I was dragged into fatherhood kicking and screaming. I never wanted to have children, mostly because I considered myself too selfish and partly because being the oldest male with three much younger sisters I felt like I had done my time helping to change diapers. Well, fate has a funny way of testing your resolve. I now have an amazing, beautiful, hilarious, 7-year-old daughter who is the center of my world and I've been involved in both adoption and foster care.
The first time I held my daughter all my fears of being too selfish or not being capable of being a good father melted away and I knew that I would give my life to protect her and shape her into an amazing person. So far I'm doing a pretty good job of raising her, if I do say so myself.
In the spirit of Father's Day I thought I'd attempt to give some advice to any new or soon-to-be dad's out there. Of course we have to start with...
1. Poop. You might as well get use to it. It's going to be all over everything you own. First and foremost, no one warned me that the very first poop my beautiful newborn child would take would look like a mix of ash and tar. I thought my child was broken. Seriously, I made phone calls and almost cried. I've seen a lot of things in life but I wasn't prepared for that sludge to come out of my precious child. Also, always make sure your wipes are nearby before you start changing their diaper. One time the wipes were across the room and I turned to grab them for two seconds and my little angel had dug both hands into her diaper and her entire face and mouth were covered and she was laughing hysterically. She was so proud of herself. Yes, dear reader, I did think to myself, "Should I take a picture of this to send to her mother?", and no, I'm not going to tell you if I actually did or not. Stop judging me.
2. Be honest with your kids. I'm not talking about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. There are certain white lies that are part of the magic of being a child. However, when your child asks questions about religion, politics, race, or sexuality, be honest and speak openly to them about it. They are smarter than we usually give them credit for and will ask questions that can sometimes even challenge our own thoughts on a subject. I see way too many parents dismiss questions and talk down to their kids. Not cool parents, not cool.
3. Get on the floor and play with your kids. Being an adult, it's easy to get bogged down in responsibilities or be too tired and say, "Not right now, daddy's busy...". However, your kids need you and play is extremely important for their development. Besides, building a pillow fort is awesome no matter what age you are. If you don't understand how amazing pillow forts are then I can't help you. The rest of you, buy more legos. You can never have enough legos.
4. Ease up on the antibacterial hand sanitizer. It's important for your kids to play in the mud and build up their immunities just like we did.
5. Safety. Make sure to put drawer and cabinet locks on, plug shields in outlets, lock the gate around your pool, pick up small items that are a choking hazard, keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit in your home, and have a fire escape route. When it comes to creating a safe environment for your child, common sense is key.
Still, eventually your child will hurt themselves and it's awful and frightening. The best advice I can give is to remain calm. Your child mimics your emotions. You stay calm and it helps to soothe them and then the whole situation is easier to deal with quickly and logically.
6. Monitor and limit (but also encourage) your child's use of technology. It's easy for your kid to get caught up and spend an entire day on a tablet or phone. Make sure to implement rules about how long and when usage is okay. However, after seeing my daughter making her own make-up and cooking YouTube tutorial videos at the age of three, I quickly realized how important it was to foster that creativity and imagination. So even though we feel like our kids faces bathed in the blue light of soul sucking technology is preventing them from being children, it's not entirely evil and can help them become their own person as long as it's not being used as a babysitter. What's truly important is finding the balance, just like everything in life.
7. Discipline. For the first three years of her life I spanked my daughter a handful of times. It was what my parents had done so I did the same. Then I went through foster training and it made me re-evaluate how I raised my own child. If given the choice today between getting spanked or taking their iPad, most kids would take a spanking and that says something. Now, just telling my daughter "I'm very disappointed" in a stern voice is usually enough, and if not, taking away tech devices usually does the trick.
8. Avoid perfection. Most parents strive to make their child perfect. Perfect is boring. It's our idiosyncrasies and oddities shaped from adversity that make us beautiful. The trick is roughing your kid up just enough so that they are really cool and interesting and not irreparably damaged. So hide in your kids closet for hours in a scary mask and then randomly spring out and scare the crap out of them, then laugh hysterically as they cry (I'm laughing right now just thinking about it). Start speaking to them in a nonsense language you made up and insist that something is wrong with them for not being able to understand you. Throw something at them and then chastise and lecture them when they throw it back about the dangers of throwing things. Have some fun. You're welcome. Their therapist will thank you.
Honestly, I'm still surprised every day that I'm a great father. It's instinct and common sense mixed with learning from the mistakes of our parents and stealing from what they did well. That and having a genuine interest in your child and who they will become.
Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to start preparing for when I'll have a teenage scorpio female in my home. Please pray for me.