As a 44-year-old man, it’s rare that I’m able to share my experience with a peer on something they have yet to experience: becoming a new father. This opportunity presented itself this year in the form of my old college buddy, Steve, who became a dad for the first time. Another buddy of ours asked our circle of male friends to offer up advice on fatherhood. He then presented the whole package to him in book form. I thought I had gotten a late start, having my first kid at 33, but I guess you can teach an even older dog some new tricks.
This is what I wrote to Steve:
Ok, Steve, so here’s what I’ve learned about fatherhood. Everyone who gives advice is completely full of crap. Nobody has any idea what they’re talking about, which is why you always hear clichés like, “It’s the little things,” or, “It’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.” They’re usually too polite to tell you the truth: It’s a giant pain in the neck. Besides, I’m convinced that they get a morbid satisfaction in watching you suffer like they did. Get out now if you still can.
Alright, if you insist on being in this for the long haul, brace yourself. Your life is over. I’m eleven years in, and I’m still wondering where the hell all my free time went. The only way to survive this with your sanity is through the magic of sarcasm. Use it liberally. That and alcohol.
Speaking of alcohol, one Friday night I was out driving for Uber while my wife was home with the kids. The kids wanted root beer with their weekly pizza and movie night. My son, nicknamed Mancub, remarked, “Beers and pizza. Now if only Daddy were here.” DLP (Daddy’s Little Princess) retorted, “Yeah. Drinkin’ a beer, watchin’ a movie and eatin’ noodles. Whatta night!”
So what have we learned from this episode? Alcohol is necessary for good parenting. That and a sense of humor.
Speaking of having a sense of humor, here’s another tip: record all the funny stuff. It’ll keep you from eating them alive when they screw up. Oh, and when you’re about to strangle them but you feel a giggle coming on because whatever the hell they just did was so boneheaded, let it out every once in a while. But not too often. You don’t want to show too much weakness.
One of the things that is often said that actually rings true: You are cursed with the kind of kid that drove your parents nuts too. So all that stuff you pulled, that you thought was so clever as a kid? Buckle up. At least you’ll know some of what’s coming, since you tried to pull the same shenanigans yourself. Use whatever advantages you have. There aren’t many.
Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah. Kick them in the butt as much as possible. They’re pretty lazy if you let them get away with too much. But every once in a while, you’ll know to hold back and let them figure it out themselves.
They’re going to find creative ways to express themselves. Don’t correct them. Let them explore their own brains and find the right words. Like when DLP asked me, “Is Frosty smoking a hammer?!” It was at least ten minutes before I could stop laughing and tell her it was a corn cob pipe.
And I don’t know about you, but I find it irresistible to tell them I love them every chance I get, unlike our generation’s parents. It’s like all our parents got the same memo – never let them know you give a damn. I let that pendulum swing way to the other side. I kiss them on the lips, I tell them I love them, and I constantly encourage them. I’m probably creating a lifetime’s worth of therapy for them, but I just can’t help it.
Besides, if they’re going to take up so damn much of my time, I figure I might as well find a way to enjoy it. Being there is good for everyone. Do it as much as possible. Don’t lose opportunities, because they’re never coming back.
Be a pain in their neck back. Pry. Know what they’re doing – it removes their element of surprise. Enjoy the 2 a.m. feedings. Play catch. Take too many pictures and too many videos. Embarrass them in public. Love on them. Say “I love you” REALLY LOUDLY in the drop-off line at school. Be that dad.
And make sure to pack a flask. At the very least, the other dads will thank you.