How to Be a Great Dad

As a father I know they don’t just hand out a rule book for dads at the hospital so I’ve included Leo Babauta’s twelve awesome tips for being a great dad.  It certainly hit home in terms of what I want for my children. Leo is married with six kids and author of the bestselling book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials . . . in Work and in Life and also runs http://www.zenhabits. net, one of the top one hundred internet blogs.

It certainly hit home in terms of what I’d like for my future unborn. Leo is married with six kids and author of the bestselling book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the
Essentials … in Work and in Life
and also runs www.zenhabits.net, one of the top one hundred internet blogs.

You can of course adapt, scrub out or add to this list to suit your needs – you might be a stay-at-home dad or separated from an abusive partner … who knows – but even if you haven’t had kids yet or you have and just want to compare notes here it is in Leo’s own words.

Twelve Awesome Tips

I’m often asked about raising six kids and being productive and achieving goals and changing habits in the midst of raising so many kids. But here’s the thing: I do all the other stuff, the productivity stuff, because of my kids. They, and my wife, are my reason for being.

It is my lifelong goal to be the best dad possible, and while there are many ways I can still improve, I think I’m a pretty great dad already, when I sit back and think about it. I know there are some readers who are just starting out in their careers as dads, and this is for you.

How can you be a great dad? In no particular order here are my tips:

Teach Them Self-Esteem
This is one of the most important points. There is nothing you can do that is better than giving them high self-esteem. How do you do this? A million ways, but mainly by showing them (not telling them) that you value them, by spending time with them, by talking and listening to them, by praising things they do, by teaching them (not telling them) how to be competent. Praise and encourage, don’t reprimand and discourage.

Put Their Interests First, Always
Do you enjoy drinking or smoking? Guess what – it’s not good for them, and you’re setting an example with everything you do. I quit smoking about 18 months ago not for my sake, but for my kids. Now, it is still important to take care of yourself (otherwise you can’t take care of them), but you should still have them in mind.

Protect Them
As a dad, one of your main roles is protector. There are many ways you need to do this. Safety is one: child-proof your home, teach them good safety habits, set a good example by using your seatbelt. But financial protection is also important: have life insurance, car insurance, an emergency fund, a will and talk to your family or friends about what could happen if the worst were to happen to you. If there’s someone suitable elect a godfather or godmother too.

Spend Your Spare Time With Them
When we get home from work, often we’re tired and just want to relax. But this is the only time we have with them during the weekdays, often, and you shouldn’t waste it. Take this time to find out about their day, lay on the couch with them. On weekends, devote as much time as possible to them. While work may be your passion, it won’t be long before they’re grown and no longer want to spend time with you. Take advantage of these years. The thing kids want most from their dads is their time.

Give Them Hugs
Dads shouldn’t be afraid to show affection. Kids need physical contact, and not just from their moms. Snuggle with them, hug them, love them.

Play With Them
Go outside and play sports. Do a treasure hunt. Have a pillow fight. Play Transformers or Pokemon with them. Don’t just watch TV. Show them how to have fun.

Do the ‘Mom’ Stuff
Things that are traditionally considered ‘mom’ duties are not just for moms anymore [in fact they never were: during the Industrial Revolution separating you from your children gave you less reason to leave the factory and go home to your family] – changing diapers, feeding, bathing, rocking them to sleep in the middle of the night. Dads should help out as much as they can, sharing these types of duties equally if possible. And in fact, if you’re a dad of a baby, this is the perfect time to bond with your child. You should leap at the chance to do these things, because that’s how you start a life-long close relationship with your child.

Read to Them
This is one of the most important things you can do for your child. First of all, it’s so much fun. Kids’ books are really cool, and it’s great when you can share something this wonderful with your child. Second, you are teaching them one of the most fundamentally important skills (reading) that will pay off dividends for life. And third, you are spending time with them, you’re sitting or lying close together, and you are enjoying each other’s company.

Stand By Mom
Don’t contradict their mother in front of them, don’t fight with her in front of them, and most definitely don’t ever abuse her. How you treat their mother affects their selfesteem, and the way they will treat themselves and women when they grow up. Be kind and respectful and loving of their mother. And always work as a team – never contradicting statements of the other.

Teach Them About Finances
This is a point often missed in articles about dadhood. You might not need to teach your one-year-old about index funds or portfolio diversity, but from an early age, you can teach them the value of money, how to save money to reach a goal, and later, how to earn money and how to manage money properly. You don’t want your child to go into the world knowing as little as you did do you?

Be Good to Yourself
You shouldn’t give up your entire life when you become a dad. You need to take care of yourself, give yourself some alone time, and some time with your buddies, in order to be a great dad when you’re with your kids. Also take care of your health – eat healthy, exercise – because

1) you can’t take care of your kids if you’re sickly,
2) you are teaching your kids how to be healthy for life, and
3) you want to enjoy those grandkids someday.

Be Good to the Mom
This isn’t the same as ‘stand by mom’ – if she’s at home and you’re at work then you should be good to their mom even when they’re not looking. Take her to dinner, give her a massage, do chores around the house for her, give her some time alone and baby-sit while she goes out, show affection to her, give her little surprises. Because when mom’s happy, the kids are happy. And dad will be happy too! If you’re at home and she’s at work expect the same treatment.

Thanks Leo. For my part I would also add the following:

Control Your Temper
If you have anger issues you need to learn how to own that anger. Anger is usually your own unexpressed needs and your kids need you to have a level head and show them the way. Always control your temper and unless they’re about to run in front of a car never, ever scream at them. If you feel you’re about to scream or yell go for a walk, a run, find an errand to do in the garden or at the shops and ask yourself, ‘What are my unfulfilled, unasked needs?’ Once you’ve figured out your own issues and dealt with your anger in a healthy way i.e. not hitting things, shouting or screaming (that’s just practising your anger) then go back.

Let Them Fall
Sometimes you have to look the other way when they are about to fall down. One fall is worth a thousand verbal warnings. The trick of course is to let them fall on something that will hurt without inflicting too much damage such as the last step rather than the whole flight of stairs. Letting them touch something very hot but obviously not scalding and experience the sensation will make ‘Careful, that’s hot!’ that much more effective.

Show Them How to Do Things
Help them out around the house. Remember how everything seemed the biggest chore when you were little? When you ask them to tidy their room do it with them, make it fun, quick and easy. As they get older do the same with washing up, fixing bikes, doing the laundry. Praise them for the effort they put in not the task so that the same positive, playful, ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude is applied to all tasks. Think how that translates to exams, relationships or jobs. When you turn up at their first apartment you might even find a clean floor.

Never Use Them to Win an Argument
If you’re separated from their mother or even if you’re not when you undermine the other parent by feeding the children contradictory information or setting up an argument they will learn to mistrust what you say. It’s emotional abuse so don’t do it.

Listen to Your Kids and Value their Opinions
Your children have real opinions and real desires. Always listen to them and take them into account. Of course they’re not always realistic. Explain why. Never say: ‘Because I say so’. Kids can be more rational and understanding than you might think even when they’re only three years old.

Help Them Become Who They Truly Are – Not Who You Want Them to Be
Don’t project your desires or your failures on to your children. Help them try things out, give them the discipline and encouragement to keep at things when they feel unconfident, uncertain or scared as well as the ability to let go of things they realise are not for them.

Eat Dinner with Them
This could also be called ‘turn the TV off’. Quite simply if the TV is on all evening and all through dinner especially then you’ll spend more time with fictional families on the tube than your own. Which means your family will also be fictional capiche?

Daughters
Many men have special rules for daughters; usually about sex. My agent told a good story about a high-ranking American military friend who gave the following sage advice to his teenage daughter:

1) Always scream or they won’t believe you.
2) If you bite, it will come off.

However I would caution:

Never Teach a Daughter to Exchange Sex for Food
Sounds like a yarn but I once had dinner with two women friends who jokingly said, ‘If you weren’t a friend you’d be paying for this meal.’ They then told me how both their fathers had taught them to ‘put out’ only when the ‘date’ had paid for the meal or drinks. Now I do understand that a father wants his daughter to meet a nice guy who’ll treat her well but teach them this and you’re turning them into ‘burgers for blowjobs’ prostitutes and your future sons-inlaw into their johns. Just don’t do it.

Things You Wish Your Dad Told You
You can figure out certain things about childcare by what you lacked. For me many of the subjects in this book are about showing my future children that they can go out there and do whatever they want to do. We often assume as adults that things we take for granted like kicking a ball, speaking to women, looking after yourself are obvious. But remember: childhood can be a confusing time when you really wish someone would tell you all the answers.

I remember my father and uncle showing me how to bowl and bat in cricket and then how to tackle in rugby. That was one afternoon but just those basic skills gave me more confidence in high school than anything else. I would have liked many more of those afternoons.

If I had my childhood over again the one thing I’d want my father to say is ‘It’s okay to ask about anything, whatever you don’t know. Even if I don’t know the answer we’ll find out together.’ What would you wish for?

But most of all if you’ve got kids always count your blessings and try to get as much sleep as you can.