DADS, STOP HIDING IN THE BATHROOM, GARAGE, SHED, BACKYARD, BAR, and WORK. The kids and wife will find you there eventually. It’s okay, all you have to do it 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 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?), and who is bothering who.
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. 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.
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 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 time 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 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 device, and iPad. Kids should be experiencing plenty of fresh air, free play, and whatever it is you’re doing away from the couch. Or in the house – 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 making toxic chemicals – even then, that’s pretty cool to share). Once the television is 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.
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 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 two to twelve, and then don’t hit anymore when the kids get older (although we all know that some hitting and forms of physical abuse continues long after twelve 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.
When all else fails, just say to yourself, Just don’t be a shitty dad. 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 hundred 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.