We all know women “nest” while waiting for their baby to arrive. Nearly everyone has a story about an expectant mom going a bit crazy preparing for baby — obsessively washing and rewashing mountains of tiny socks, dismantling doorknobs to bleach the interior parts or, in my case, deciding the future health and happiness of my offspring was dependent on having a framed Tintin poster above her changing table. Hormones are no joke.
But what about the men? Do expectant dads nest?
Mary Dodge, a Seattle marriage and family therapist, thinks they do. “Today’s fathers are far more involved and emotionally expressive than their predecessors, and that means experiencing and acting upon nesting instincts — or anxieties — all their own,” says Dodge. “Male nesting is a way for men to feel connected to the pregnancy. It tends to be something physical they can do to feel involved as well as preparing for their role as protector and provider.”
Justin Fenton, a father of two from Seattle, agrees. “Men have their own way of getting ready for babies.” It’s not that they go out shopping for onesies, he says. “It’s more primal: How do we transition to a new level of responsibility and adulthood? How can we provide for them?”
When Fenton learned his wife was expecting, he moved back to Seattle to find a better job and bought a Volvo wagon. “We needed something bigger and safer, but I was weary of the SUV stigma” he says.
Nesting fathers and car cravings
Buying safe family cars appears to be a theme among nesting fathers. Many dads I spoke with admitted to a sudden reevaluation of their transportation needs, opting for family wagons over their sportier pre-baby models.
“We needed a safe car that could fit a car seat and still have room for a passenger,” Jeremy Fichter of Bainbridge Island says. “It was like, panic time — we couldn’t cram our first son into our pre-baby car.” In addition to the size of the car, the real sticking point was its manual transmission. “Try teaching your 8-months-pregnant wife how to drive a stick,” Fichter says. “Let’s just say there were tears. I’m not saying it played a role, but the day after her first lesson, we went to the dealership.”
When dads-to-be aren’t upgrading cars, they’re launching remodels.
“I guess I didn’t think of it as nesting at the time” says Portland father Chris Jones. “We always wanted to remodel the kitchen, but suddenly it became very important that we finish before my wife’s due date.”
Unfortunately, Jones quickly found himself behind schedule and over budget. As the stress of the project ramped up, he experienced his first Papa Bear moment: He removed his wife from the remodel ruin and took over. “I’m a pretty mellow guy, but I became incredibly focused and domineering with the crew. She couldn’t bring a baby into the world in the middle of that mess.”
Babies, bars and band saws
It isn’t all remodels and cars for new dads. Some find themselves preparing for many a housebound evening by investing in upgraded cable, bigger televisions or other man-cave luxuries. “I got a kegerator for Christmas,” new dad Clif Gordon says. “It’s not like I was going to haul my new baby to the bar. For the first week, anyway.”
Woodway father of two Dean Robertson also made an unusual pre-baby purchase: a 14-inch band saw. “I needed it to expand my business, so we could accommodate our growing family,” the professional jewelry maker says. “I suppose the tools in the shop also give me a respite and peace from my chaotic household.”
Sometimes, it isn’t even what dads buy as much as where their anxieties lie that offers a glimpse into the male nesting psyche. “What is more anxiety provoking than bringing a child into the world?” asks Dodge, the family therapist. “It’s no wonder both men and women have strong nesting urges; nesting’s both an expression of anxiety and an attempt at mastery of a new role.”
Expectant father Charlie Keen certainly felt this pull. “I just started worrying about the size of our garbage can,” Keen says. “Is it going to be big enough? Will we have enough room for diapers?” After reassurances from friends that he could always upgrade to a larger size when the time comes, he calmed down. “I obsess about logistics,” Keen explains.
Tacoma father Hunter Vaughn also hopped on board the diaper neurosis train when he found out his wife was expecting. “I insisted on using reusable diapers,” Vaughn says. “I did all the research — including online, news articles, picking friends’ brains and interrogating unsuspecting shop owners about reusables. Then I practiced using the reusables on an infant-sized Curious George until I got it right. But that’s me,” he says sheepishly. “I obsess about everything.”
Spoken like a truly modern father.
Cedar Burnett is a Seattle-based freelance writer and the mother of a sassy 2-year-old. Read about her encounters with goats and garden gnomes at cedarburnett.com.