I didn’t get the memo. Looks like I was out sick that day.
Not only was I totally unprepared for becoming a Man, I was completely unprepared for becoming a Father. In my case, both happened around the same time and served as a tremendous wake-up call. My wife and I had our first son when I was 20 (she was 19). During this time, we had just struck out on our own and I had been living outside of my mother’s house and of her financial provision for about 2 years.
Are you serious?! I was still acting like a child myself and even more, I had never even held a desire to be a Dad.
I had to come up to speed. Fast.
Early on, I made many mistakes and it took years of reaching out to other men, parents, books, and training that was available to finally get an understanding of the core things that I needed to “do” as a Dad. That’s right, do. Being a dad is about what you should do and what you should not do. While I have five sons who are now between the age of 5 and 11, here are five do’s and dont’s for the early years of being a dad. Yes, it does seem to be all about the number 5 in this article.
DO Help at Night. When your child is a baby there are no times to play catch, have talks, go hunting, or do things that you like too. One of the hardest things as a parent in the first two years is often getting up through the night with your child.
I failed early on. I claimed that since I was the one working full-time and having to get up at 6am the next morning, that my wife was on duty for every cry, fever, and diaper through the night. It was not until I became more mature later that I started to get up in the night and take turns with her. I had completely overlooked how hard she was working during the day AND night with our children. This selfishness caused division in our relationship and put an undue burden on my wife. Men, step up to the plate. Yes, it is extraordinarily hard to go without that sleep, but it is the right thing to do.
DON’T try to compete against your dad by avoiding absolutes. Dads, you know this is true. You are always sizing yourself up against the Father that you had or did not have with questions or statements like:
- Will I end up being like my Dad?
- I’m going to be better than he was to me by doing _______.
- I don’t think I could ever be better or as good of a man as my Father was. (This is rare, but oustanding when it happens!)
- I hated when my dad used to do/say ________ and I will never do that.
- If you are always comparing yourself against this standard, then you are running a race against a phantom. Drop the bricks. Think about being the kind of Dad that you want to be, not an image of what should have been or could have been. You are writing a new story with your child and it is the story of your family and no other.
DO spend lots of time with your child. Children need and love time with their Dad. Through all stages of childhood development, spending both quantity and quality time with your child is critical. In the infant and toddler years, your time will mostly be focused on caring for your child, keeping the child safe from injury, and teaching basic skills. Spend lots of time doing all three. Build this time with your son or daughter so that they will develop a relationship with you. Even more, they need to trust that you will always be there for them. And you will. Show them early on by being dependable and around the house as much as possible by playing, caring, and loving on them. Quantity and Quality! It took me time to understand how important this really is.
DO have self-control over your anger. The early years create a lot of frustration from the dramatic changes in your family. If you are like me and are easily frustrated, then this is an important issue for you. Let’s be real here. If you get angry and yell, the following things will happen:
- Your wife could become upset, hurt, frightened, angry, or any combination thereof.
- Your child could hear you and become upset or frightened.
- The relationship with you and your wife will become unbalanced and tension will form in the home.
- You will get angry at the above conditions. Thats right, I got angry over the fact that others were angry and there was tension in the home, even though I caused it.
- You will have to work up some humility so you can apologize to your wife.
- You damage your relationships with those in your home who are affected by the anger.
- Tame this beast! Easier said than done, right? It’s only natural that arguments will happen so why is this even on the list?
Yes and yes.
This is hard. Arguments do happen. Anger is a problem for many men. While disagreements are only natural, you must learn to remain calm during the disagreement. Keep your voice down and stay focused on the problem, not on the person.
DON’T expect to keep the same habits. You know this is true. Yet, when it comes time to change it is hard. If you spent a lot of time at the bar before your child was born, then expect to spend a lot less time at the bar or no time at all. If you used illegal drugs before your child was born, those need to go. If you spend a lot of time in front of the television, that time needs to be reduced. If you never picked up personal improvement books, get ready to read. Things change.
You can’t stay where you are and be a good Dad. You can be a Father, but not a Dad. Looking back, being ready to change and do things differently would have helped me up front. Get it in your mind that your life will change and sacrificing your time, money, and personal desires to the benefit if your child or family will be an important attitude to develop and hold throughout the phases of being a parent. Having this mindset will make it easier on you in the short-term and long-term.