Yes, babies can be a lot of work, but there is a wonderful payoff that comes from having his body language tell you, “I feel good with you. I want to be with you.” There is no better feeling in the world.

I remember asking a friend once—this was before I had kids—how he knew what the baby wanted. “He tells you,” my friend replied. I had no idea what he meant. How can a baby tell you? But now that I’ve looked after three babies of my own, I understand. The baby does tell you, but not with words or gestures or even looks that pass between you. It’s more that, as you spend time together, you learn to read the baby’s cues—his body language or his cries or coos in various situations. Whatever you might think of your wife’s apparent instinct for this, it’s an acquired skill that requires time and togetherness.

Part of developing the ability to read cues involves fathers and babies becoming comfortable together. I mean physically comfortable. Again, this takes time and daily caregiving helps because changing, dressing, bathing and comforting all require you to touch the baby. But there’s a particular level of physical contact that comes when parents and babies are just hanging out, and getting to this place means finding the way your bodies fit together. Each one of my kids seemed to want me to hold him differently, and it usually took a little time for us to figure out what that was. Quiet, relaxed time together helps you find this fit.

I have a half-baked theory that when parents and babies are together like this, little invisible love chemicals pass between them. Whether that’s true or not, the feeling you get from this kind of physical contact teaches you that babies give something back.

John's story was originally published in Today’s Parent.