By Dennis Lockard
**Originally published in the Summer 2007 Secondary Attachments issue of The Journal of API
Several months before the birth of our son Jack, my wife Liz started talking about using a sling instead of a stroller, nursing until he was ready to stop (as long as it takes – even three to four years!), and having the baby sleep in our bed. She went on to list a few other parenting ideas, including giving away a perfectly good Pack ‘n Play that we had somehow acquired.
At first, I thought she had lost her mind, but I later learned that among other ideas that she referred to as “natural living,” she was relating the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP), a completely foreign concept to me.
So, not only was I going to be a first-time father at 46 (which was going to be hard enough), but I also had to think about many parenting practices that were counter-intuitive to me.
Coming from the Dr. Spock Generation
After all, I was a Dr. Spock, cry-it-out baby: cribs, playpens, bottles, and the like. If you don’t remember Dr. Benjamin Spock, he was THE childcare expert of the ’50s and ’60s, and no self-respected household with children was without his famous Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. My mother and her friends used this book like the Bible, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that I was raised by this man.
And although his views became more progressive with each edition, he originally advocated letting your child cry it out in their own bed even if they cried hard enough to vomit. (Later, Spock became a liberal, Vietnam War protestor, and there was a movement to burn his books as he was seen as un-American. But that’s another story.)
Anyway, this way of parenting was all I knew. And I’ve turned out just fine – and I’ll be the first to tell you so.
When I questioned Liz’s parenting notions, I was quickly met with a litany of reasons why this way or that way was better for the baby and/or the environment. For example:
Me: “I don’t want to wash poopy diapers.”
Her: “It won’t be so bad (she was right), and this way the baby won’t be exposed to a diaper that is so absorbent because of toxic chemicals.”
Me: “I don’t want to wash poopy diapers.”
Her: “You’re crazy (right again, to a degree).”
What Convinced Me to Try AP
I quickly came around to her side on the cloth diapers, and it really had nothing to do with poop or chemicals. While Liz was recovering from her Caesarean section, I had to buy disposable diapers. I was stunned. They cost how much? Suddenly, I didn’t mind a little poop.
I had a similar reaction along the breastfeeding lines. While I knew breastfeeding was superior for the baby – and for mom – I wasn’t ready to become a card-carrying member of La Leche League until I checked out the price of formula. Wow! Better for the baby – and cheaper! What a concept.
So, while it’s true that my parenting philosophy began to change due to money, it’s also true that other concepts began to make sense as time went by.
Of course, it really helped when I met Jack. When I saw and held him in the hospital, I could hardly believe that I had waited 46 years to have a child. Hey, being emotionally responsive and just THERE was going to be easy with this bundle of joy. Here was the most perfect expression of love that I had ever seen, and he filled me with an indescribable joy.
Bruce Springsteen said it best in his song, “Living Proof”: “Well now on a summer night, in a dusky room, come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light, crying like he swallowed the fiery moon. In his mother’s arms was all the beauty I could take. Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make. In a world so hard and dirty, so fouled and confused, searching for a little bit of God’s mercy, I found living proof.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Love Your Baby
For background, Liz had given me some AP information to read over, and one thing really stuck out. It said, “Don’t be afraid to fall in love with your baby.” Not a problem there. Honestly, I really didn’t know that I could love another person so much.
Learning from an AP Wife
And when Liz and Jack came home from the hospital, she didn’t just practice the Eight Principles of Attachment Parenting, she lived them. And while watching Liz and Jack in their daily routines, it became clear to me that she was on to something. To me, this seemed to be the way people parented before parenting became a marketable commodity – before daycare, before formula, before the landfills became clogged with pull-ups, and before magazines told women that they could have it all (at the same time).
Observing Liz and trying to apply her philosophy with Jack has made me a better father. I have tried to get away from even thinking about old-fashioned means of discipline. But no, I never had Jack in a sling, which probably keeps me from the AP Fathers Hall of Fame. But I no longer think it would be an affront to my manhood if I did.
It’s true that some things haven’t been easy. Being an older father, I have really wondered about the no playpen concept. Some days, when Jack was just beginning to move around, I swear I would have given just about anything for an hour or two of a safely contained baby.
But then again, parenting is a big, big responsibility and maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. And as I marvel as now four-year-old Jack continues to grow and discover new things each and every day, I’m realizing that the hard work is paying off and that every ounce of effort is worth it.
Liz will be the first to tell you that I haven’t been perfect. But I keep trying. Now, with the birth of our daughter Ruby, I’m getting to try again, at 50, to get it right.