Hey Dad, Dad here for a quick how not to Dad discussion. Let’s talk about positive male role models for our kid(s) and some of my own experiences in learning how to be a Dad.
Defining positive male role models
Growing up, there were only a few adult men in which I felt comfortable aspiring towards. My Dad wasn’t one of them… for long.
Babies pick up on parental social ques from damn near the onset, and learning how not to Dad should be an ongoing self-improvement process. Oftentimes it’s not until after-the-fact that I recognize the example I’m setting.
For what it’s worth, I used to have a high opinion of my father, but there was always something off about our family unit and the example being set, one more like how not to Dad. Later I’d realize he wasn’t exactly stable, and to his credit he genuinely attempted self-help management, using various tools such as the tapes of Tony Robbins (not an endorsement).
He was not always a positive male role model for me in my life. Looking back, he was sorely in need of professional help.
Let’s put one argument to bed here and now: Asking for help is not inherently bad. Seeking help is generally good, period. We all need help from time to time and a lot of men shy away from getting help, but I digress.
One of the problems with associating my Father as a role model is that his emotions varied wildly, and the degree in which he responded to us could change rapidly. Anger, frustration, aggression… These emotions are not always misplaced, but what’s important is setting a positive example on how to handle intense feelings. Ultimately, my Dad became a member of our household in which we would routinely tip-toe around. Also, the drinking definitely exasperated these problems.
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.Aristotle
Let me be clear: There was never any physical abuse from my Father, but perhaps one could argue emotional trauma or stress. In terms of anger management, one thing I was able to glean later in life is this: It is okay to feel angry, but it is not okay to be mean.
Story time: Elementary school
Once upon a time I had to write an essay about a hero. The main requirement was that this individual be part of our lives, someone that we knew personally.
If recollection holds true, brainstorming the subject of this topic left me feeling torn and guilty. I instinctively knew that the socially engineered choice was my Dad (or at the very least a man), but I did not feel comfortable inserting him into my essay. It was a mixed bag of emotions, one part corny, one part untrue, and one part confusing.
To be very fair to him, I truly admired some of his traits in those days. I still do, and I used to, too:
- He worked hard to support us;
- He was fun and helped me develop my sense of humor;
- Let me watch just about any R-movie, so long as the gore, blood, and titties were tasteful — /s he’d cover my eyes for those parts;
- Knew a lot about sports and how to work on or fix nearly every common household thing (barring digital technology);
- He was very personable, could hold a conversation with anybody.
In short, my Father was no Dr Evil, and he was very personable / entertaining for kids.
I ended up writing about my grandfather, his Dad, instead. Honestly, it’s a little unfair to him, and he might even tell you that Pop was never considered the resident expert on how to Dad techniques during his childhood. In fact, I think my Dad was often left to fend for himself against neighborhood bullies… Ones that were very much bigger, older, and stronger.
Anyway… rarely did my parents see the fruits of my academic labors, but, in this specific case, he ended up getting a look at my work. My Dad didn’t show his feelings outright, and he didn’t have to. At this point I’d become accustomed to the way in which he would display disappointment and insecurity. I remember picking up on his feelings and making excuses, but alas, the damage was done.
What’s the meat of all this?
In short: My experiences with my Father’s ways and how not to Dad have encouraged me to put significant effort into gaining my child’s trust and to become an unwavering positive male influence. The point of my little short story is my Father’s lacking ability in communication. Communication is about more than just ideas, and it’s also about feelings and expressing them in positive ways even when those feelings are negative.
The first time I saw my Dad shed a tear was when he buried the family dog. The first time he opened up to me was when he was fall-down drunk, sobbing uncontrollably. Some may consider this kind of stoicism honorable — to bottle emotions until they’re literally bursting from within — these toxic forms of emotional expression stunted my ability to control my own emotional volume or intensity and to channel my feelings into positive results.
As men in a patriarchal society, we commonly tend to view certain positive and negative emotions as unwanted, unneeded, or even unnecessary. To a child, who is chock-full of wide-ranging feeling, this does not resonate. Is it really any surprise when the kids go to Mom for emotional support? This point is key in terms of how to Dad and in learning how not to Dad in the 21st century.
Settling into fatherhood and setting an example that is both my own and ideal has taken dedication and consistency. I’m definitely not yet where I want to be, but the first step was getting into the correct frame of mind and channeling, so to speak, a better version of my Father.
Below are a few standard practices that helped to get me into that mindset.
Do the dirty work
Your significant other just spent +9 months building and pushing out a +10-lb shit, you can change diapers. It’s not even that bad as far as chores go. Well, maybe after the 2nd month it isn’t gross anymore. The smells change, so you’ve got that going for you, which is nice.
Read books on the subject matter
Around month 5, a friend recommended to me Becoming Baby-wise, and while the second book is shite, the first one was tremendously helpful in getting our baby to sleep through the night.
Truly a game changing development.
Track your child’s progress
Keep records of height, weight, head / feet / hand sizes, vaccinations, doctor appointments, teeth ruptures, burps, farts, poops, giggles, and anything else that comes to mind. Log it all in a spreadsheet if you like.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with how I drop my kid off at daycare. It’s very normal that they cry, but I found it interesting that sometimes they wouldn’t. So, I played with the variables until I figured out the key to a smooth transition.
Keep a baby journal
Similar to tracking your child’s progress, but this is more about your thoughts and feelings. I want my kid to know more about me during a time in his life when that would normally not be possible.
I know very little about my Father’s life up to a certain point. I’d love to have a time-capsule of his thoughts from so long ago, unclouded by experience.
Shop for baby
For example: Figure out the clothing situation and think ahead in terms of diapers, sizing, and hand-me-downs. Do some research on baby formulas that fit your personal circumstances and create a 1st year general sustenance plan. For example, vitamin-D supplements are common for babies during early development.
A deeper dive into how NOT to Dad techniques
[Opinion] To become a positive male role model in their eyes, your kids need to see you actively in the role of caregiver. I can’t stress this enough. It is paramount that your child literally see you doing daily chores, preparing meals, and doling out care.
To me this means to be a resource; one that is needed in the moment. It’s not enough to be generally useful, a tool on the shelf waiting for its chanced to be utilized in the proper setting. You’ve got to dig down and remain in the present by finding practical ways to include yourself right now.
We must adapt as our children grow and acquire new feelings and experiences, but fundamentally the strategy is unchanging. Fortunately, babies don’t oscillate into too many different states of being.
Do NOT dwell on negativity when your infant prefers Mom or those that are with them more often. It takes time for trust to build, and Mom had a huge head-start. Keep pushing yourself to improve the bond by remaining adaptable, by analyzing the wants and needs of your family, and by making changes wherever they’re needed.
Analyze your individual situation, plan out activities, and schedule time for your family.
In the beginning I modified my work schedule so that I could be home for bath time. Then there’s bed-prep, where you get to put some easy care-giving abilities on display.
I basically made bath-to-bed my realm of expertise for the first few months. After that, I added morning-prep to my day before heading off to work.
Before and after 6 months
Feed your child and jump at every chance to give them sustenance. It’s been one of the best ways to connect with my in early fatherhood.
How to Dad in retrospect
I’m not advocating for becoming super-dad, and, to be honest, the bar for SD status is low. I’m constantly being told I’m a great Dad, but as you can see we’re not discussing anything all that unique or extreme. Speaking of which, I’ve also received this compliment from my Pop, but he said it in such a way that made me feel as if I was performing duties that were beneath him at a similar time in his life. He said this when my child was just 13 months old 🙄
TL;DR: In terms of how not to Dad, recall the bad stuff your Dad did and don’t do it. Reflect on the role models in your life and filter in the good stuff.
👋 until next time 👋