10 Tips for Soon-to-Be Geek Dads

Getting ready for a baby is one heck of an adventure. Here are a few of the lessons I learned when preparing for the arrival of my kids. I know I’ve got a few geek dad readers out there; feel free to add your own tips as comments.

1. Figure out your Budget
If you haven’t done it already, figure out what your current income and expenses are as well as what they might be after the baby comes. Figure out if you’re going to be in the red, how long you’ll be in the red, and whether you can handle that. If it helps, we’re spending $160 a month on formula and disposable diapers with our baby. Almost every parenting magazine and book you’ll read will tell you that money is one of the things that new parents are most likely to argue about … and they’re right. Creating a budget that you both agree to might not prevent those battles, but at least you’ll both know where you stand financially.

2. Go to a Healthy Baby Class
The exact name of this class varies, but the gist remains the same — learn the basics of how to take care of a baby. If you’re like I was the first time around, you haven’t had a heck of a lot of experience with handling babies. Even though I babysat a lot as a teenager, I rarely took care of babies, and even then they were never newborns.

Before StarGirl was born, the thing I was most stressed about was dropping her.

The class helped a lot. They covered different ways to hold the baby (yes, there are many different holds), how to swaddle the baby (a tight wrapping that makes him/her feel more secure), what to expect in the diaper department, common baby ailments and other helpful tips. Some of it is obvious, a lot of it isn’t. Consider this the RTFM of geek parenting.

3. Get a Digital Music Player
I don’t care if it’s an iPod, an iRiver, or whatever new thing Sony came out with in a desperate attempt to win market share from Apple, get a digital music player. This will come in handy in two ways: first, you can load it with your wife’s favorite music, and use it (and some cheap speakers) to play music when she’s in labor instead of bringing CDs — the iPod will store a much greater range of music than you can easily carry in disk form, and means you’ll have all your musical bases covered. Second, when the baby comes you maybe walking a lot. I spent hours walking with my daughter Jordan, who took forever to fall asleep. Having the iPod helps relieve the sheer tedium of being up at 3 a.m. with a kid that doesn’t want to sleep.

4. Get a Netflix Account or Tivo/DVR
Before and after the baby come the two of you may not feel like going out much … but you still want that mental diversion that comes from watching a good TV show or movie. Before StarGirl was born, we got a Netflix account and then went on a huge Stargate binge that lasted through her first year. With NeutronLad, we didn’t spend nearly as much time watching DVDs together, but it was still great to have a DVD of Alias or Doctor Who around to watch in the wee hours of the morning when the baby absolutely refused to go to sleep.

A Tivo could easily serve the same purpose; I personally like Netflix because I’m not limited by what’s available on my basic cable lineup, but a DVR is very tempting.

5. Get a Digital Camcorder and Camera
The baby’s going to do a lot of cute things, you’re going to want to capture it all and that crappy little camera on your cell phone just isn’t going to cut it. Before StarGirl was born we bought a Canon digital camcorder and before NeutronLad’s arrival we bought a Sony digital camera. The camera has seen much more use than the camcorder, largely because we’ve haven’t had a lot of time to edit the video we shoot. But it’s still nice having the camcorder around knowing that someday we’ll edit it all together.

6. Get a Notebook Computer
One of the reasons I’ve struggled with producing digital video is that I bought a PowerMac desktop computer just after StarGirl was born. The computer was not the problem; getting to it was. The computer’s located in my third floor office, and finding the time to work on it after the baby came was increasingly difficult. It didn’t get any easier after Baby #2. After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that a good, powerful notebook computer (specifically a MacBook Pro) is the right choice for me. The portability, especially when coupled with a wireless connection, is just too useful.

7. Discuss the Privacy Thing
You’ve got the photos and videos … but who gets to see that? Are you going to dump all those photos to Flickr so you can share them with your family … and the world? Is your wife ok with that? (or alternatively, are you ok with that if she is?) Personally, I don’t post photos or video of my kids to the web in an attempt to protect their future privacy. I also don’t blog about things I think might be potentially embarrassing for them when they’re older, and get the bright idea to Google themselves (or one of their friends does). A blog entry about a bathroom mishap that seems funny now could come back to haunt you 10 years down the line.

8. Find out the Hospital’s Rules for Electronic Devices
You’ve got gadgets, but will you be able to use them at the hospital? Better to ask now and find out what you can and can not bring. Many hospitals won’t let you bring wireless devices (particularly cell phones) and many have policies against taking photos and video during the birth (but afterwards is usually ok).

9. Stockpile Paperbacks
Everyone says you never have enough time once the baby comes, but truth be told, you have time … it comes at unexpected intervals, say from 4 a.m.-5 a.m. With StarGirl and even more so with NeutronLad I was able to get a surprising amount of reading done, starting with the very first day in the hospital (with StarGirl I read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers; with NeutronLad it was Michael Flynn’s Lodestar). With StarGirl, I ended up walking endless loops downstairs and listening to my iPod, but with NeutronLad I mastered the crossed leg, one-handed feeding maneuver that let me blow through a half-dozen books in three months.

10. Get Tools
You may never have built so much as a birdhouse in your life, but once the baby’s on its way, you’ll be tasked with assembling everything from toys to cribs to dressers … and you’re going to need tools for all of it. I recommend getting a good set of screw drivers (flathead and Phillips), Allen wrenches (the hexagonal wrenches favored by Ikea), a ratchet set, a drill with a good set of bits and screwdriver attachments, a level (a real level — you’ll need it for the dresser and crib), a hammer, a rubber mallet, regular pliers, needle nose pliers and an adjustable wrench.

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