Mr. Mom

When I’m particularly helpful around the house, specifically with our infant son, my wife and I invoke an admittedly precious, encoded reference: DOTOI. Translation: Daddy’s On Top Of It. (The “That’s what she said” is implied.) It started out as snark—DOTOI utterances were generally accompanied by winks and blazing air pistols—but became something of an earnest mantra.

For example, if mom comes home late from work, surprised to see that dinner’s on the table and baby’s laundry has been folded, I’ll humbly reply, “DOTOI,” rather than a fawning, “You do more for this family than can really be calculated, so this is the least I could reciprocate.” Or, if she’s out of town for a weekend and needs to feel confident the baby will be fed, dressed and changed with adequate attentiveness, a simple “DOTOI” offers that peace of mind.

In exchange for all that DOTOI-ing, I get the one true thing any new father needs: semi-recurring quality time with the person who’s most wanting: myself.

With that in mind, here are five surefire tips for fellow rookie dads and jittery fathers-to-be on ensuring you can still get out of the house for a beer more than once in a blue moon. Better still, none of these suggestions necessitate selfish manipulation or unseemly bartering, and they may even make you a better partner in the process.

Let her get her nails did
Nothing says serenity like sitting awkwardly in an oversized pleather recliner while strangers paint your keratin claws with odorous acrylic and women on either side of you idly yap on their cell phones. Don’t speculate as to why women love mani-pedis. Just make sure you offer them the chance to be freed of nursing duties for an hour and get their express spa treatment on. Your freedom depends on it.

Don’t be a dick
This should be pretty obvious, regardless of whether a baby is coming between you and quality me-time. But when the stress of a little one is in the mix, and mom’s emotional-hormonal state is understandably volatile, it’s extra-important to choose your words wisely and deliver them with even more due consideration. Adjusting to this new arrangement is hard on both of you, but if you can keep her laughing more than crying, she’ll feel more like her balanced self—the self that doesn’t freak out if you go watch the game for three hours on a Sunday.

Be the night nurse
If your partner’s exclusively breast-feeding, congrats on winning the new-dad lottery and more or less being useless when the baby wakes up wailing at 2 a.m. That post-fetal creature wants nature’s lactose, and the most you can provide is a comforting pat on the back to poor wifey before slipping the eye mask back on (you all wear those too, right?). But if you’re a formula family, or if mom’s weaning off producing breast milk, volunteer to get up in the wee hours and prep a bottle, letting her get an uninterrupted night’s rest. She won’t suddenly owe you one, but she’ll certainly be in a better mood most days, which only ups your chances of a reprieve just in time for that evening of jackassery with friends.

Be more than just a babysitter
When you’re all that stands between that drooling life form and the big, bad outside world, flex some super-dad muscles. Rather than just fill the time between naps with hours in a swing or playpen, read the kid books, take them for walks to the park or get your hands dirty and crawl around with them on the ground for a while. It will be exhausting, and at times maddening, and all you may want to really do is escape to the couch and get off duty. But you’ll also feel that much more entitled to a breather, and mom—intuitive as she is—will likely pick up on how enriching your time together has been and express her gratitude by permitting you to seek solace in the company of those who don’t soil themselves… depending on your local watering hole.

Your home, her family’s home
Real life isn’t Meet the Fockers, and most other families aren’t so bad. But if anyone can understand how your significant other’s parents, siblings et al can be overwhelming, it’s your significant other. That’s why she’ll be all the more empathetic and grateful when you let her mom and dad spend the weekend, take up residence in your living room, reorganize your cabinets and unknowingly insinuate better ways to mind your child. Nothing says, “I owe you an afternoon at the stadium,” or, “You could use a drink” quite like opening your life to the in-laws. Besides, practically speaking, it’s more hands on deck to watch junior, so offer the extended family room on board if you ever want to abandon ship.