Both times we’ve had a new baby in our family, my wife has taken pains to prepare me for the first time I would be left to care for him. “Are you ready to handle him all by yourself?” she asked, as if she thought I was afraid of him. I think a lot of mothers believe that Daddy is secretly afraid of the baby. I would be insulted by this condescending attitude, except that they are right.
Toddlers, we’re okay with. By that time, the playing field has been leveled. In fact, fathers are sometimes better suited to meet toddlers on their own mental and emotional levels than mothers are. But when it comes to infants, Mommy has an inherent, secret weapon that Daddy will never have, leaving Daddy feeling a little vulnerable because he has nothing on which he can so confidently rely.
Mommy’s secret weapon is actually a twin-pack of big guns. They are strapped right onto the front of her, and they never seem to fail.
My wife claims that a moment with the nipple will quiet a man of any age from his fussing; my own data supports this conclusion. Our new baby is no exception to the rule. He might be wailing like the sky is falling, but snap him onto a booby for 15 minutes and it’s all sweet dreams. Once he’s taken off, he’ll doze through a quick, satisfied burp, as if to whisper, “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Then, just lay him down and he’s out for hours.
No bottle works like that. Bottle nipples are always too slow or too fast, leaving Daddy with a baby who is frustrated or messy, or both. Also, the milk is the wrong temperature; that’s what you get for mixing drinks with only one hand while an infant screams impatient demands into your ear. Even if the child could find some comfort in the bottle, he is so full of gas by the end of it that he practically has to do calisthenics to air himself out.
So, you’ve just fed the baby and he’s still crying like Armageddon. What else you got up your sleeve, Pops?
I tried swinging him in the car seat first. This was moderately successful for a while, but car seats grow heavy. Swinging them gets boring. Next we sat together in the rocking chair. That was less tiring, and also less effective, than the car seat. In desperation, I even tried putting him into the useless chair. The useless chair is a reclined device that slides back and forth on its base. The motion is supposed to be soothing, but it never calmed Baby #1, and so far it has done nothing for Baby #2. Its record is still unblemished by success.
Frustrated that he had spurned all of my attempts to sway him into contentedness, I gave the baby the finger — the pinky finger of my right hand is the one he usually finds most soothing to suckle. But he closed his mouth tight and shook his head. Even Daddy’s tastiest finger would not do.
Because Daddy has no ace in the hole to settle Baby down, he needs some luck to have a good day with Junior. Luck came to me in the form of my three-year-old son, who reminded me that all of us guys in our family are Bluesmen. How could I have forgotten the semi-secret semi-weapon I had developed during the first go-round? Before a moment could be wasted, we were listening to Luther Allison on the stereo, swaying to the soulful notes from his electric guitar and floating on his gravelly lyrics. In mere minutes, the baby was in dreamland and I was feeling pretty mellow myself. (Watch Luther Allison YouTube clip.)
The baby woke up when he was hungry again. By that time, Mommy was home and Daddy had to rush to salvage a half day at work. I couldn’t stick around to watch, but I doubt Mommy had any problems with her hungry baby. I’m sure she just hooked him up to the spigot for half an hour and then had the afternoon to herself.