I'm always on the hunt for good ideas on how to be a better dad. Healthier meals to cook. How to help my son develop and navigate being a kid. How to be a good partner to my wife.
But a lot of the time, my searches leave something to be desired.
Often, the "expert advice" I find is stuck in a fatherhood concept from yesteryear, where just showing up is cause for a ticker tape parade. Even when the advice is targeted for active, involved dads, it can take on this fluffy, television-sitcom-dad vibe -- stuff like "it takes a real man to be a daddy" -- without giving any actual good ideas.
In search of conversations and ideas on how to be a better dad, I've gone to some unexpected places.
Recently, I've been listening a lot to the advice podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me. It's one of the best places for down-to-earth, real conversations about navigating the journey toward fatherhood, even though it's not a parenting advice show and specifically recommends that the hosts' advice "should never be followed."
My Brother, My Brother and Me is run by three gleefully profane, hilarious and weird brothers: Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy. They give advice to listeners on off-beat issues (e.g., what do I do if my friend thinks Mermaids are real?) and take questions from the dregs of Yahoo Answers (e.g., is Bruce Willis a good singer?).
It's like if Dear Abby was replaced by her three sons who know way too much about classic Nintendo games and discontinued breakfast cereals.
Because the questions are usually ridiculous, the McElroys give appropriately silly answers, and sometimes forget to actually answer the question. But there's a line of sincerity that runs through what they do, particularly when they talk about what's happening in their own lives.
All three are married, and the wives of both Travis and Griffin are expecting (Justin has a two year old daughter). On recent shows, they've talked about baby shower etiquette (do you eat the commemorative candy?), dropped some good dad jokes and discussed the challenge of balancing kid time and work time with fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss.
They've also lamented the lack of quality books for dads on preparing for a new baby as Griffin and Travis get ready for their big arrivals. They want to know how to be good dads (the best way to hold a baby, etc.), but one book Travis read recommended drawing football plays on his wife's stomach to help him connect with the baby.
Because obviously all men are unfeeling monsters who can't connect to tiny humans they helped create without "sports things."
It gets deeper than that. At a recent live show in Washington, DC, Travis and his wife Teresa talked on their podcast "Shmanners" about how she had a miscarriage before they were pregnant with the baby she's having soon. They said they wanted to share what happened because of how important it is for people to feel open about talking about those experiences.
These sincere conversations happen alongside weird riffs on whether a listener should move into a van with her boyfriend, and that's what makes the show so good for dads. There's very little actual advice, but it's really helpful to know that people like you are searching for the same things. To know there are people out there who are working hard to improve their fatherhood skills too, and that it's not as easy as the "10 Ways To Be A Good Dad" post someone shared on Facebook would have you believe.
The show is also a firm, emphatic reminder that there isn't one path to being a good dad. Not everyone is Danny Tanner, and excellence in fatherhood can come in many forms, including funny dudes that run a podcast.
You can be weird and profane and silly part of the time and also work really hard at being a better dad. Your relationship with your child is one part of you, and just because you have a kid doesn't mean you don't like comic books or mystery novels anymore. Your identity doesn't contract when your child arrives -- it expands.
You can take your responsibility as a father seriously and still make poop jokes with your friends. You can want to spend time with your kids but also take time for yourself. Justin talks about hunting for Pokémon on Pokémon Go while on walks with his daughter. You can do that too, if Pokémon Go is your thing.
There's no lack of advice out there for dads. But for those of us figuring out how to make it work each day, you can do a lot worse than a weird, funny podcast with bad advice and Bruce Willis jokes.