I was going to do a post on what dads could do during delivery but decided that was too difficult because so much depends on the guy. Some men get all silent and queasy whereas others are all Steven Spielberg with a camera saying "This is amazing! Honey, I don't know how you're doing this!?".
However, once you get home the rules become a little more universal – assuming you're at work and your partner is at home with the newborn – so here are just a few tips to help make the first few weeks and months smoother for everyone:
1. If you're going to be late coming home don't wait until the last minute to tell her. Remember when you'd have to do chin ups and you knew you had to do 20? You'd get to 18 and think "I only have two more to go, I can make it" then some asshat comes along and says "Gimme 10 more". How much do you like that guy? Not so much.
2. Come home and get in the house. When you get home this is not the time to chit chat with the neighbour over the fence about how it's gong with the new baby. Assume that it is always Lord of the Rings orc war in the house and get inside to relive the day shift because your wife has probably been walking around with that baby thinking "I only have to hang in there 30 more minutes....29.....28." (see point above).
3. Get excited about the baby. I know, I know, you love that little weeble more that anything, but most new mothers are wired with this demented sense of responsibility so even if their baby is screaming like a rabid howler monkey they don't want to leave it. So if you go in and say something like "take a shower, I've missed him all day and I can't wait to hold him" she will be more willing to go bathe, eat or generally reset to be less crazy. It's win-win.
4. Don't ask "What's for Dinner" If everyone in the house is alive when you get home that's a successful day. My friend's husband asked her why dinner wasn't ready because "she'd been sitting at home all day doing nothing". Aw, Buddy, c'mon. If you ask "What's for dinner?" the answer may very well be "Your left testicle". Eat cereal, order take-out or drink pumped breastmilk. Wing it.
5. Don't go on about how hard your day was. Even if your day consisted of being gang raped by angry silver back gorillas, she can probably trump you. Not only can she trump you but it may include details that you otherwise wouldn't have known about and don't want to hear. You're tired. You're stressed. But it will just open Pandora's box and it ain't worth it. Also consider that this is someone who is up all night looking at your peaceful, sleeping vulnerable body. Don't give her a reason to smother you with a nursing pillow. She's probably already plotted your death a couple of times by now so don't push her over the edge.
6. Don't say you're babysitting. The mother of your child may be too tired to catch this slip but any woman who has had more than 20 minutes of consecutive sleep is going to do a slow, Chucky-head-turn and hiss "You're not babysitting. You're parenting." In your defense, I totally understand this statement. If you're not the primary caregiver and you're stepping in to take care of the baby then you are technically babysitting. Terms like "Daddy Duty", "On call" and "At the helm" are always safer alternatives.
7. Don't lie on your back and hold the baby above your head facing you. They puke. It's the infant equivalent of the Funny Home Video guy pitching to the kid with the baseball bat and getting squared in the pills. Everybody likes lying on their backs, holding the baby in the air and fly them over their face. Babies LOVE this and this joy often sends a surge of yak right into your who's-daddy's-airplane-open-mouth. They give no warning. They are vomit grenades.
8. Be CIA guy. Too often I think Fathers get shoved to the side and it's all about the baby, and to a lesser extend, the mom. Don't worry about it and just be a gazelle in the grassland because you're in the trenches, and there's no glory in the trenches. Be like those awesome CIA guys with the silly putty in their ear who silently, seamlessly gets the odd glass of water, loads the dishwasher and does that slow motion body block when your dirty cousin with the cold sores tries to stick her finger in the baby's mouth. Your work will go unnoticed at first but when the dust settles you'll be revered and adored.
Your job at this time is really important. Some guys totally get it right of the bat, and to you I say, "right on". You're the voice of reason, the pillar of strength and the cavalry wrapped in to one. You need to be there for your partner because she's probably like Newt when Ripley first finds her in Aliens – terrified, tired, dirty and overwhelmed and the worst time is mostly at night. Mostly.
It takes a great guy to step up and dig in during those first few months, but a guy who says "I'll be home early, I'm bringing dinner and I want to take the baby for a walk as soon as I get home", now that's a fucking man.