While father’s enjoy more hands on involvement than ever before, they rarely read parenting manuals or discuss child-rearing with friends. If you’re a dad, we’ll even bet it was your wife who handed this article to you. That doesn’t necessarily mean she thinks you need a parenting makeover. Maybe just a touch-up.
Being a great father requires much more than following these 10 easy steps. But consider them as signposts on your journey — when you’re feeling lost, you can refer to them to find your bearings. Make no mistake, you will be lost sometimes. If you don’t feel stupid, guilty or hopelessly inept at this fatherhood thing at least some of the time, then you don’t care enough.
1. It’s OK to hate Snuglis. You should respect and support your wife in her role as a mother, but you don’t need to use the same parenting style. You’re not Mr. Mom; you’re Mr. Dad. If you would rather face a firing squad than get down on the floor at a toddler playgroup, it doesn’t mean you can’t be an involved dad. Find an activity you’re comfortable with and spend time with your kids on your own terms. No, we don’t mean pushing your baby around in a stroller while you golf. (Admit it — you thought about that.)
2. Teach your son to tie a tie. Every young man should know how to make a tidy knot at his neck — and he should learn it from his dad:
1) Stand behind your son, with both of you facing a mirror, and the tie loose around his neck with the wide end hanging lower.
2) Loop the wide end over and under the narrow end to form a single knot.
3) Loop the wide end once around the narrow end, just up from the single knot.
4) Now pull the wide end over the wrapped and the single knot to cover them both. Loop the end under and over, so that it is left hanging over the top of the wrapped single knot.
5) Pull the wide end between the wrap and the single knot.
6) Adjust the knot into a neat triangle and smile at how good your boy looks.
3. Remember that sports are supposed to be fun. Memorize the following:
• The chances of your son making the National Hockey League or your daughter competing in the Olympics are close to zero. They know this, and you should too.
• Unless you are a trauma surgeon, your cellphone and BlackBerry do not need to be on during the game. When your daughter asks whether you saw her score, your answer should not be “Sorry, honey, I was talking to Phil from human resources.”
• When your son makes a dumb mistake on the field or the ice, he feels bad enough already. You don’t have to bring it up 12 times on the drive home.
• When you pay your kids $25 for every goal they score, they will never pass the puck or ball. You do not need to be an economist to understand this.
• Your seven-year-old does not need a lecture about the subtleties of the neutral zone trap or the suicide squeeze. He just needs you to give him a high-five after the game.
4. Be a good partner. A big part of being a great dad is being a great husband. Show your kids that couples can find a compromise when they disagree, without bullying or losing face. If you have a son, he’ll see what it means to respect women. If you have a daughter, she’ll see that she deserves to be treated with that same respect by the boys she will eventually date. While she should understand this implicitly, it never hurts to remind her that if her boyfriends do not treat her properly, you will do terrible things to them and their bodies will never be discovered.
5. Let your kids screw up sometimes. You’re a guy and it’s natural for you to protect the fruit of your loins. But the fruit needs to get bruised once in a while if it’s going to survive in the wild. When your daughter fails a test at school, it may have been because she was chatting on MSN instead of studying. If your son gets cut from the rep team, it might be because he’s not good enough. These setbacks in their lives are learning experiences. They are not insults to your masculinity, and you do not have to step in to show that teacher or coach what happens when they mess with your offspring. All you will accomplish is showing your kids that Daddy will be there to make excuses and bail them out whenever they screw up.
6. Read together. Many kids are bombarded with the message that men don’t read. (This may have something to do with the fact that most men don’t read.) Storytime with your kids is a great way to share a few quiet moments, especially before bedtime. The key to success is selecting the right books. Good choices include Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, which contains the timeless lines: “Dad is sad. Very, very sad. He had a bad day. What a day Dad had!” Bad choice: the Berenstain Bears books, which feature lines like “Oh, Papa Bear, what a complete moron you are.”
7. Give them an education. Every guy likes to be Fun Dad, but sometimes you need to be Prudent Dad. He’s boring, it’s true, but kids look fondly on him when they’re grown up. One of the smartest things Prudent Dad can do is save for his kids’ university education. By putting just $100 a month into a Registered Education Savings Plan starting when your child is a baby, you can save $50,000 by the time she heads to college. (Prudent Dad will note that this includes the 20 percent Canada Education Savings Grant and assumes a seven percent annual return.)
8. Let your kids know they can talk to you. In many families, Mom is the one children go to when they need to talk, and Dad is the one they go to when they need money. Listening to kids share their loves, hates and fears doesn’t have to be “a mom thing.” Encouraging your kids to open up to you is all about creating the right environment. Build some one-on-one time into your week — even something as mundane as a half-hour car ride will work. Discuss things that come up naturally, and don’t interrogate. Above all, don’t judge. That’s the surest way to shut down the conversation. Besides, what do you know?
9. Get it right the first time. Men can learn a lot from second-time-around fathers — the guys who have a second or third child late in life because they have remarried, or because the vasectomy didn’t work. Most of these dads say they are more involved with their “second family” than they were with their older kids. They recognize that “I’m working all the time because I want to provide for my kids” is a lie that men tell themselves. A wise man once said that no father’s dying words have ever been “I wish I had spent more time at work.” By the same token, no kid has ever said, “I wish my dad would spend less time playing with me and just buy me more crap.”
10. Make sure they know you love them no matter what. The only way to be sure they know is to tell them. Every day.