Dads: stop hiding in the bathroom, garage, shed, backyard, bar, and at work.
The kids and wife will find you there eventually.
It’s okay, all you have to do is play with your kids, be nice to your wife, and give them your entire mortal life and all the attention and beauty and care inside it. That’s all.
Those are secrets to a long, beautiful life, and one day, when the kids are out of the house, you will have the bathroom all to yourself (between their college years and your death) and you’ll miss being interrupted all the time with urgent matters like who hit who, who is bothering who, who needs to really really really go to the bathroom right now (so it’s not okay to have the kids pee in the tub while you’re occupying the throne?).
If you’re reading this and you’re a dad, you’re probably not needing the “advice” I’m going to shell out. But most people out there can be shitty, awful people, and especially to their kids. But if, by chance, an awful human being has become a parent, I’m hoping he would someone stumble upon this post. Somehow.
So chances are you’re not a shitty dad. Maybe you’re a first time dad or finally reconnecting with your kids after some estrangement. No judgment here. It’s almost never too late to raise your children right.
But if you were tending toward that reality, here are some pointers to pass along.
Be there. Just be there.
Absenteeism by dads is an epidemic in America and the world. There is no greater struggle, archetype, or therapy-prompt than “talk about your relationship with your dad.” By just being there all the time you’ve saved a future broken human being from suffering from thoughts of insecurity and abandonment at their current and future age. Fight hard against the struggles and obstacles of life to be there for every moment you can, even if it seems like they don’t want or need you there.
Don’t be a selfish asshole with your time.
Your stuff isn’t that important. The kids want your attention, and if you don’t give it to them, they will get the hint and not bother you again, or they’ll give their attention to anyone else, preferably not you. For life maybe. But don’t helicopter over them all the time either. Everyone needs some time alone sometime, but not that much time. One day you’re going to get home late and realize you haven’t talked to your kids in a few days, and you’ll wonder where all the hours went. Play this scene over in your mind and adjust accordingly. This also goes for your precious stuff that you don’t want them touching.
Just play princess or LEGOs or whatever with your kids. Just do it.
Whatever you’re doing is not as important as tea party, princess ball, picnic, kitchen, school, construction site, or any of the wonderful games you could be playing with your amazing, perfect children. Whatever they’re into, they’re looking for reinforcement and approval. Play all the games they want, and engage them on their level as much as you can before they fade out and revert to only playing by themselves. You are the most important person in the world to them, for now.
Turn off the t.v. after a little bit, or for good.
Remember Jim Carrey’s character in The Cable Guy plummeting to his death? His last words were, “Kill the Babysitter,” referring to the boob tube that had “raised” him. This goes for the YouTube, handheld devices, and tablets. Kids should be experiencing plenty of fresh air, free play, and whatever it is you’re doing away from the couch. Whatever you’re doing, include them, even if it’s “above their heads” (which will probably never be the case unless you’re splitting the atom or doing advanced grammar or calculus–even then, that’s pretty cool to share). Once the television and smartphone are off, you can actually feel the parasites leaving your brain to go onto more creative uses of your time with the kids.
Learn with your kids.
Kids are crazy sponges and love to explore and learn. So expose them to all the not-so-boring things you want to learn, and be pleasantly surprised when they take it as seriously as you. They are literally blank slates, so fill up their brains with great life stuff. This also goes for all your favorite music and hobbies. Your kids want to learn what you like, because they really, really like you and all the things that make you you. For now.
Talk a lot and use big words.
Successful adult humans often have strong educational backgrounds because of their parents’ education and willingness to share words and ideas. It’s not too late or too early to get all the knowledge in your head into theirs. You are your child’s first teacher, so have something good to say, and don’t water down your vocabulary. And read to them and with them, and make sure they see you reading.
Don’t hit your kids.
Getting a “switch from the tree” or “bopping” your two-year old just isn’t necessary. Time outs, taking away privileges, and a loud, mean voice of authority often work just as well. “Spoiling the child by sparing the rod” makes no sense when you consider that hitting your kid with a rod would be awful. A grown man hitting a little kid because he spilled his juice or did something naughty has no correlation in the real world unless you’re equating violence in prisons with people actually learning something about life, which isn’t happening. Most people hit their kids between ages 2-12 and then don’t hit anymore when the kids get older (although we all know the hitting can continue long after 12 or until the child is big enough to hit back). Doesn’t that seem illogical? At the most precious memory and skill-forming time in the child’s life, you’re using physical aggression and violence to teach important lessons? They can’t learn any other way? I think–and know–not.
Just be yourself, or the better version of yourself you hope to be.
Your kids are going to solidify an image and character of you and stick with that for life, so give your best to them, always. Don’t worry about being perfect, and don’t be afraid to learn from new mistakes. You can reinvent yourself as you learn how to parent, and start taking your kids on all the adventures you’ve been putting off until you thought life would somehow magically open and encourage you to start really living. It did open up: you had kids. You created human life and it can talk, walk, and think just like you did all those years ago. There’s something powerful in that.
When all else fails, just say to yourself, Just don’t be a shitty dad.
You can be a shitty spouse or son, worker or friend, brother or citizen, but just don’t shortchange your children, ever. At your funeral let the living say of you that you were the best father you could have been, and that you loved your kids and gave them the world and then some. Whatever that means to you, apply it and stick with it, and enjoy your kids while you can. Tell them you love them at least a thousand and one times a day, and show them that you love them that many times and more.
They’ll love it. Because all they want is you.
This essay originally appeared on Nerdy Dad Shirt.
Photo: Sergey Glazgo/Flickr
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