remember when I’d been away so much in Olivia’s early life, and she began to talk. “Mommy!” she would ask plaintively.

Did she reason that asking her mother would make her most likely to get help? Maybe. She could have also just been acting on instinct. The deeper, unconscious part of her brain had stored the fact that her father wasn’t even available to help. Fathers were not for helping.

One of my proudest moments, after I’d been “home” for a few months, was when Olivia would wake up upset in the middle of the night. Through tears she would cry “daddy!”. It was then I was sure that both parts of her brain had learned a new reality

Fathers were for helping.