Recently, I’ve received several requests for “advice” about fatherhood. I have no problem with sharing my experiences, but I don’t want to give advice. What I will offer (in alphabetical order, no less) the following ideas that work, or have worked, for me on this fatherhood journey.
Acceptance: I’m a father. I have to own the responsibilities that come along with the title. No more being selfish.
Breathing: I have to be constantly mindful of how I breathe. Fatherhood is like yoga: You have to know how to breathe and stretch properly or you’ll damage yourself.
Curiosity: You have to be open to new experiences. The more curious you are, the more you can teach your child.
Daddy: This is my new name. It is also an on switch. As soon as I hear it, depending on the tone, I immediately know what actions I need to take. (Hard won wisdom.)
Ego: It has no place in parenting. You have to be humble enough to see the lessons as they’re happening.
Friends: You will lose some of them. For whatever reason, some of your closest friends will no longer be in your life. Some think of babies as a kind of social kryptonite. Some will lament that they no longer have someone they can party with. Oh, well.
Gibberish: Baby talk is a cancer that needs to be removed from any interactions with your baby. Use real words.
Hero: This is who I am to my daughter. I have to never violate this sacred position in her life.
Ignorance: Admitting that I don’t have all (if any) answers is liberating.
Joy: Few words can capture what it feels like to parent. This is one of them.
Kindness: If you model this, they will learn.
Life: It is as big and grand, or as small and contained, as you make it.
Man: How consistent is your vision of being a man with the values needed to raise a well-adjusted and loved child?
No: Get used to saying it. However, “no” should be used as a boundary, and not as a weapon.
Own: I do not own my child. I am responsible to and for her, but there is no ownership. Too many new parents treat their kids like property, instead of the little people in training they are.
Promises: If I make one to my child, I damn well better follow through.
Quiet: Silence will become alien to you. (What’s that? No crying, laughing, scuffling across the floor? Now I can’t sleep!)
Regret: This will hit you when you least expect it. You’ll scroll through all of the woulda/shoulda/coulda nuggets of “What if I didn’t have a kid?” Regret is just the ego’s last effort to assert superiority in your life. Take a breath and let it go. If this doesn’t work, think about how you’d feel without your kid.
S = Simplicity: You don’t have to be Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire with your kid/s. There is no reason that every interaction with them has to become some kind of mass production.
Touch: Touch your child. Hug her, kiss her. You will both benefit.
Unavoidable: Things will break, get messy, get lost, and it will be your kid’s fault. I had $73 dollars almost flushed down the toilet, until I caught her and she told me, “This paper doesn’t disappear like toilet paper.”
Vision: What kind of world do you want for your child? And what are you doing to make this happen?
Women: Respect them. If you have a son, he’ll learn from you. If you have a daughter, she’ll have a clear picture of how she should be treated.
X: The unknown. You have no idea where your fatherhood will take you. And that’s okay.
Youth: No matter how old you are, you have to think young. You have to play young (if your body can take it), and you have to have a young outlook. This helps you to see a long and healthy future for you and your family.
Zealous: This is how I approach the safety and security of my child. If a mountain falls, I’ll shield her. If her dignity is impinged upon, I’ll redress it. From birth until the inevitable, I will attempt to be the epitome of fatherhood. Everything that I do is in the service of being a better father… and in return, I’m becoming a better man.
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.