Hi, my name is Carl. And I’m a Dad.
You probably already know this, but being a parent instantly transforms you. And no, I’m not talking about my dad bod (please stop staring). I mean it immediately changes your cosmic DNA. You go from being a calm, living, breathing human into a panicked human who is officially responsible for creating a new life—or multiple new lives if God’s in a fun mood and decides that he prefers you feeding twins, triplets or quintuplets.
I still remember the first day I found out I was going to be a father. My wife called excitedly from her office to tell me the good news.
“I’m pregnant. We’re going to have a baby,” she bawled into the phone. Her voice broke with an uncontrolled mix of joyful tears and nervous laughter as if someone had announced that she was Jeff Bezos’s long-lost sister.
Me? I didn’t panic. I took the news like a champ. I sobbed-laughed along with her and made a joke about how I always knew the crane sex position was a sure baby-maker. Then I ended the call and sat down on the bed and stared at the wall for half an hour.
And then I started to panic.
Most men can call on happy family memories to guide them through parenting. But I was at a loss. My dad left when I was only five. He didn’t give me any warning. He just walked out the door one morning, and that was it. Maybe he signed up to join the Justice League or the Avengers. Who knows? The only things he left behind were his pipe, his stereo, and a PlayBoy magazine that I would find 11 years later. My wife couldn’t help either. Her father left when she was only four—coincidentally in the same year mine did. Apparently, dads were rehearsing for the rapture that year.
So, unlike most men who could call on their childhood experience to figure out what a dad relationship was, I didn’t have a stable father figure to rely on. You’d think that would put me at a disadvantage. But it didn’t. The more I thought about it while nervously staring at the wall, the more I realized that not having a dad could actually be a good thing. You see, instead of having just a central figure in my life, I could call upon several life experiences to identify the positive elements in a parent-child relationship.
And that’s exactly what I did. Over the next nine months, while I watched my wife’s belly expand as if she had accidentally binged on magic watermelons, I made up over a dozen rules that have guided my relationship with my kid. Some of the rules are flexible (like teaching my kid how to sing and gargle at the same time). But if I had to choose the four most significant rules of Daddy-ship, it would be these four.
- Never Leave
Let’s start with the obvious—the absence of a father. Having experienced the incurably dark loneliness of being without a father, I promised myself that I would always be present in my kid’s life. Regardless of what happened, I would not join the league of disappearing men. But keeping that promise also meant that I would have to work doubly hard at my marriage. I quickly realized that the best parent-children relationships only work when both parents are on the same page. Love—as it turns out—is sort of like a chain reaction. To create the best possible relationship with kids, you need to start by creating an unbreakable bond with your spouse. It’s the not-so-secret secret to a happy family. Every tiny spark with your wife blossoms into a life-long sonnet of love with your kid. If you work every day to remain passionately in love with your wife, you’ll never want to leave.
- Always Listen
Growing up, I had an uncle who would often swing by to check up on us to make sure we were okay. He had his quirks, one of which was an irrationally fondness for wrestling—particularly that absurd event known as Wrestlemania. He could sit for hours, a newspaper in hand, while watching as Hulk Hogan battled for the same ridiculous belt using the same predictable moves for the 65th time. However, I forgave him for this tiny flaw because of his one major strength. He always listened to me. It didn’t matter if I was discussing my new theory of how geckos grew into lizards and then into chameleons and then into alligators and then into crocodiles. He would stop whatever he was doing to listen to my young rant. That experience taught me the importance of communication in a family. Kids don’t just want a person they can look up to. They need a friend they can trust and share secrets with. And that means listening to them babble all day—even if it is about crocodiles.
- Encourage Passions
My mum never really got over my dad. In the years following my father’s disappearing trick, she became extremely distrusting of any human who walked around with a beard or moustache. But every now and then, she would find a man that made her safe enough to let him into her life, which is how I met Hugo. Hugo was an editor who worked for a book publishing firm; he and more mum struck up a friendship that lasted for decades. One day he swung by our apartment while I was hard at work writing in my book. I had no idea that he’d noticed me—because really who has time to pay attention to a brooding 15-year-old with way too many pimples writing in a corner? But he surprised me the next day by bringing along a jotter and a pack of pens for me. He also politely asked if he could take a look at the story I was working on, and then gave me a few useful tips on what I could do to improve my writing. It was a tiny gesture. But it meant a lot. Having an adult endorse my passion gave me hope that I didn’t have to be a doctor or engineer to make a decent living. For better or worse, it set me on the path towards exploring life as a writer. It also made me realize the importance of encouraging kids to indulge in their passions, which is what I try to do every day with mine.
4.Nurture the Small Stuff
You’ve probably heard all the rumours about being a Dad—that it’s a demanding experience that instantly turns your hair gray. Well, none of that is true. Your hair doesn’t turn gray instantly. It typically takes 8 to 13 days. But what no one tells you is that being a Dad is a fantastic experience that’s made up of hundreds and thousands of tiny stuff.
Like trying hard to sit still while your daughter applies makeup on your face.
Or taking a walk around the house.
Or watching her practice her non-existent dance moves.
Or simply cuddling up on a sofa and talking about nothing.
It all adds up. Each seemingly insignificant moment is what builds up into the glorious vista that eventually defines your relationship with your kid. Birthdays and holidays are great. But those are just train stops along the way. To build a great relationship with your kid, one that you and your family will always remember, you need to be there for as much of the small stuff as possible. Because a happy relationship with kids is not something readymade. It’s something that comes from your actions.
So never leave. Always Listen. Never stop encouraging your kid’s passion. And milk the hell out of all the small stuff.
Thanks for listening to my rant.
Please help yourself to some donuts on your way out.