April 28, 2008

Something Else #8: Baby Bonding

Here is something a bit different for this off-day.

Jennifer Margulis is a Red Sox fan living in Oregon. She and her husband James di Properzio are both writers and they have collaborated on "The Baby Bonding Book For Dads". While I am a 44-year-old man who has chosen not to have children, it looks like a great resource. Margulis and di Properzio have a writing style that is casual, informative and reassuring.

Jennifer invited JoS to be part of their online book tour and they answered a few questions via email. They will also check comments here if anyone has anything to ask.

Since this is Red Sox blog, let's start with the baseball angle. Tell me a little bit about your introduction to the Red Sox.

Jennifer: I wanted to be Jim Rice when I was little. No, I was Jim Rice. My older brother and I would go into the back yard in our house -- I grew up in Newton Center though it wasn't nearly as posh then as it is now -- and play ball. A group of kids in the neighborhood would also get together and play pick-up games. ... The first book I ever read, when I learned to read chapter books, was about baseball. Even though we usually think of baseball as father-son bonding time, I totally bonded with my dad over Boston's sports teams. Even now that we live in Oregon, I get that rush of adrenaline when I hear that the Sox have won a game. And it's definitely a way that I connected to my dad, who spent a lot of time with my brother and me when we were growing up.

James: I, on the other hand, grew up in Buffalo, which hasn't had major-league baseball since the 1800s! I'm still chagrined at the loss of our NBA team in the late 70s, and can't sing the national anthem without slipping and saying, "And the home of the Braves."

What prompted you to write this book?

James: I really had zero idea what to do with a baby -- I'd never even held one before our first was born. A lot of men in America grow up a little short in the whole experience-with-babies arena.

Jennifer: And we felt like most parenting books (and magazines) talk only to moms, but then we say we want dads to be more involved in parenting. That's what prompted us to write this book -- we wanted to inspire dads to interact with their babies, and give them ideas how.

Reviews of the book seem directed more towards mothers who may be unsure their husbands are prepared for a baby. Was that the case in your experience?

Jennifer: I think we were both really excited about the idea of having a baby. Then she came along and we were BOTH pretty overwhelmed. Even though I had a lot of experience babysitting and also looking after my sister (who's 23 years younger than me), I still felt unprepared.

James: I was on a radio talk show a few weeks ago and a guy called in and said he didn't have kids, and didn't think he was "father material" -- like, he shouldn't have kids because he might not be good at it. Then he backtracked and said maybe it was a stupid thing to say -- but I said, "Hey, that's why I wrote the book!" I think a lot of guys feel that way, even though most of them aren't going to admit it on public radio. But I appreciated that caller's honesty. In some ways Jennifer had more trouble adjusting to being a parent than I did, but I think I had more apprehension about it beforehand.

How does your book fit in with the other baby books that are out there? Does it fill a void or have more progressive information?

James: It's a to-do list. Everyday, do-able things that will help you bond with your newborn, and not feel at a loss. The chapters are short, because new parents don't have long stretches of time.

Jennifer: There are a lot of books out there about babies -- huge tomes that they give you in the doctor's office. I think sometimes it's information overload. When we were first pregnant what I really wanted was real-life stories and ideas not an exhaustive reference-like book.

Tell me a little bit about the process of writing the book.

James: This is not an "expert-written" book. It's by someone who was so clueless that he felt the need to book up on it, and the books weren't really there. And since I was the first among my group of friends to have children, I got to see that they had no more idea what it was about than I did, and so the book is aimed at guys like us, who could use some practical tips.

Jennifer: We passed documents back and forth a lot. We were actually writing the book while we were in Niger, West Africa, and we had to brave computer disasters (the 130 degree heat destroyed two computers) and brown outs and black outs. It was a bit painful to mesh our different voices but we work together a lot (James edits almost everything I write) so it was also a lot of fun.

One of your blog posts mentioned a survey showing that fathers now spend almost twice as much time taking care of their children than they did in the 1970s. Because of that, do you think that the stereotype of the clueless dad may be out-of-date? In 2008, don't many men already know these things?

James: Well, I dunno, I didn't. The difference you point to is more in attitude, or even consciousness that we as guys could bond with anyone too young to play little league. We can't so much look to the previous generation for an example of how to do it. I say in the book that we all look forward to when our kids can play ball and eat pizza; this book is about how to have those bonding experiences in the meantime.

What kind of feedback have you received from men (and women) about the book?

James: Our publisher [Willow Creek Press] said to us that it's women who buy parenting books, and that many copies of the book would be bought by women for men who were clueless -- whether they knew it or not. So far we've gotten a lot of positive reviews from women readers. We're looking forward to hearing from more men, and most of the blogs on the book tour are dad-oriented.

Jennifer: People always say they like the photographs and I say, "But what about the content?!" The black and white photography by Christopher Briscoe is really striking, I think.

Any thoughts on the growing trend of ballplayers (like Daisuke Matsuzaka) taking time off to be with their wives or girlfriends during childbirth?

Jennifer: I think it's awesome. When ballplayers like Matsuzaka take time off, it sets an example for everyone. Our second daughter was born at home and I said to James afterwards that I feel like he had her, and I was just along for the ride. He literally held me up the entire time I was in labor, and was right there with me. I couldn't have done it without him. I wish America were more like Canada and Scandinavia -- where there is paid paternity leave. The more high profile dads who show the American public that their families are important, the better.

James: Matsuzaka probably has a more balanced perspective on his life as a whole. What's he going to regret 20 years from now, missing one game or missing out on the beginning of his kid's life?

Any final thoughts?

Jennifer: We write in the book about how portable small babies are. They really are, especially once they are three or four months old, and we tell dads not to be afraid to take the baby with them -- to the post office, to the DMV, to a Sox game. ...

We espouse things like baby wrestling and crazy stroller pushing in the book. Dads tend to be more physical than moms with their kids, and babies love that (as long as you're not too rough, of course. But chances are you'll drop the baby -- James did and our daughter's skull got slightly fractured when she was 18 months old but she was fine -- their bones are like green branches, they just bend but don't usually break, and they are made to bounce ...) We also suggest dads get into the picture instead of staying behind the camera. It's easy to stay on the sidelines, especially when your kid is little, and we want to encourage dads to be right smack in the middle of the game.


As far as music for the off-day, I thought of the Talking Heads demos for the Little Creatures album -- the song "Stay Up Late" in particular ("he's just a plaything/we wanna make him stay up all night"). But it turns out that song is not among the demos I have. But we'll go with Talking Heads anyway.


allan said...

True Creatures Demos 1984
Recorded at David Byrne's NYC apartment for the True Stories and Little Creatures albums.

01 - Wild Wild Life
02 - Puzzlin Evidence
03 - Love For Sale
04 - Lady Don't Mind
05 - Hey Now
06 - Road To Nowhere
07 - Instrumental (Hey)
08 - Papa Legba
09 - People Like Us
10 - City Of Dreams
11 - Radio Head
12 - Give Me Back My Name

Talking Heads - Outtakes/Demos/Alternates - 1976-1980
01 - Psycho Killer (take 1)
02 - I Feel It In My Heart
03 - Uh Oh Love Comes To Town (alt ver)
04 - The Big Country (alt ver)
05 - I'm Not In Love (alt ver)
06 - Warning Sign (alt ver)
07 - Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (alt ver)
08 - Life During Wartime (w/Fripp and long ending)
09 - Dancing For Money
10 - Unison
11 - Double Groove
12 - These Boots Are Made For Walking
13 - I Walk The Line
14 - Can't You Hear My Heartbeat

Taken from sessions for:
'77 (1977) - (1-3, 12-14)
More Songs About Buildings And Food (1978) - (4-7)
Fear Of Music (1979) - (8-9)
Remain In Light (1980) - (10-11)

Jack Marshall said...

What other Red Sox Blog would come up with such an entry?

Here's my humble thought: I can't imagine feeling any better about the team after a 5 game losing streak. We've learned that the Sox have trouble beating the best team in the West when it's sick and injured. Big surprise. We've learned that at half-strength, the team plays even with the Rays, who aren't bad at all this season. We've learned that despite all the angst about starters, Beckett and Wake look as good as ever, Clay is the real deal, and Dice-K might be in the midst of a great leap forward. We've learned that Hansen's slider is back, and that Masterson is a solid 6th starter in wait.
And we know that the team needs Lowell back and Papi healthy and hitting, both of which should be on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the Jays suck as badly as some of us thought they would, and age has caught up with Jorge Posada.

Yup---I feel good about the Sox.

And now I'm going to Alaska. Please take care of my team, Laura.

laura k said...

And now I'm going to Alaska. Please take care of my team, Laura.

I'll try, Susie, I'll try.

Alaska is amazing. One of my favourite places we've ever been. Have a great time! Say hello to Denali for me.


Allan, I was wondering what you would come up with for this post! It seemed so out of your line. Very nice job.

allan said...


Any questions for Jennifer and/or James?

9casey said...

I think I have said it here before ......Being a father is the only thing in life I will do of any importance......Because at the end of the day people will judge me good or bad.......But as long as I have the respect of my children nothing else matters....When I am dead and gone they will be the only ones who truly miss me........As long as I have done a good job......

9casey said...

That comment doesn't really go with that avatar does it??????

laura k said...

That comment doesn't really go with that avatar does it??????


allan said...

I was on a radio talk show a few weeks ago and a guy called in and said he didn't have kids, and didn't think he was "father material" -- like, he shouldn't have kids because he might not be good at it

I've said that many times. I can't imagine having the required patience.

But more importantly, since a person cannot do everything he or she wants in life, choices must be made. And not having kids was one of those choices. Thankfully, I do not regret it at all.

Unknown said...

I am interested in learning the authors' take on how things change with more (and more) children. Did they look only at first children or at parents with two, three, or four children? My own experience is that fathers bond much better -- including with the first child -- when the second (and more) children arrive.

9casey said...

redsock said...

Any questions for Jennifer and/or James?

Do they both work? and if so from the house?

SoSock said...

Great post.
I agree with 9Casey. IF you decide to be a parent, and I don't think it's a bad choice not to, but if you do, that more than anything else is your legacy. People will make the world better, not stuff, so making good people is the most important thing we can do.
And Drew asked the question I was thinking. I was nervous, immature, and just too young when I had my first. By the time the second came, I was more confident I wouldn't damage him. I was also self-employed, and spent SO much more time with him, but also more time with the 1st as a result.
So question - does your book apply more to 1st-timers? Do you find that most dads bond more with the later children without some coaching or encouragement from something like your book? Or do many dads keep that same distance with all of their children?
I loved RS's choice of Stay Up Late. Actually I just love that whole album, but Stay Up Late pretty much sums up my experience. I would get started playing with them in the morning and would just lose track of time. Customers would call at 10am wondering where I was and I would say - Crap, how'd it get so late?
At the risk of sounding like someone who thinks he knows a lot (I don't really) - spend that time with them guys. All the stuff in the world won't mean anything without the time together. And it will be gone before you can blink an eye.
Now listen to "Road to Nowhere" or "Lady Don't Mind" and TRY not to dance.

Unknown said...


Any answers from Jennifer and/or James? [Grin]

About the book said...

Answers! I have answers!! Sorry to be coming at the discussion a wee bit on the late side. I'm actually writing from Mexico, where I'm on assignment.

So, let's see.

#1 James and I both work but we make our own schedule. We have a writing consulting business (which we used to call Properzio Prose, but since nobody really got it and we kept getting messages that started "Dear Mr. Prose" we aren't using that DBA very much anymore. We edit, help writers find markets, and write book proposals, etc. We do that, and we also both freelance. I have a piece coming out in Fit Pregnancy and another, unless it gets killed, coming out in Smithsonian Magazine. James is doing some work for a coffee trade publication right now. I'm actually writing this ridiculously long comment from Cancun, where I'm on assignment with family.com (and one of our three is with me) to write about traveling to Cancun with children. And yes, we both work from home.

#2. In response to Drew's question (and SoSock's comment) -- that's really interesting and James should chime in here. For me, as the mom, it was sort of the opposite. It was really hard for me to bond with my second child--though I feel badly admitting that in public and to a stranger but it's true -- she was very "high needs" and she cried all the time. Plus, I already had a toddler that I had spent 19 months getting to know and I felt so bonded to her I wasn't so sure how to make room for her sister. So, my unprofessional, un-dadly answer is that I think bonding depends on a number of things, including the TEMPERAMENT of your newborn. I think James and I bonded really quickly with Baby #3. He was a very easy baby who literally started to laugh before he nursed to express how happy he was that dinner had arrived! The book is really for first-time dads who haven't had a kid before though a lot of dads who have kids who have read it say "I wish I had this book before mine were born."

James said...

Yeah, Drew, I would say that part of what happens when another child comes along is that you're already a veteran dad--I felt like one by the time our second was born, and that was only 19 months after our first! You've already learned by experience, which is all men really lack with babies. This book is definitely tailored to getting over the initial hump of the first child, though I've been pleased that dads who read it later have said they wished they'd had it, and thought it hit the mark.

It's interesting what Drew and sosock both wrote about bonding better with the first once the second came along. There's a lot going on there, really thought-provoking. I'm thinking that aside from the first being older and moving into a different role (as a big brother/sister, who relates to dad differently from how the baby does), that maybe the second opens things up even more. We tend to be mindful that since the new baby demands attention, we have to keep up our attention to the elder child, and since the elder's needs are not so physical, we may move further along into more emotional bonding with them. They probably notice that their own demands on us are not as simply physical, and I bet that's a good thing for them.

Maybe dads are in a different phase by the time the second comes along, and having another adds even more energy to their interaction with their kids. I mean, it is more intense to have two kids, and that in itself is a change that demands even more engagement. Also, the elder child has a new emotional dimension, bonding to a younger kid (so different from their bond to a parent), and that changes their whole family dynamic.

It's a great question to think about. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Our second arrived only 17 months after our first, and I recall a realization / recognition that Mom needs to turn far more attention to the new (breastfeeding) infant. So either #1 loses out or Dad jumps in to fill the gap and bond with #1.

The trend continued in that our first three arrived in a span of 3-1/2 years, but there is a gap of over five years between #3 and #4. Even though they all were in elementary school and so on by the time the fourth arrived, the first three required much more attention from Dad. Baby always turns to Mom first. It's that breastfeeding thing.

Having four boys, however, I have no insight into how dads bond with girls. But I do take it as an established fact that boys are very different from girls. What is/are the authors' take(s) on that?

James said...

Well, Drew, in our house it was never taken as an established fact that boys are different from girls--until our son was born and established that fact in no uncertain terms. As a father of only girls for the first few years there, I never treated them girly at all--I taught them to box, for example, and now my 3rd grader could deck any 5th grade boy in her school (not that it would come to that). Our son was very sweet and cuddly for the first couple years, and loved to follow his sisters around and do whatever they did--play dress-up, tea party, etc. So his needs as a baby were really no different, nor were the things I did to bond. Then at some point he abruptly stopped being a toddler and became a little boy, a very masculine little boy...kind of a thug, really. He terrorizes his big sisters all day long, breaks everybody's stuff (used my iPod for a hammer...), and loves trucks and power tools more than a Home Depot full of contractors. I have to say, it was more of an adjustment to parenting a boy than it was with just girls, which surprised me. Now I get to take him mountain biking (at age 4) and do other things boys gravitate towards, and he's full of enthusiasm and energy for them. For me, it's another side of myself brought into parenting.