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100 Pieces of Fatherly Advice from Real-Life Dads

Number 63: Remember that you’re not supposed to have all the answers

Welcome to The Daddy Issue, our very fatherly tip of the cap to the father figures in our lives as well as all the fatherly stuff they can’t help but do — from pretending they’re not asleep on the couch, to the dad jokes that make even Tony Soprano smile. We’ll talk to famous dads and their equally famous progeny and also deconstruct fatherly influence in each and every one of its forms. In doing so, we hope to come out the other side with a better understanding of our own — and everyone else’s — daddy issues. Read all of the stories here.

As someone whose friend group recently graduated from the getting-married phase of life into the child-rearing phase, I’m constantly reminded that I’m in no way prepared to be a dad. I’m not in any hurry, of course, but I generally think the amount of authentic insight into fatherhood I’ve gleaned at this stage of my life is wanting. 

And so, I reached out to hundreds of fathers to cull together a list of 100 pieces of wisdom on the real realities of fatherhood. From practical diaper-changing tips to philosophical musings, here’s what current dads said future dads like myself (maybe?) should be sure to know.

1. I don’t care how ready you think you are, no one is ready for parenthood. No one. 

2. There is a certain level of freedom in being a new dad and not knowing what the fuck you’re supposed to do. Don’t let it freak you out, learn to embrace it. 

3. Setting aside the whole having a kid thing, the science of pregnancy is like, wild, man. Seriously, read books, ask your partner questions, get involved. 

4. If you can, go to every single appointment and ask every question you have. You have access to baby and kid experts, use them. 

5. It might start to feel like everyone assumes the mother will handle everything on her own with zero assistance from the father. There are reasons for this, obviously, but it generally means you will need to be proactive in appointments, discussions, setting schedules, etc. 

6. Start familiarizing yourself with the alphabet soup of kids, hospitals, parental leave, etc. — FMLA, CFRA, PFL, SDL [Family Medical Leave Act; California Family Rights Act; Paid Family Leave; Short Term Disability Leave] — all of which are good things to know, even if you think they won’t apply to you.

7. The last thing you want to skimp on is your kids, but start thinking now about how you’re going to pay for the major expenses. It’s a lot easier to plan for these financial needs when you don’t have an infant in the house!

8. Day care can cost more than college, and you’ll be paying for it a lot sooner than you start paying for the kid’s degree, so be ready for that.

9. Get some savings behind you to help account for the reduced salary when you’re on paternity leave and your partner is on maternity leave. If you’re used to a certain level of income and it suddenly gets reduced, you’re going to feel it, so avoid the unnecessary stress and be prepared.

10. Get the necessary life insurance. I never considered it before until my son arrived. It’s strange — as soon as they arrive, it puts everything into a different perspective and your priorities completely change. Not to mention, if you get your insurance arranged sooner, your premium is likely to be a lot lower.

12. This might not apply right now because of inflation, but don’t wait to buy the everyday, small-time baby stuff you won’t get at the shower. Mostly diapers. In fact, start buying diapers right now. 

13. If you can, plan a vacation for you and your partner — things generally smooth out in the second trimester, and it will be years before you have enough energy to travel.

14. There are a ton of resources out there to know what’s what when it comes to baby gear. Probably an overwhelming amount. But I will say that we got this baby swing thing, and it’s a godsend. Seriously, I would sacrifice everything in my entire home to save it.

15. If you have a dishwasher, aim to get dishwasher safe dishes, bottles, breast pumps, etc. when possible. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. 

16. Don’t let your neighbor’s/friend’s/family’s expensive cribs/strollers/whatever freak you out. Everyone figures this out, and you don’t need top-brand stuff. Also, cribs are fucking expensive. So brace yourself. 

17.  Baby stuff goes on sale all the time. You might need to up your shopping game, but if you can wait, there will be another sale soon. 

18. Your partner might love being pregnant, or they might hate it. Overall, it sucks and is awful, and the weirdest shit can happen so be understanding and helpful about all that. 

19. Get used to being tired. No really, learn to live with being tired. And interrupted. And off-schedule. If that stuff made you crabby before, that’s no longer an option. 

20. This is a useless piece of advice, but one I got a lot — sleep when the baby sleeps. If you can do it, great. If you can’t, you might as well do laundry when the baby does laundry, and taxes while the baby does taxes. 

21. For as tired as you think you are, the mother of your child is 100 times more tired. Keep that in mind, and support her.

22. Try to help your tired brain out. One thing I did was enter our pediatrician’s number into our phones as “PEDIATRICIAN” so it was easy to find.

23. Don’t sweat the stinky stuff. The first diaper changes can be quite disturbing — that’s because the initial few poops a kid takes don’t resemble the average adult loaf in any way. 

24. You might find yourself on the brink of hating this little creature that just screams and shits all day and keeps you awake. You obviously won’t do anything to harm them, but the thought is going to freak you the fuck out. It’s normal to be mad, though! It’s human, you’re sleep deprived, and you’re not a bad parent for feeling this way while under a massive amount of stress unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.  

25. Postpartum depression happens in men, too. Know the signs, and don’t hesitate to see someone if you need to.

26. Anxiety and depression prevent you from being the father and partner you can, or need to be. 

27. Be kind to yourself. This applies at any stage of fatherhood. 

28. When it’s time to get into the bottle game, share bottle duties. When you do, make sure you come into the room quietly, keep the lights dim and limit interactions to a minimum. Make the most of the moment by striking a nursing position, with your baby snuggled close and the bottle where the breast would be — opening up your shirt for skin-on-skin contact will enhance the experience for both of you. Don’t forget to burp that baby before putting them back down again. 

29. Chip in where you can. Regardless of how your partner delivers, her body will need time to recover. Dads can bathe, change diapers and rock with the best of moms. Doing so allows your partner a break from the action.

30. As a baby grows, their diaper will contain a rainbow of colors and textures, particularly over the first few months. The only time you truly need to worry is if you’re seeing red in the diaper.

31. Try your best to keep a clean house. It doesn’t have to be spotless, but a stray Lego brick in a dark hallway at 3 a.m. is one of life’s greatest tests. 

32. For Christ’s sake, get a haircut. It’s beyond restorative. 

33. Even if you’re not giving supplementary bottles, there’s plenty you can do. Just delivering the baby to your partner for feedings and returning the baby to the crib or bassinet once the feeding is finished is helpful. 

34. Accept the fact that they’re going to get sick. They’ll be fine (hopefully) in a few days; babies are resilient as hell.

35. Learn how to suck snot

36. Be ready to be a bouncer. When you get home from the hospital, you’ll have people knocking down your door, mostly with good intentions. They want to help, they want to see the baby, etc. Without being rude, put them to work — or, if you and your partner are wiped out or just not up to guests yet, feel free to politely turn them down. They’ll understand, and your partner will be grateful they didn’t have to be the banisher.

37. People will want to touch your baby without asking like it’s your dog or something. Think in advance about how you want to handle that situation. 

38. Listen to what your father has to say, even if it doesn’t always make sense. It’s his way of showing that he cares.

39. Master the art of observation, and analyze your child’s every move. The more intently you watch and observe their quirks, personality and attributes that make them unique, the better you’ll be able to relate to them and aid in their development.

40. Be prepared to tell the same stories over and over again. Kind of like your wedding, but this time with more blood and bodily fluids. 

41. Everyone on the planet is going to offer you advice, whether you want it or not. If your kid is healthy and happy, and your partner is healthy and happy, and you’re healthy and happy — you’re doing fine.

42. I was always told that the best way to be a good father was to be present. You don’t have to “do” anything, just be there. The same goes for your partner. 

43. At the same time, that doesn’t mean just being in the same room as your children, but really being there with them — engaging with them, listening to them, and most importantly, spending time with them.

44. Pick a song that you sing to your child while soothing them. When they get fussy, this can help to quickly soothe them, and when they’re older, it will remind you of them.

45. Comparing yourself to other dads is dangerous.

46. Some dad’s fall in love immediately with their kids, others take time. Some are very patient dealing with tantrums, others need to work on their own emotional regulation before they jump into that situation. It takes time to be a good father, and most aren’t born with those skills. 

47. This took me a while to understand, but everyone is lying about how their kids are doing. They’re all liars, in real life and on social media.

48. When teaching your kid skills like riding a bike, shift your mindset to track  engagement as a form of success. If they’re on their bike and having fun, that’s more important than progressing, which they’ll do at their own pace.

49. Get your kid a “spend” and “save” wallet for money they’re gifted. Let them blow (some of) their money on stupid crap. Buyer’s remorse is part of learning the value of money.

50. Have more than one blankie or stuffed animal or whatever comfort/security item. Trust me, you’ll thank me when your kid loses his blankie in the toilet at the grocery store. 

51. Encourage playtime early — you might not feel the kid is doing anything particularly interesting over the first five months, but there’s a ton happening in their little noggins. 

52. One of the best ways to make sure a kid’s brain keeps cooking is to simply talk — talk about what’s happening in the house, naming smells, colors and objects.

53. At a certain age, kids’ favorite game tends to be “jump on dad.” The bigger they get, the less fun for you that will be — hide and seek, role-playing games and building obstacle courses are all good alternatives. 

54. Read to your kid all the time. It’s a wonderful time to expand their vocabulary, teach them and also cuddle, bond and relax — even if they’re just gumming a board book. 

55. Keep reading as they get older. Instilling a love of reading is one of the best ways to ensure children will have a lifetime of literacy and personal growth.

56. Try to drop all your bad little habits before the baby turns six months old and imitates everything you do. I have a bad habit of unconsciously scratching my head when I’m trying to think of what to say to people. Next thing I know, my daughter started doing the same thing when talking to us.

57. Similarly, your attitude determines a lot, and your kids will learn that from you. If you have a positive, inspiring attitude, your kids will admire you and grow better as a result. 

58. Kids are tough. Don’t worry so much, and make sure to always believe in them. They will thank you for it when they grow up, and you will be thankful for trusting them.

59. Learn how to do the Heimlich Maneuver and CPR on infants and children. Sound’s grim, but, you know… do it.

60. Schedule some time to give your partner a break, and vice versa. It’s important for you both to get some quiet alone time, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood, or a cup of coffee. 

61. Whatever you think you have to worry about, don’t worry about it. As a father, there will be a whole different set of things you’ll have to worry about — but since you’ll never guess what those are, don’t worry about them either. 

62. If you’re on kid number two or kid number three and think you’re able to handle it this time around, you’re not. Every pregnancy is different, and every kid is different.

63. Remember that you’re not supposed to have all the answers. It’s okay to tell your kids that you don’t know the answer to their question, or that you don’t know what the best thing to do in a certain situation is.

64. Staunch patience and a hearty sense of humor are as essential to fatherhood as a life preserver is to a desperate, drowning man. If you can’t laugh at yourself when your toddler knocks a display of basketballs onto your head at the sporting goods store, you have no business being a dad.

65. You can only control your own efforts; what your kid does is sometimes beyond you or your partner’s control. 

66. Don’t be afraid to accept or ask for help. 

67. Take time off. If you get parental leave as a father take every last minute — even unpaid if you can. The first two years of my oldest child’s life I worked my face off to pay for the home, and I missed so many huge moments.

68. Kids continually change —  that adorable toddler exists somewhere within the obnoxious teenager. Every disturbing phase “shall pass.”

69. Don’t resist dad jokes just because they get a bad rap. Dad jokes make your kids laugh, and that’s the greatest feeling in the world. 

70. Sometimes you can extinguish small misbehaviors by ignoring them or walking away. Reserve major consequences for serious offenses.

71. For dads with multiple kids, turning the Wi-Fi off for everyone is an effective motivator.

72. Oh, by the way, you’re not going to do most of these things. Or you’ll try but won’t do a lot of them right, and that will make you feel like a failure. You’re not! The fact that you’re trying is enough. Just keep going. 

73. If you worry about being a good dad, you’re 100 percent a good dad. 

74. They’ll want to spend more time with friends as they get older, that’s natural. But still make an effort to plan one-on-one time with them — go out for a meal with them or go to a game or concert. Something that engages the things they’ve grown passionate about or interested in. 

75. Kids are messy, they make messes and they’re always testing your limits. It’s all part of the fun.

76. Carpets are dumb, wait till the kids move out to install.

77. Don’t let what you expect of your kid to override who your kid actually is.

78. Your parenting technique should suit who your kid is, not what they could be — doing otherwise hurts everyone involved and strains relationships.

79. When you’re around your kids, talk through your decision making and thinking process out loud. 

80. Listen to your kids — what problems they face, what they wish to do and what they wish you did for them. 

81. Overall, always try to look at things from their perspective instead of sticking with your own.

82. Young children are a reflection of their parents — in your family, put your partner first, and your children second.

83. Learn how to love without strings or conditions. Love someone because of how they make you feel, not because of the things they can do for you. 

84. Your children are more clever and capable than you realize — put them to work, give them some responsibility, trust them, help them when needed. 

85. It’s not your dog, it’s their dog. Make them take care of it.

86. Kids need to learn to make their own decisions — that’s one of our biggest responsibilities in raising them. So let them make their own decisions and learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

87. If you teach your kids how to cook, teach them how to clean first.

88. Marie Kondo is great for many things, folding most things in thirds, yes — but she fails at folding sports shorts. Tuck the bottom portion inside the elastic waistband.

89. ​​Look forward to showing your kid your hobbies and interests, and sharing them together. More importantly, look forward to your kid showing you their interests. 

90. The sex talk doesn’t have to be one big “The Talk,” like we were told. It can be scattered stuff — the most important thing is to keep it an open dialogue. Be straightforward and brief with room for questions. Plant some normal and healthy ideas about sex. Whatever you say is going to be a better education than the porn they’ve either already seen or are about to see.

91. See a therapist and be visible when doing it, even invite the kids to join you if it will help normalize the practice. 

92. When texting your kids, limit your one-word replies. Write full sentences and combine complete thoughts into one message. Responding in GIF form is okay.

93. Encourage them to learn about drinking and indulging in other substances at home first.

94. Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores both have half-price days. Dads don’t need the latest fashion, but they need money for college funds.

95. If your kids are getting to driving age, plan on having a beater car for them to practice on.

96. As a parent, you’re a gardener. And as a gardener, you can’t turn a tomato into a banana. Your job is to take that tomato and help it be the best tomato it can be. Not try to turn it into something it’s not.

97. If you teach kids how to ride motorcycles, buy helmets with a face shield.

98. Keep a journal to reflect and provide an opportunity for the kids to hear your voice and thoughts after you’re gone.

99. It’s easy to get wrapped up in work or other commitments, but it’s important to make time for your children. They need your attention, and they need to know that you care about them.

100. You’re never as young as you are right now. Take advantage of the time and strength you have to pick your kid up right now, play catch, see a recital, ask them about their day, anything. Because it doesn’t last forever.