What I wish other dads had told me before I had kids

THEY say that nothing can really prepare you for fatherhood.

As much as the antenatal classes try to give you all the information you need, there’s nothing like the real thing — meeting your tiny newborn baby. Except you quickly discover how little you actually know about babies. Many of us dads had never even held a baby before, much less changed a nappy.

Suddenly, we’re in uncharted waters and we know it. Our baby cries and we think ‘What do I do now?’ Over time we realise that babies are pretty simple compared to a toddler, let alone a hormonal teenager. And many of us are still scratching our heads trying to achieve a work-life balance when work finishes much later than when the school bell rings at 3.30PM.

Here’s a few points I wished other dads had told me before I became a father.

1. YOU DON’T NEED A ROLE-MODEL TO BE A GREAT DAD

Most men hope to build a close relationship with their dad, but not all get it. My own father was loving but traditional and I had my doubts about whether I could be the hands-on dad, I hoped to be.

As fate would have it, I was dealt a helpful-hand, although at the time it looked anything but positive. After a complicated birth, I needed to take an extra two weeks off to help out at home.

By the end of that first month I had bonded with my son and I didn’t want to go back to work!

While my wife was recovering I was getting to know my son and the research shows that what’s most important for new dads, is the ability to read their baby’s signals about whether they feel tired, playful or hungry.

In this way, knowledge is power, because if you can’t tell the difference between tired-signs or hunger-signs, you’ll be trying to settle a hungry baby to sleep or feed a tired baby.

 

fatherhoodengagementcycle

 

Sadly the reverse is also true, if you’re not sure about what to do, then you are more likely to take a step back, where mum does the bulk of the parenting.

If you’ve got a great role-model, awesome. You can follow in their footsteps. If not, just try to get to know your kids whatever their age.

2. EXHAUSTION IS NOT AN APHRODISIAC

Having spoken to lots of dads over the years I know that I’m not alone with this one! For many of us, sex is a way of feeling close with our partners. It turns out that it’s also one of our favourite solutions for stress, and boredom.

We may not realise just how much we have loaded onto our sex lives until we have kids and sex is infrequent.

Finding a way to reignite your sex-life after kids can be very tricky. If we nag or sulk, it’s a massive turn-off. If we plan a little romance in the evening, by the time the kids are in bed, fatigue often scuttles the best-laid plans.

If you put the cue in the rack, she can worry you’ve lost your attraction for her post-baby. So what’s a dad to do?

Couples-expert, John Gottman found that the quality of friendship is the biggest predictor of a great sex life and men who were considerate and helped share housework had better sex lives.

3. DADS REALLY MATTER TO CHILDREN’S LONG-TERM HAPPINESS

It turns out that being a hands-on dad has a huge impact on your child’s life across five areas, from education to health and happiness, as shown in the image below.

 

Benefits Of Positively Involved Fathers

 

A great education doesn’t guarantee happiness but it can open doors. The better educated your kids are, the more doors open to them. Research shows that your role as a dad has a big influence on your child’s learning from the start. Actively involved dads are shown to have smarter babies and toddlers with higher IQs at the age of three years!

These kids go on to do well at school, not just academically but also socially and this sets them up for happiness as an adult. The key thing is that kids just want to feel close to their dads.

4. YOU HAVE SKILLS YOU CAN TRANSFER TO PARENTHOOD

It took me a while to realise that a lot of poor behaviour by my kids was because they were tired, hungry, or undone by life’s challenges.

This was great because it meant that many of my children’s problems could be solved with sleep, food or a cuddle. Life as a parent became a lot easier as I became proactive, always packing snacks, drinks and cuddles.

As men, we spend much of our working lives in problem-solving roles and seeing parenthood from a problem-solving perspective reminds us that we have a skill-set that we can transfer across into fatherhood.

Whenever my kids would become upset because something had broken or wouldn’t work, I’d just say ‘Dad will do a fixxie’. Amazingly most things could be fixed, albeit with some dodgy workmanship, or quick renegotiation. The kids were happy, and that made me happy too.

As dads, we’re all learning on the job, so hang in there when it’s challenging, knowing that you mean the world to your kids.

Timothy O’Leary is a Melbourne-based fatherhood expert. His new book Dads Who Can, is out now at Amazon.