Here comes a moment in every new father's life when he realizes he's not fully a man anymore. He's a dad, an evolutionary offshoot most easily distinguishable by the things he always carries: baby wipes; Cheerios; and, in the trunk of the car where the golf clubs used to be, a collapsible stroller.
This realization can come as early as the delivery room or as late as a second birthday party, but soon enough, every halfway decent dad crosses that line from manhood to fatherhood.
On one side of the line are guys with cigars and sports cars, fancy stereo systems, and furniture that's all polished metal and black leather: Sharper Image guys. They see an attractive, college-aged girl and think, "Maybe, just maybe..."
On the other side are men who go to work unknowingly sporting a giant Dora the Explorer sticker on their crisp white dress shirt. They see an attractive, college-aged girl and think, "Babysitter?"
What's funny is that the typical new dad admits this transformation to himself roughly six months after it becomes obvious to the rest of the world. They can figure it out from the odor of sour milk that clings to you like the melody of a bad pop song. It takes a traumatic event to enlighten the new dad -- like the neighbor's kid calling him "Conor's Dad" instead of "Mister Johnson." To avoid embarrassment, it's important to help fathers make peace with their new identity. Nobody wants to hear Green Day blasting out of open minivan windows while a balding head bobs up and down -- oblivious to the baby's crying in the car seat directly behind him.
So I've collected some telltale signs, beyond the aforementioned lust for reliable babysitters, that a man has crossed over into fatherhood. You can think of it as a sort of field guide to this particular subspecies, the kind of thing John James Audubon might have conceived, had he ever decided to study humans. Or you can think of it as an early-warning system, an indicator that it's time to accept your full-fledged dad-i-tude before somebody has to take you aside at a cocktail party and set you straight.
Steve Johnson, father of two sons, is a writer in Oak Park, Illinois.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2006.