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9 Tips for New Fathers

Babies don't come out asking for the car keys and looking at colleges. You have time to learn and time to make mistakes.
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Three of the men dearest to me, lets call them Adam, Rishi and Chad, are all having (or have had) their first child this year. One is my actual brother and the other two might as well be. Last year, I shared what I'd learned as a stay-at- home dad. This year, I get to share a little of what I know with these men, men I know will make excellent fathers.

1. Babies don't come out asking for the car keys and looking at colleges. You have time to learn and time to make mistakes. The first three months are mostly about poop, food and sleep... because that's all you can handle. It will get more complicated, but it all seems to come one complication at a time.

2. Know what goes into your child. There's a lot you'll be hearing about what comes out -- it seems poop is the Rosetta Stone for every ailment -- but know what goes in. Go organic, read every label. If you can't pronounce it, why would you put it into your infant? Food isn't food like when we were kids. A tomato isn't a tomato anymore; it's spliced with the DNA of rats and fruit flies to make them more resistant to a weed-killing chemical that causes cancer. Yeah, it's absurd. Just know what goes in.

3. Things happen when they happen. Relax. Your child will walk when he walks, talk when he talks, and... well, use the potty when he uses the potty. That last one has been a bugaboo, but it's happening. And it's happening despite mom and dad's best attempts to screw it up and complicate things. Things happen when they happen. Relax. If they don't, call your doc, they'll help you. (Adam, you can just call yourself...)

4. It's not a contest. Trust me. Our pediatrician informed us that Turtle is of average size for a 4-year-old and he has the ability of a first-grader to make complex connections and verbally express them. He's 3. However, put a soccer ball in front of him and he's utterly confused. When all the other kids are kicking the ball, he just wants to hug his coach. And he's still iffy on the whole potty thing. So... that's where we are. Comparing kids is like comparing a horse to an orange (or a genetically spliced tomato with a tomato); they're not the same.

5. While you can, baby-wear. Seriously. Imagine holding your child all the time, carrying this infant everywhere, feeling them snuggle up and fall asleep in your arms. Now imagine that you can let go and use your arms to write, work, read, make dinner... and the baby still stays right there. That's baby-wearing. Do it for as long as your body will allow. I stopped just as Turtle got big enough to kick me in the kidneys on a consistent basis. That was a good sign that we were done. It doesn't have to be complicated.

6. Speak softly. This one is hard for me. I'm a big guy with a big voice and my wife gets a fair amount of glee from telling me I can be rather scary. I find that hilarious, but apparently I make a face honed over years of taking the 1 Train home to Harlem that can be menacing. I always thought a small amount of fear was a good thing, to know there were consequences for actions. Now, I think that's hogwash. I don't want my child to be afraid of me. I want him to know I will love him and respect him always, even when he screws up. So, we have a no-yelling rule. The punishment: burpees. This does not apply to any kind of warnings or life-threatening moments. It's about having a house that is respectful and teaching him that soft voices can be more effective than loud ones. Speak softly. Better yet, whisper when you need to discipline. If you treat your child with respect, you'll have a respectful child who grows up to be a respectful (and respected) adult.

7. Remember, you're a team. There's lots of numbers and statistics being bandied about in this never-ending merry go round of who works harder, moms or dads. The truth is you are a team. Have a united front, share responsibilities and, if need be, pick up the slack. There will be times when your spouse will do the same for you. Because you're a team.

8. Respect. There are a lot of books out there about brain games and essential skills kids should know and how to get your kid into a pre-school that will get him into Harvard. Some are excellent; some are no better than kindling for a barbecue. But one that I'd never heard of and found unloved on a library shelf is Parking Lot Rules by Tom Sturges. It's my new favorite. Yes, there are some fun tips for not smashing fingers in car doors and staying safe in, you guessed it, parking lots. Practical things. But mostly, it's full of short reminders that raising a child is about respecting them, their growth, their pace and their opinions. In the blink of an eye, your child will be demanding a space at the kitchen counter to do dishes, choosing the stations on the radio, picking books to read, disappearing to the comic book section of the library, refusing to take a bath and then (minutes later) demanding a second bath and having an absolute meltdown about both. It helps to be reminded to treat all of these moments with respect.

9. Take care of yourselves. You don't have to do anything exotic or turn in workouts with names like Randy or Fran, but move. You want to be there when your child graduates high school, gets married, has their first child. Then you can pass on all your fatherly advice.

Happy Father's Day!

chris vandijk

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