One day, at the sink, she insisted on shaving me. She was just three. If not for the fact that I remember sitting on the sink to watch my dad shave, I wouldn’t even have considered putting a razor into my toddler’s hand and letting her at my throat. I showed her the motion (down, pick up, down—never sideways!—and don’t press hard) and guided her hand through it a couple times. I told her how my grandfather, each morning before he went to elementary school, had gone upstairs to his own grandfather’s room with a straight razor, soap, and brush, to shave him after he had gone blind in his old age. She looked totally absorbed by this, and held her hand steady, so I positioned her hand at the top of my cheek and let her try a stroke. She carefully removed a stripe of shaving cream from my cheek, without trimming a single whisker. We worked on the pressure a bit, and she did most of the flat, easy parts of my cheeks.
My daughter was very proud to have been allowed this responsibility, and to have done something to care for me the way I normally took care of her. It was a bonding moment, which she has asked to repeat every few months since, and which I’ve carried on with her two younger siblings as they reached that age—without a single scratch.
Most men are like I was before my first child, having never even held a baby in our lives and with little or no experience taking care of kids. Of course we feel apprehensive about bonding and unsure how to interact with our offspring. I knew, though, that if I let my apprehension put me in the back seat in parenting, I would be taking a step back from one of the most important experiences of my life. I needed to take the initiative and create my own ways to bond with my child, right from the beginning.
It’s hard to engage after work when you’re tired and stressed, and part of the choice facing fathers is whether to play it safe, stay in that work mode and be very hands-off at home, or to engage with our children, something for which we’ve had no practice, and makes us feel unsure of ourselves.
Bonding with a baby or small child is about the small moments that you spend together, looking at each other, talking, taking walks. It’s not something that happens instantly. It’s a relationship that grows over time. That’s what this book is about: practical, everyday things to do to enjoy being with your children and forge the bond for both of you.
A lot of dads feel closer to older children, the ones who can catch a ball and enjoy a slice of pizza. But the bonding process starts in infancy, in hundreds of small ways. That's where we'll start—we'll get to ball and pizza later.