Just as a new family comes into being on the wedding day with the marriage of a husband and wife, so too does fatherhood begin on the day of conception with the creation of a new life. Wait, fatherhood begins then? Did I mean to write “motherhood,” or perhaps “parenthood?”
The mother’s participation in her baby’s life from day one is obvious, since she and her baby will remain intimately connected (literally) throughout the pregnancy. Her diet and daily habits suddenly take on a new meaning, and her moods might affect the baby’s short-term—and even long-term—emotional states. She eats for two—and feels for two as well.
But where does Dad come in? Aside from being patient with Mom’s mood swings and her sudden cravings and aversions, it is not readily apparent how he is to be involved with his baby until the big birth day. In a stunning role-reversal, the husbands takes on the part of help-mate while the mother does the work of actually “growing” the baby. All of the father’s actions seem to be indirect only—he might keep his wife in good spirits, and thus can affect the baby’s own experience of emotional satisfaction, but he does not get to experience so much as a smile from the baby in return.
Such may seem to be the father’s frustration—at least during that advent of awaiting the baby’s birth—and so he can patiently wait, in the meantime caring for his wife as her own body goes through a period of changes. It is, of course, very important for somebody to do this, preferably the husband, though in the case of the single woman in a “crisis” pregnancy it might be (for example) a Gabriel Project Angel or similar supporter. Meanwhile, the father’s joy is mostly intellectual, as is his recognition that he does, in fact, matter and that he can actually help (or hinder) with the baby’s development during the pregnancy.
The occasional sonogram or heartbeat provide some milestones, little affirmations of what he knows to be true: that his son or daughter is in fact growing in the mother’s womb. Then the second trimester dawns, and his wife’s belly begins to show, so he has a more constant reminder of the miracle which is his child. Meanwhile, his wife may be reading one or another of the myriad books of healthy prenatal parenting, or how to have a happy baby, or how to pray through pregnancy—all of these geared exclusively towards the mother .
However, once the baby’s kicks can be felt, the generic father can finally become “Daddy.” The first few months of my wife’s pregnancy have felt like this, like I’ve been the father, but not really the daddy. Sure, I’ve been there to provide as much comfort and support as I could during my wife’s first trimester and a half. And yes, my reward for this has been a few glimpses at sonograms (even an actual 4D sonogram!), the excitement of finding out that we’re having a girl, the fun of picking out a name (we’re likely going with Faustina AnnRose): a few assorted milestones interspersed over many months.
Then, at around 24 weeks, I could actually feel my baby’s kicking. Now, mind you, my wife had been feeling our daughter’s occasional kicks for weeks prior (“It’s like a little fluttering feeling,” she would say. I learned not to hold my breath.) Once I could actually feel Faustina’s movements, the pregnancy went from being a mostly intellectual exercise to a true realization—and a true interaction: finally, I get to play little games with my baby!
Studies have shown that children in the womb can distinguish between different stimuli and can even “remember” such things as the music to which their mothers listened during pregnancy . We thus have all the makings of a “prenatal classroom” for our daughter—one which allows her to learn, but which also entails her getting to bond not only with my wife, but also with me (and vice versa). Suddenly we are able to play games together—albeit typically on her agenda—even before she is born.
This brings my back to my opening line, “Pat, pat. Rub, rub.” The main game we play is what is called a “kick game,” in which I pat, rub, stroke, tap, squeeze, or “kick” (press on) Faustina through my wife’s belly—and this, while saying “pat,” “rub,” stroke,” etc. Faustine, for her part, needs only to kick (or punch) back to let us know she felt it. She does this, but we’ve noticed that her responses are different depending on what I have done to stimulate her. Sure, she kicks, but her kicks are different than her taps, which are different from her rubs, and so on.
All of this is supposed to stimulate our daughter’s cognitive development—but in the meantime, she is learning to recognize my and my wife’s voices. She is also learning to appreciate classical music (she tends to become very calm when we play Ave Verum Corporis and other similarly soothing songs). It also serves me of a more immediate reminder that I am a father, and not just intellectually so.
 Even some of the most pro-life and pro-family of these seems to treat the father a secondary actor. Many simply say “father or some other helper/comforter/supporter.” Is it any wonder that reading these things is a form of torture for most men?
 Some of the research involved, as well as a description of the “prenatal classroom” concept, is presented and discussed in While You Are Expecting… Your Own Prenatal Classroom, by F. Rene Van de Carr (M.D.) and Marc Lehrer (Ph.D.).