19 Tips From a Veteran Father: A Lifetime of Learnings By Robert M. Beagle
Updated: Aug 27, 2018
It’s always easy to think about the good things you did as a Dad, but not so easy to call up the things you didn’t do or should have done differently. Unfortunately, many Dads seem to have a lot more of the latter than the former. Then, as they age, talking about the things they wish they had done differently is a common topic for at the bar, the gym, or the work place lunch break.
So, here are some helpful (hopefully) hints for new Dads or for Dads who still have time to change their ways.
You’re not a “back-up parent.” You’re the Father. This hint shapes all others.
Spend significant time babysitting your newborn. We all know that babies need to bond with their mothers, but they also need to bond with their fathers. Changing diapers, getting up with the baby during the night, taking care of a skin rash may not be glamorous jobs, but they’re part of bonding and getting your baby to know who you are. Plus (and this is no insignificant thing) your spouse will be happy that you’re willing to give her relief from 24/7 baby duties.
Too many fathers think the “Dad role” doesn’t kick in until the son or daughter starts to show interest in sports, music, camping or whatever activity the parent and child can do together. They fail to realize that spending alone time with a baby or a growing child (whether it be reading to him/her, taking them for a walk in a stroller, listening to music together, going to the park to see the ducks) creates emotional bonds.
Learn to be patient. Fussy, crying, sleepless babies can wear you down. But chill out—it’s part of them being a baby and of you being a Dad.
Always act like an adult. Don’t talk to babies in baby talk. If you want them to acquire words and concepts, then talk to them in ways that facilitate the acquisition. Don’t worry that they don’t yet talk your language---they grasp more than you think.
More always acting like an adult. When dealing with a child’s irrational behavior (and believe me, it will happen much more than you wish it would) avoid engaging in your own irrational behavior. Have you ever seen a Mom or a Dad in a grocery store screaming back at their tantrum driven child? It’s unproductive behavior that sets a bad example. Don’t let that be you.
Sometimes it’s good to listen to the advice and feedback of others (such as grandparents or friends with children). They often perceive things you don’t, or have had similar experiences to draw upon. For the most part, their observations and comments are meant to be helpful and should be taken as such.
Beware, however, that comparing kids can sometimes be fruitless or irrelevant. Each child is his or her own person living in his/her own environment, with his/her own genes (your creation!). Raise your own child according to what you believe is best and seems to work best. When in doubt, follow your own instincts and beliefs.
In raising you child, talk over major decisions with your spouse. Appropriate discipline, health care issues, what kinds of activities to enroll your child in, decisions about baby sitters, whatever should always involve both parents. Earlier I reminded you that the Dad isn’t a “back-up” parent. But neither should Dad be a “go it alone” type.
Don’t spoil or overindulge. Resist the temptation to constantly please your child. Don’t fear that if you say no, your child won’t like you (or will prefer their Mother or some other close relative).
Closely related to #5 is the importance of holding your child accountable (even as a baby). Instill responsibility right from the start, including the temptation to do everything for them when they are toddlers. My youngest son didn’t start verbalizing until he was nearly 3 years old. Then we discovered that he didn’t have to--his older brother had been saying everything for him.
Too many parents avoid accountability by justifying a child’s behavior based on his or her age (“well, she’s only 3”). That doesn’t cut it; while some behaviors are age related, most are not, and need to be addressed accordingly.
When your child is a baby, don’t force or rush basic things like walking, talking, and toilet training. Avoid the temptation to compare your baby’s progress with that of a friend or a relative. It doesn’t matter how other babies are progressing—each baby does things when they’re ready.
Show affection. It’s easy to hug and kiss a baby, but not so easy to hug a teenager. Same thing with telling them you “love them.” As children grow beyond babyhood, affective emotions remain necessary and crucial (even for teenagers). Never stop letting them know how much you care, love them, and are always there for them.
While affective emotions are critical, so is cognitive development. Do mental (intellectual) things with them. Read books, listen to music, go to the park and look at ducks. Even if your own personal bent is seemingly non-intellectual, let them see things you’re doing whether it be fixing a car or mowing the lawn. A cousin (baseball player) of mine helped teach his boys to read by reading baseball player cards to them.
Don’t miss an event. While a game, a concert, a school open house might conflict with your schedule, or seem like less of a priority—just remember, it’s a priority to your child! AND they will remember LONG after the event whether or not you were there. Attending your child’s events is one of the most satisfying experiences you have as a Dad. Don’t defer the activity to their Mom or their grandparents. Don’t think that if one parent or close family member is there, your presence doesn’t matter. It does. Take advantages of the opportunities to be part of your child’s activities.
Although I earlier said to hold your baby and child accountable, I need to emphasize that it’s equally important for you let them be themselves. And when they age, let them follow their dreams. Even if the dream turns out to be nothing more than something never fulfilled, it was their dream. Life is full of unfulfilled dreams and risks that went awry. Your child needs to learn and experience that. At least, if you let them follow their dream, you will be forever remembered as having been supportive and willing to believe in them.
Make time for other relationships. Your child will benefit from seeing you spend quality time with his/her Mother, or from seeing you do things with friends. Being a father is demanding time consuming work, but it doesn’t mean that you forget all others. Even in divorced situations, children should see their parents being friendly and civil with each other, while working together on behalf of their son/daughter.
Build their universe. Get your child (even as a baby) out of the house to see new things, to see new people, to see you doing things in situations other than at home. It’s never too soon for you and your baby to start exploring the vast world outside.
If there’s an underlying theme throughout these hints it’s that Dads should pay attention and spend quality time with their children right from birth. They need to be involved in all the physical, emotional and intellectual developments that children go through. Personal experiences (and research) show that the more personal time a parent (in this case a Dad) spends with the child right from birth, the more your child will love you and respond to you no matter what age he/she is.
Robert M. Beagle, 2018