10 Friendly Warnings
About the Guest
Feeling a little anxious about fatherhood? John Fuller reflects on his wife's season of infertility and recalls his unfounded confidence after learning he would finally be a father. Now an experienced father of six, John offers 10 friendly warnings to first time dads.
Feeling a little anxious about fatherhood?
10 Friendly Warnings
Bob: Becoming a dad for the first time can be scary, intimidating. Here’s John Fuller.
John: What I’ve seen is a lot of guys have two reactions to being a dad. One is, “I’m going to be so good at this,” and they fail and then they run. The truth is you won’t do it perfectly. The other response is, “I just don’t even want to begin. I’m not even going to try to fail; I’m just not going to go there.” So a lot of guys, I think, run away from fatherhood.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. John Fuller joins us today with some counsel for first-time dads, “Hang in there. You can do it.”
John: And welcome to FamilyLife. Thanks for joining us today.
Bob: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
John: This is FamilyLife.
Dennis: He even blew the line. (Laughter)
Dennis: It’s FamilyLife Today, John.
Bob: It is FamilyLife Today, but who’s doing your show?
John: Nobody’s doing my show. “Who’s doing your show?” is the question. If you had a trained professional doing this, they would have said, “And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.” (Laughter)
Bob: I’m just wondering, “Are you trying to tell me something? Is there something going on? Do I need to check my desk to see if there’s a pink slip in there or something?”
Dennis: Bob, I wasn’t sure how to break this to you, so I thought we’d just do it live, here on the air. John Fuller joins us on FamilyLife Today. We’ll see you later, Bob.
John: I’ve always wanted to be here.
Bob: Mr. Daly! Mr. Daly! Are you looking for anybody? (Laughter)
John: Actually, it’s this thing called Job Swap. So you and I are swapping.
Bob: Well, okay. That would be fun for a day. I can do that.
John: Yes, that would be fun.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Well, I do want to welcome you to the broadcast, John.
John: Thank you very much for having me. It’s so great to be here!
Dennis: In case our listeners don’t recognize that voice, which I can’t imagine—
Bob: Yes, how could that be? How could there be anybody in America—
Dennis: In the world!
Bob: —who does not know the mellifluous sounds of John Fuller?
John: The dulcet tones. Get the shovel out. Get the shovel out.
Dennis: The co-host of FamilyLife—Focus on the Family broadcast. See, I almost blew it, to give you an outtake at that point. He is also Vice-President of Audio and New Media at Focus. He is a writer, a speaker. He has his Masters from the University of Northern Colorado; and the reason I like Greeley, Colorado, is because I have one of my favorite possessions that I have on the planet from Greeley.
John: Really? What’s that?
Dennis: Greeley Hat Works. I have a cowboy hat that is a fine, a fine beaver pelt cowboy hat that my kids and Barbara gave me for Christmas one year.
Dennis: It’s a cool hat.
John: I’ve never seen the hat, and I did not know there was a hat maker in Greeley; but I’ll have to check that out now.
Dennis: You need to check that out. John is also an orphan care and adoption advocate. We share a lot of commonalities and things that we’re kindred spirit about. He and Dena have six children, one of whom is adopted; and we have the same thing, John. Is it kind of like this at your family? You don’t know which one it is that’s adopted?
John: We really don’t consider him adopted anymore. It is fun. Perhaps other families can relate to this. It is fun when somebody says, “Oh! He looks just like you.” In this case, we didn’t try to adopt a child that looked like us; but he does fit in the family very, very well, at least right now. He’s only eight; maybe in a few years that will change.
Dennis: John is the author of a new book called First Time Dad: The Stuff You Really Need to Know.
Bob: I sent a tweet; and John had tweeted and said, “I’m looking forward to the interview with Dennis and Bob.” And I said, “I hope he can remember what it was like to be a first-time dad, because it was oh so many years ago that that happened.”
Dennis: Really, this came back to you as you were writing the book. Dena found some medical records from some 20 years ago?
John: Yes, actually I found them; and that tells you how bad a pack rat I am and how badly I keep files. I was sorting through some old files, trying to make room for new paperwork in the file cabinet; and I found these records from Dena’s pregnancy with our first child. It took me back. It was something else to see Dr. Dalton’s handwriting. We got all of these records, and we kept track of things. My goodness! That was a long time ago.
Dennis: There was something that was meaningful about that that you wrote about in your book. You guys struggled with infertility for a couple of years.
John: We did. We got married; we wanted to have children. The number of kids that we wanted was a little bit of a dispute; but we were anxious to have children at about two-and-a-half, three years into the marriage. At that mark, we both thought, “Yeah, it’s time;” and we tried, and we tried, and we tried, and the months kind of ticked by.
So technically, I believe if it’s a year or more of trying and no babies, you’re considered infertile, at least for that season. There were moments when I’d come home and she’d be in tears. “I just want to have a baby. It shouldn’t be this much work. If we were teenagers and we had had a fling in the back seat of the car, we’d probably be pregnant; but here we are married, ready, wanting kids—nothing.”
She’d track her temperature, and there’d be those moments of, “We have to work at it tonight, Hon.” All those pressures, and struggles, and challenges; but the Lord eventually heard our cry.
Bob: When Dena came to you and said, “We’re going to have a baby,” first of all, where and when did that happen?
John: I wish I could tell you specifically on that first—I remember some of the other kids. I do remember this, though, Bob. I sort of thought that I was going to be able to ease into parenthood, and it was going to be as natural as marrying Dena was. She and I developed a very close relationship over the course of months; and when it came time to get married, it was so easy, so natural.
When it came time for parenting, I thought it would be the same thing. So I don’t remember those circumstances of when she finally said, “We are going to have a child;” but I do remember thinking, “Oh, great. No big deal.”
Bob: You thought, “I’m ready.”
John: Oh, absolutely.
Bob: You thought, “This is going to be easy.”
John: I’m a guy. I check things off. We do things by the task list, and that’s, “Baby. Okay, we had the baby; now onto the next thing.”
Bob: Looking back, how ready were you?
John: I grew up in a good home. I had listened to Christian radio. I had read some books. I paid attention; I thought I was pretty ready.
Bob: So now, looking back, if you had to give yourself a percentage, had to say, “When that baby arrived, I was”—were you 50 percent ready to be a dad?
John: I think so. I think 50 is probably a good one, because I thought I was about 80 or 90 percent. I really did; but it was only a few weeks into the process of learning to be a parent that I realized, “There’s a lot to learn I didn’t know about.” For instance, when I am sleep-deprived, I’m not so good at communication with my wife and I don’t make such good decisions. Oh, we were sleep-deprived those first few weeks, years. (Laughter) It was more than weeks.
And then there’s the matter of, “How do you read that baby’s cry?” When a child cries, what does that mean? I’m the oldest of four kids, and so I’d been around babies a little bit earlier on; but I didn’t pay attention. Suddenly, there’s this baby and the world just shifted.
Now everything is about this baby and what he needs and, “What does that mean?”, and, “You’re not my enemy. You’re my wife, but still I don’t like what you’re saying right now; and I’m tired, and that rubbed me the wrong way.” There are just all these dynamics that a new dad, I think, universally, has to endure, and encounter, and take care of; but I wasn’t ready for most of that.
Dennis: For me, as I was reading your book I was reflecting back on what I was thinking when we started having children. First of all, I thought it would be a lot easier than it was. I was totally naïve, off the charts. Secondly—
John: Did you think you were ready?
Dennis: Oh, I thought I was ready. I was arrogant. I thought, “Bring ‘em on. Let’s go.”
John: He’s being more honest, Bob, than I was because I was proud about it, too.
Dennis: Well, here’s the ultimate litmus test of my pride. I thought that my training, that our training as a couple, was going to overrule those selfish little rug rats and going to redirect the self-will. It’s kind of like thinking you’d redirect the Mississippi River; you know?
One other way that I was reflecting on, I totally was naïve about how children were going to impact me, my own selfish choices—Barbara, my wife, and who she was as a person. She changed when she became a mother. There was this side of her that became alive. It was like, “Whoa! I didn’t know anything about that.” And then that began to impact our marriage. At that point you begin to take a step back and go, “I’m now sharing her.”
Bob: So you’re saying it’s a family-altering experience when a child comes into the family. It reprioritizes and reorders just about everything.
Dennis: Yes, because it’s an 18-, 20-year assignment. And if you have a number of children, as it was for us, it was a 30-year assignment. We were dealing with kids for almost 30 years; and if you’re going to do it right, according to the Bible, you’re going to labor much in prayer, you’re going to struggle with how you help them get to know God, and your own assignment of how you fail, and trying not to pass on your own humanity to them, which that is going to happen regardless. They’re related to you.
So it was a life-altering experience for us. You’ve heard me say it, Bob, many times on the broadcast. I thought God gave us six kids to help them grow up. He gave us six kids to finish the job of me growing up.
John: That’s powerful, Dennis, and that is so true for me. Marrying Dena was a step toward maturity in my life, but the children have challenged everything about me. They’ve challenged what I really believe, they’ve challenged my values. I’ve said time and again, “Kids will test your materialism.” I mean, when that little child, that sweet little child reaches up and rips off a piece of your electronics or pokes a hole in the speaker, or drops something into your cherished car radio, then you have a choice to make there.
So a new dad is going to hit that time and again, where every time he’s turning around, “What’s really important here? What’s the value here?” I have to agree with you. My kids have caused much more spiritual growth and development in me than anything else in life. God has used those kids time and again to help me grow in ways that I didn’t always want to.
Dennis: There’s something you cover in your book called “Ten Friendly Warnings for Parents.” Bob knows this—I kind of like lists. This is just a great list. I think there’s a lot of hope in this list because we’re talking about how children bring about a challenge in our life. Share some of these with our listeners, if you would.
John: Let me do this with a couple of things. First, let me say that I hope that your listeners catch how often you raise up the joys of parenting. It is an arduous task. It is a thankless task many times, but it is a wonderful thing to be a parent.
John: Despite that, there are some things that we’ve touched on already that I think most guys aren’t ready for. These are friendly warnings because a lot of guys just haven’t gone there.
The first one, if I were to paraphrase it, is that you don’t have to do this perfectly. What I’ve seen is a lot of guys have two reactions to being a dad. One is, “I’m going to be so good at this,” and they fail; and then they run because we, as men, just run from failure.
Bob: If we can’t win, we’re not going to play the game.
John: Yes. I don’t want to do it if I can’t do it perfectly.
John: The truth is, you won’t do it perfectly. The other response is, “I just don’t even want to begin. I’m not even going to try to fail. I’m just not going to go there.” So a lot of guys, I think, run away from fatherhood. The truth is, “You don’t have to do it perfectly. If you just show up, and you have a good heart, and a good intent, and you try, kids are going to pick up on that; and they’re going to forget a lot of your mistakes.”
I mean, my children have seen me yell, throw things, slam doors, say things I shouldn’t have said. They’ve seen the worst in me, and they forget most of that. In fact, when I started writing this book, my oldest was in college at the time. I said, “So, I’m writing a book.” You can kind of hear him, “So-o-o, what about, Dad?”
Bob: “What do you have to say?”
John: “Who’s going to listen to you?” I said, “Well, it’s going to be for new dads.” He said, “Oh, well that will be good.” I thought, “Pick me up from the floor. My oldest just said, ‘That will be good. You’ll do fine at that.’ He’s affirming what I did? All the mistakes I made—the classic first-born mistakes?” Wow! What freedom there is for a guy to know, “I don’t have to do it perfectly.”
So I just say, “You won’t, and you won’t ever”—again, I want to be careful because we do make mistakes that can permanently scar a child; but for the most part, your mistakes are going to be forgotten, and you probably have not blown it so badly, even if you’ve yelled multiple times or something like that, that your kids are going to be adversely affected forever.
Bob: You’ve heard the commercials on radio that are soliciting for Big Brothers or Big Sisters; and they make that very point that someone showing up and caring is better than somebody who says, “Boy, if I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not going to show up.” So dads who show up and care are probably going to be fine; aren’t they?
John: Yes, absolutely yes! You can see the social science research about that. For dads who are there, what a world of difference that is in a child’s life.
Dennis: Your next one is one that I want you to highlight here because it’s easy for dads to dismiss their wives and their observations that they make when they say, as Barbara said to me, “You know, Sweetheart, you really have been a little too busy recently. You really ought to spend some time; you ought to go on a date or two.” It’s easy for a dad to get defensive at that point, and go, “No, no, no, no. Look at my calendar, here. I did this, and this, and this.” Yet, they have an intuition that we need to listen to.
John: Absolutely, and it starts with an intuition about what that child is all about, what that baby needs. But it does creep into areas that most men don’t like being told about—and that is shortcomings—when we’re not at the table enough, when we’re not doing what we need to do. Dena is so good at this.
Let’s be honest here. Some guys just get nurturing better than others. Most of us, though, don’t get it at all, really. So, the new baby comes; and we can hold that child and then, then what? You know, “What am I going to do now?” Dena is representative of those women who just naturally get that; and they have this intuition about what the baby needs and what, “the relationship is like now between you and me, my dear husband. It’s not what it used to be, but I still want that relationship with you.”
I think women are very, very good about that; and guys don’t always tap into that. I think a lot of guys—again, because we’re checklist-oriented, because we’re get-it-done kind of guys, we don’t listen as much to our wife as we probably should when it comes to caring for that baby and what the child needs.
The third item I have under the “Ten Friendly Warnings” list would be, “Don’t think that these days are forever.” When you have young kids, it just seems like everything is changed, and it’s going to be this way forever. I can’t imagine ever having my wife just alone. I can’t imagine ever being able to do whatever I want to do again and having the spontaneity I used to have.
That was a big change for us. That was hard. I think the spontaneity, that loss of being able to just go off and have dinner or go to the park. I think that was one of the biggest things that I struggled with. It seemed like that was going to be the way of life forever; but it’s not that way.
Bob: She was all yours when you didn’t have any kids.
Dennis: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Bob: And when the baby came along, she was not—it wasn’t like she was half yours. You were a 10-percenter, a 20-percenter. This baby needed her desperately, and you were kind of marginalized for a while—not just you, I was, you were marginalized. It’s a part of what dads have to learn to adjust to.
John: And not just marginalized. We are second fiddle for now and the immediate future. I want to be gentle here; but I think a lot of us guys just need to tough it out, man up and say, “This is what it is for this season.”
Bob: For a season.
John: But the truth is, as you said, Dennis, really, in 15 years, that child is not going to be around much. If you’re like us, you’ve got a 15-year spread. So it’s going to be close to 35 years before our youngest lets us kind of have freedom back. But still, when the kids hit a certain age, they’re not around much. You get your wife back, and you get some of those freedoms back. You can maybe even go to the golf course and not feel guilty about it.
So drink it in, be grateful for every step along the way, and engage as you can, and don’t, “This isn’t part of the list,”—but don’t forget that, at the end of the day, it’s back to you and the wife. If you haven’t cultivated that relationship, you’re going to be a sad man because she’s naturally going to pour into the baby who grows up and becomes a toddler and then a middle-schooler. She’s not naturally going to say, “Let’s go out for a date.” Maybe she will, but you need to own that.
Dennis: You said it, “Man up and pursue your wife, and keep romance alive,” because if you don’t, your kids can steal romance from you; and they can steal your relationship as well.
John: Bob, you mentioned that she’s—“I have to share.” Well I have to share all of her. I have to get over the fact that, if she delivered this child, she’s now got some weight to lose; and by the way, baby wants to eat a lot. That which used to be, “All mine,” is now shared; and then, when I want to enjoy my wife’s company in a physical way, she’s looking at me like, “I’ve been touched by this baby all day. Leave me alone.” That’s a little bit of a shock to the system. Nobody told me it was going to be that way.
Bob: There are adjustments that have to be made in the process. The marriage needs to be nurtured and kept as the centerpiece of the relationship; and yet a man has to learn that his wife has an assignment here, and she’s drawn to that assignment. He has to release her for that, and encourage her in that, and not be so selfish.
Dennis: Yes. I’m looking at the clock here, Bob, and I’m—
Bob: You weren’t thinking we were going to get through all ten, were you?
John: I bogged down. Sorry.
Dennis: No, you didn’t bog down. With your permission, John, I’d like to put these on our website, all ten of them, “Ten Friendly Warnings” about becoming a parent. I just want to remind the dads, and for that matter, the moms. There’s a statement by Neil Postman that I quote frequently, and it’s what we’re talking about here.
He said, “Our children are the living messengers we send to a time we will not see.” All this cost we’re talking about—and the self-sacrifice—we’re building into a time we will not see. We’re sending these arrows over the horizon, and it really is worth it. To do it right, we need good resources; and we need mentors.
I think what John has done in his book, First Time Dad—he’s kind of taken—well, he has had heart surgery. It seems to me it’s his heart between two covers here. You’ve done a great job, and I think this is just chocked full of all kinds of practical advice you’ve given here.
Bob: I can’t wait for the day when John calls me and says, “My son called today, and he said, ‘Hey Dad, I’m reading your book because I’m getting ready for becoming a first-time dad.’” That will be one of those great—
John: That will be a rich moment.
Bob: It will be. We’ve got copies. In fact, when the time comes, have him come to FamilyLifeToday.com to get his copy of your book. We’ve got it on our website. FamilyLifeToday.com is the site. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY. John Fuller’s book is called First Time Dad; and you can order it from us online, again at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call toll-free at 1-800-358-6329; that's
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And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about the experience of being a dad for the very first time. John Fuller will be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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