Book Review: Beginning Fatherhood
by Warwick Pudney and Judy Cottrell

Beginning Fatherhood does not aim to be encyclopedic on pregnancy, birth and baby health, but it nevertheless offers a great wealth of such information. It is good to see such information targeted at the father directly, instead of relying on him finding out through the mother, midwives or other (mainly female) health professionals.

In parts "Beginning Fatherhood" is decidedly "new age". At least three times the authors encourage fathers to sing to their babies, even while still in the womb, to form a spiritual bond between the two. I admit, I do sing to my children too, but this is normally for such down-to-earth reasons as to help them to go to sleep or to stop crying after they hurt themselves. (Try it yourself. It's amazing how it works!) And Pudney recommends to sort things out with your own father before your first baby is born - an approach that is perhaps a bit too ambitious.

In general the authors encourage expecting dads to do a lot of thinking and sorting out. This ranges from conception, "is the baby wanted or not?", to finding male friends as support persons well before the actual event. They urge those in charge of our health services to systematically include fathers in all their birthing and ante-natal services and even go so far as to demand that "women's" should be renamed to "family" hospitals.

While "Beginning Fatherhood" raises all the right questions on a personal level, it is sometimes a bit too absolute with the answers. Pudney, in an interview with National Radio, said, men like lists of instructions they can follow, and the book contains a lot of them. I, personally, am not so convinced of the usefulness of "do's and don'ts" lists for parenting (and generalisations about men), but fortunately, they are not a too-intrusive feature of the book.

The authors definitely need to be credited with writing a beautiful and positive book. It is a pleasure to read and its theme which is the love between father and child, is evident on almost every page. As a "guide for New Zealand men", as the cover claims, it is of only limited use, however.

That a father may not live together with the mother at the time of the birth (and in some circumstances may have to raise a baby without her) unfortunately does not occur to the authors. And the work/family challenge is discussed exclusively from the viewpoint of a securely full-time employed male, who may need to slow down a bit to allow time for his family.

An equal sharing of work and home duties between the partners, or a role reversal, with all the particular issues it brings right from day one is, sadly, mentioned only very briefly as a possible model, even though it is already practised widely. In the chapter "Changing Roles", Pudney even strongly reinforces the traditional male role of full-time provider and protector.

In this respect the authors have missed an opportunity to give encouragement and advice to those who re most in need of it - fathers in non-stereotypical situations.

Nevertheless, I greatly recommend it as a resource for hospitals and birthing providers, and as a "birth present" for the happily married, fulltime working, middle-class dad.

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