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Book Review
Becoming a Father

By William Sears, MD
Available from LLLI
No. 1377-12, $10.95

Reviewed by Unity Dienes
Hollis NH USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2003, pp. 191

Consider a stereotype. A new father awkwardly holds his newborn, and, a bit baffled, thinks eagerly of the future time when he feels that he really can start to father his child...playing catch, going fishing, working on the car. What, after all, can he do with a tiny baby who seems to want only her mother? If the baby fusses, he gives her to her mother. Dirty diaper? Awake in the middle of the night? Cranky? Gassy? He gives her to her mother. A routine is established: the father occasionally "baby-sits" or gives a bath or two, but in any difficult situation, the mother's prowess is called into play.

Make no mistake: Dr. Sears's newly revised Becoming a Father is out to shatter that conception of a father. Fathering, argues Dr. Sears, begins way before the playing-catch stage. Written for fathers or fathers-to-be, this book combines research on child development with the author's experience, both in his pediatric practice and at home with his large family. Dr. Sears openly discusses choices he made and the consequences that followed. "I am definitely the closest to the adult children in whom I invested the most as children," he writes.

Although he is now a very successful author and pediatrician, early in his career he turned down a high-powered position that would have taken him away from his family. By choosing to make his family a priority, he discovered that active fatherhood yielded unforeseen returns. What did he discover? That babies are interesting, even newborns. That he had the capacity to soothe a fussy baby. That he could be just as sensitive to his babies' cues as their mother. And that a father can do so much more than "baby-sit."

Through trial and error, Dr. Sears has determined what he believes to be the ideal role for a father in a family: not just a pinch-hitter for the mother, but someone with a unique and special relationship with the children. Dr. Sears takes for granted that the mother has a biological advantage when parenting babies (fathers can't calm them by breastfeeding), but he thinks that biology should not get in the way of parenting. If an older baby cries, he says, don't just hand her off to her mother! Fathers have special tools too: fuzzy chests and faces, deep crooning voices, and strong arms for holding, to name a few. Dr. Sears spends considerable time describing how men can develop their ability to nurture their babies, and even how men can get babies to sleep without nursing!

Yes, some new fathers are fumbling and insecure. But so are some new mothers! Mothers have the biological advantage of being able to breastfeed, but parenting beyond that is less a matter of biology than of time invested. Babies often look to their mother for nurturing because, since birth, they have been handed off to her whenever they were even a little fussy. If fathers take the time, right from the start, to develop the same kind of relationship that mothers share with their babies, the whole family will benefit.

Not only does he attempt to break stereotypes, Dr. Sears also erodes parenting myths. For example, fathers do not need to feed the baby in order to bond with her. Dr. Sears gives so many ways that fathers can be involved with (and bond with) their babies, that it makes perfect sense to leave the feeding to the breastfeeding mother. Another myth is that couples need vacations away from their babies to rekindle the romance in their marriage. In fact, many mothers find it stressful when they are forced to choose between their baby's needs and their husband's. Dr. Sears talks at length about sex after childbirth, and clues fathers into what they can realistically expect after that much anticipated six-week checkup. A new mother's libido may not match her husband's, although, he confides, "a sensitive and caring father is a turn-on."

From sex to solo fathering to career decisions, Dr. Sears's book covers it all. It's often said that babies don't come with a how-to manual. And it's true! You need to buy those separately. This book, paired with The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, would be a terrific choice for a new father...or an old father turning over a new leaf.

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