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Inside the Gentle, Supportive World of r/PreDaddit, the Network for Soon-to-Be Fathers

The only rule? Don’t be a jerk.

HughYeman’s wife was 34 weeks pregnant when he started worrying he was going to faint in the delivery room. He had nearly fainted while getting blood drawn and during minor surgery, and even thinking about his wife’s epidural made him feel queasy. The last thing he wanted to do was lose consciousness during the birth of his child.

Maybe he could watch some videos of deliveries to expose himself to the process, thereby reducing the chances of a strong reaction in the moment. He tried asking the doctor at his wife’s next appointment, but he said the doc seemed dismissive, suggesting that he try standing near her head instead of her feet.

Worse, HughYeman didn’t know who the hell he could talk to about it.

So he asked the 25,000 members of a Reddit forum called r/predaddit, a network for soon-to-be fathers, if they had any ideas. “Can I do anything to reduce the odds of my fainting?” he wrote.

Suggestions poured in. Nothing snarky or backhanded. After all, the only stated rule of the group (outside of not spamming it with self-serving promotions) is “don’t be a jerk.”

“Don’t watch the needle,” a commenter offered. “Don’t watch the baby coming out. Just sit next to her and let her squeeze your first two fingers. Don’t catch the baby. Don’t cut the cord. Be aware of what’s happening and when you may have to remove yourself from the situation. Do it before you become a problem.”

“Just be honest,” another suggested. “Keep your eyes on your partner, and ask for a stool to sit on. You need to be the best you can be for her, not try to do something you can’t live up to. Talk with her about everything ahead of time.”

Another expectant father chimed in. “I don’t have too much advice, since I haven’t gone through the birth yet, but I would say talk to your wife in advance so she knows it’s a problem for you (if she doesn’t know already),” he wrote. “And as soon as you feel the symptoms coming on, go and [lie] flat — even just on the floor if need be.”

While such exchanges might seem like the blind leading the blind, I — a woman who’s gone through a pregnancy and written extensively about our attitudes toward fathers — found the conversations on r/predaddit to be novel. But also irritating that they seemed so novel.

After all, men have been becoming fathers for centuries. Shouldn’t it be accepted wisdom they’re afraid, excited and concerned about the prospect of fatherhood, and also privy to safe spaces where they can voice these thoughts and feelings among members of their tribe without fear of mockery or rebuke? (You know, just like us moms?)

You’d think so. We’re entering an era where fatherhood, and more specifically, the effort and care men have increasingly put into their roles and responsibilities during pregnancy and fatherhood, are finally getting the attention and respect they deserve.

We’ve written extensively at MEL about fathers’ experiences in everything from childrearing to grief to staying at home to postpartum depression. But most of us grew up watching much louder, more pervasive depictions of impending fatherhood as nothing short of a full-on freakout that made bringing life into the world look more akin to a death sentence for a man than cause for celebration.

Cut to more recently, and depictions of soon-to-be dads still take on a hue of bro-tastic stupidity, such as in book titles like Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad! Or commercials where the experiences of expectant fathers are put comically on par with, say, being constipated and then taking a dump.

Even new fathers, while finally being portrayed as at least participatory, are still made to look as if doing this everyday stuff of dealing with their spawn is revelatory because they’re so naturally inept at it. In other words, men having feelings about being dads is still far too often treated as a joke.

But not at r/predaddit, where the emotions range from everything from scared to nervous to worried to excited to sad, but refreshingly lacking in any kind of filter, puffery or pretense.

This first-time dad, for instance, is beyond excited:

First time dad! Found out Friday morning. Had the first ultrasound earlier today looks like we are 7 weeks 3 days along. I’m beyond excited! from predaddit

This soon-to-be dad is openly terrified:

Wife is 20 weeks, just got told she could have Placenta Previa. I’m terrified. from predaddit

This guy is a little nervous about having a boy:

Just found out it’s a boy. Feel a bit uncertain, never been great at ‘being one of the guys’ or bonding with other men. And didn’t know my dad. So I’m excited and nervous to see how this relationship goes! from predaddit

This guy feels really awkward conversing with his wife’s baby bump:

Does anyone else feel awkward talking to the bump? from predaddit

This guy’s girlfriend is keeping a baby they didn’t plan, and that he didn’t want:

Girlfriend is keeping a pregnancy I do not want but will have to deal with it. Could really use advice. from predaddit

This guy’s nerves are killing him:

The Wait. from predaddit

This guy is in a planning frenzy:

Final few days checklist? from predaddit

This guy is just waiting:

They just took her back to the room, waiting on the nurse to come back for me. from predaddit

This guy is a ball of emotions:

Incoming freshman coping with emotions from predaddit

There are posts about in vitro nightmares. Baby shower etiquette. Paternity leave. Checklists and more checklists. Nerves and more nerves. When she’s late. When she’s early. And then posts like “Holy Fuck Twins” that need no explanation (but maybe a comma):

Holy Fuck Twins from predaddit

There is, as is the case on all experience-specific sites, insider language. All the men use the same descriptors for the big moment: When the baby’s about to come, and they’re headed to the hospital, it’s “Go time” or “Showtime.”

It’s go time boys from predaddit

It’s go time, gentlemen. See you on the other side. from predaddit

To which there are many congrats and last-minute tips, such as “How are we doing?? Remember to sit down when holding the baby!”

And other advice, like “Congratulations friend! Here’s hoping everything is quick and boring! PS: Once you get to the recovery room, go get some nibbles for mom and the nurses. Nurses love donuts (at least ours did).”

Then, when the babies come, it’s “Graduation,” a bittersweet moment of excitement that the baby has launched, but sadness that the group’s camaraderie has run its course.

Graduated 1/31. 9,2oz 22.5in from predaddit

Graduated at 5:30am this morning! from predaddit

Graduated on 2/4/2019 at 9:09am. World, meet Elijah David. from predaddit

Because for all the r/predaddit community offers excited, nervous fathers, it’s a pit stop on the way to the real thing. Once the baby’s out, it’s time to move on to a more mature place where hands-on baby care is the new frontier of worry and concern. That would be r/daddit.

9 month lurker, first time poster. Wish us luck, its showtime! Thanks for everything fellow pre-dads, its been great. See you all on r/daddit! from predaddit

But back to HughYeman, the guy worried about passing out.

After reading all the suggestions his fellow newbie dads had, he seemed relieved and grateful.

“Thanks for all your thoughts,” he replied. “By the way, I have been talking to my wife about this all along. We communicate about everything. I’ve let her know that I’m dealing with my own ego, and I’m going to do what I need to do to make sure I don’t become a problem.”

Perusing the forum, something struck me. Why, it’s almost as if soon-to-be-fathers experience the full range of human emotion. It’s as if they’re having their own entirely unique experience, no less powerful, resonant, confusing, thrilling and terrifying than that of mothers, even for all its inherent differences. And, gasp, they’re perfectly capable of talking openly about this wildly transformational life moment with their wives and girlfriends, but also each other.

Just as women spend months in forums for expectant mothers fretting every meal, ounce gained, doctor visit and strange ache and pain, men too do their own fretting. Sure, you might wonder why they can’t all do this together in one place? But these dudes are also fully aware of and carefully respectful that they are in a support role here, and they don’t want to steal the show. Then, mothers and fathers graduate together into parenthood, where they’ll start hashing out the next round of tips, tricks and concerns. So maybe before we get served up yet another doofus in a commercial trying to change a diaper, or an expectant father going nuts at his loss of freedom, the art, media and advertising worlds could read r/predaddit — and try to graduate, too.