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10 Ways To Be a Great Dad

Up close of dad holding baby in air, smiling at him

What happens to a guy whose fear of fatherhood is up there with snakes and shark attacks? If he's anything like Scott Kelby, he writes a book, helping other men deal with the realities -- both messy and amazing -- of becoming a dad.

"I absolutely, positively, didn't want to have kids," he writes. "Now, I didn't have the usual fears that guys have of 'I'm not sure I'll make a good dad.' I had the other one. The 'I don't want to give up my fun-filled, carefree life of wining and dining for a miserable world of whining and diapers.' At least, that's what I thought it would be."

In The Book for Guys Who Don't Want Kids (Fair Shake Press), Kelby shares some of his biggest pre-baby worries, how he overcame them, and how men who feel threatened by parenthood can overcome those fears and turn out to be great dad.

10 Things That Will Help You

1. Don't worry about being a great dad. Being a great dad isn't about holding the baby just right, or knowing how to burp her, or being a willing participant at imaginary tea parties. Being a good dad starts with being a good husband. It starts with getting involved in the entire prenatal process; so if you really want to be a good dad, make darn sure you're a good husband, because great husbands become great dads.

If there's one thing your baby needs, it's a stable, loving home. Work to make your marriage rock solid. The good dad thing will follow, guaranteed.

2. Try to live your normal pre-child life as soon as possible. A lot of first-time parents totally freak out when they have an infant, and they don't leave their house for two years because they're afraid of what might happen to "the baby." It's a baby -- not nitroglycerin. After a couple of weeks, go out and start to return to as much of you and your wife's normal routine as possible. Remember -- babies are small and travel surprisingly easily (especially with all the high-tech travel gear you'll find at Super Baby Warehouse Megastore).

Take your baby out to breakfast with you, take them on trips, shopping, on airplanes, and just about everywhere you used to go before the baby arrived (okay, don't take the baby to raves -- but you get the idea). Once you realize that you're out there, doing regular things with the little one going along just fine, you'll realize that although some things are certainly different now, you can still do most of the things you used to do. When you start doing regular things, it will take a lot of stress off you both, and give you time to feel like a couple again, not two people tied to the house 24 hours a day, which can be incredibly stressful in and of itself.

3. Give the mommy some time for herself. Look, I'd be lying if I told you that in an infant's life, the dad is as important as the mom. When it comes to caring for an infant, and instinctively knowing what to do with a newborn baby, women have the market cornered, and being a mommy is a much harder job than being a daddy. That's why it's so important that you give the mommy as many breaks as you can. She needs time for herself, but she's so wrapped up in being a mom, she probably won't stop long enough to care for herself.

The best thing you can do is make her take breaks. Watch the baby for a while as she naps, then have your wife go visit her girlfriend, or if her mom lives nearby, have her take some time and visit her. Even if she just wants to go to the mall, or see a movie with her friends, you've got to make time for her to do this. She needs it (more than even she knows) and it gives you some wonderful time with your newborn. An important part of being a great dad is being a great husband, and a great husband makes sure his wife doesn't get burned out being a mommy 24 hours a day.

4. Get up with Mom for late-night feedings. I gotta tell ya, this is a tough one, but you'll be glad you did it (when it's over, not during). When it comes to dining, newborn babies think they're on a cruise ship, and at midnight and 2 a.m. they fully expect (and demand) a buffet.

When our little guy started crying for food at two in the morning, my wife had to get up because she was breastfeeding, but I got up right along with her. I sat there and kept her company, we shared stories about our day, marveled at how cute our baby was, etc., until it was time to burp the little guy, then she'd pass him over to me and I'd burp him. I have to say, I really enjoyed the burping because even though my wife could surely have burped him herself, this way I was at least helping in the process and that felt good. Plus, I was getting to hold my little buddy and the burping helped him too.

It sounds corny, but these late-night feedings were really a time of great closeness for my wife and me as we sat there in the dim light, fighting to stay awake through the feeding, and we both look back on it with great fondness, even though it was incredibly tiring. I remember one night -- it was like four in the morning -- and we were up trying to change our son's diaper, and he was just screaming at the top of his mini-lungs and kicking his little hands and feet. He was beet red and just as pissed as he could be. I held this screaming little baby out away from my body so my eardrums didn't explode, and I looked over at my wife, and we were both so exhausted that we simultaneously burst into hysterical laughter. He didn't find it funny, but he paused long enough for us to change his diaper. We kept giggling for 20 minutes until we put him down in his crib, and then we literally fell into bed.

Was it hard getting up numerous times a night? Yup. Would I have wanted to do it alone, all by myself? Nope. I don't imagine my wife would want to either, and that's why I was there. Be a great dad, and be there with her for all the feedings. I promise you, it'll kick your butt some nights, but you'll survive, and you'll look back with fond memories. Hey, I said having a kid was wonderful. I didn't say it was easy.

5. Be affectionate with your baby, especially as they get older. Kids need love, but they don't understand the word "love" on any level. You might as well use the term "phalanges" with them because, to an infant, it means the same thing -- nothing. So holding your baby and telling her, "Daddy loves you," is pretty much meaningless.

But you know what kids do understand -- a loving touch. Hugging them, snuggling them, and kissing them makes them feel loved. It's a basic way humans communicate love, but some fathers feel awkward showing love in this way. Get over it. A kid needs to feel loved, always, and you have within your power a guaranteed way to make them know they're loved. A kid that knows they're loved is a happy kid -- the kind of kid that runs and jumps into your arms when they see you.

You will never, never regret being affectionate with your child, because you will be able to send a "you're loved" message right to your kid's heart anytime with just a simple peck on the forehead, a quick hug before school, or even just tousling their hair as they walk by. A dad's loving touch is amazingly powerful; it sends a message to your child that words can't always convey. By the way, high-fiving doesn't count. It's a celebration -- not a sign of affection.

6. Treat your kid the way you wanted to be treated when you were a kid. Take a look back on how you were raised. Look back at how your dad showed, or didn't show, his love for you. How he disciplined you, encouraged you, criticized you, and molded you. If you had a great dad, now's your chance to take everything he showed you and put it to good use.

If you didn't have a great dad, this is your chance, your golden opportunity to make up for every fatherly injustice he did to you by being to your child a much better and more sensitive, involved, loving dad than he was to you. This is your chance to show your dad, and the world, "This is what being a good dad looks like." Provide your child with a level of love, patience, understanding, and affection that shows your own dad how it's done.

7. Don't ever abuse your kid. Ever. The same goes for your wife. There is never, ever a reason to hit a woman or abuse a child. It is the height of cowardice and a disgrace to fathers everywhere to hurt any woman or child. It is impossible to be a great dad if you hurt your child or your child's mommy even once. It dishonors you, your entire life, and everything you've worked this hard to achieve. Pass this on to your kids.

Besides hitting, never be verbally cruel to your child. Never call him stupid, an idiot, or any name that makes him think he's less than the special child he is. Make it your goal to give your kid so much love and praise that it gives him a high-self-esteem problem.

8. Advice on raising children is everywhere, and it's all contradictory, so be very careful which guide you follow. Unfortunately, there is no bottom line, no official guide, no absolute authority on raising kids, so there are literally hundreds of books on how to be a good parent and raise kids right. One book says if your baby cries, pick them up. Another book says let 'em cry it out. A third book says pick them up once, then let them cry it out. A fourth... well, you get the idea.

So how do you know which one is right? You don't. So you have to do some research and decide for yourself. If you read only one book, you'll probably go with that method. Talk to other parents, read books, parenting magazines, and online articles to get as much information as possible, then decide which of them makes the most sense to you.

Don't go with things that don't feel right in your gut. If it feels wrong to you, it's probably wrong for your baby. With the Internet, there's a ton of information out there, and not all of it is good. Go with your gut, and listen to that little voice inside your head that usually keeps you from making big mistakes.

9. Enjoy yourself. It all goes by too quickly. My son is 7 now, and if you asked me if it feels like seven years since he was born, I'd have to tell you it feels more like two. Maybe two and a half.

The time you have with your kids absolutely flies by, so really take the time to enjoy it. Take time out of work to be with them. Call in sick one day and take them to the amusement park. Pick up your kid from school and go hit a bucket of balls with them, or volunteer to be the coach of their soccer team. Believe me, you won't wind up on your deathbed saying, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." You'll say, "I wish I'd spent more time with my daughter."

10. Learn what kids want most from their dad. I heard a good friend of mine, Dave, once reveal what kids really want most from their dads. They don't care what kind of job you have, or how many awards or accolades you've garnered in your industry, or what kind of degree you have. What they want most is your time. They want to be with you. They want your attention, your ear, your opinion, your focus -- they just want to be around their dad. They need "dad time" and they want you around as much as possible.

I remember Dave mentioning that as long as he was at home, even if he was asleep on the couch, his kids were happy because "dad was there." They just want you with them, around them, and basically being "there." Now, what happens if you (dad) aren't around enough? Problems start. They start doing things to get your attention, and not all of them are as well thought out as you'd hope. A kid whose dad spends a lot of time with him will generally stay out of trouble -- a kid who constantly needs to do things to get dad's attention generally won't.

All right, now that you know what they want, what's in it for you (besides the fact that it will save you untold bail money)? Every minute you spend with them rubs off on them. Every story, every moral, every hug, every kiss, every time you discipline them, every time you wipe away their tears, every time you buy them popcorn at the movies, every time they see you show compassion to someone less fortunate -- it all rubs off. Your kindness, your wisdom, your examples, your lame jokes. They all rub off.

The Book For Dads Who Don't Want Kids

Remember, you're molding a little life here, a very impressionable little mind, and you are your kid's role model. Their hero. Show him how it's supposed to be done; as your child grows older, you'll be amazed at how you two wind up having so much in common. Why is that? Because he's just like his dad.

 

Excerpted from The Book for Guys Who Don't Want Kids by Scott Kelby (Fair Shake Press, 2005).

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

Originally published on AmericanBaby.com, March 2006.