A couple weeks ago, I went golfing for the first time in about 15 years, and maybe my fourth time ever. I was with Rob, a friend from work who I like who loves to golf who I don’t often get to hang out with. When I asked him if we could go golfing together sometime, he looked at me like I had a divot stuck in my teeth. But he said yes
I drove home alone after work, snarfed some leftovers and rolled out to the golf course. I found Rob on the putting green, he paid my fee (like I said, he’s a really great guy), and we walked out to the first tee.
It did not go well.
I’ve never hit well with a driver. In fact, the farthest ball I ever hit was a fluke when goofing off in my Lifetime Sports class in high school—with a putter. The thing must have gone 150 yards, but I’d never been able to do anything similar with my woods. The first couple holes, I was stinking as usual—I topped the ball and it rolled a few yards. I got a hold of a couple and they sliced and shanked fairly far but not at all in the right direction. And then Rob, the golf guru, spoke.
“You should only be swinging about 80%…”
I stared at him. I was trying to smash. I wanted to slam the ball. I was a hybrid of John Daly and the Hulk. Rob, my Obi Wan of the links, blew my mind.
I lined up over the ball. Got my grip. Bent my knees. Dropped my head. Loosened my shoulders. Brought it back. Flowed through, without forcing it.
Pop! Straight, high, beautiful.
That was the first, but for shot after shot, the rest of the round, I hit the best balls of my very limited golfing career. All I needed to be told was that I can’t try so hard, that I had to let it happen. I’m strong enough without giving it my all. And if I give it all, things go all wonky.
Four of my friends need my help. Two just became dads. One will become a dad in a couple months. And I think one is becoming a dad right now. (Go Matt…actually, go Sarah!)
Becoming a dad is no small thing. Just before Phoebe was born, I asked a friend if he was ready before his son was born. “No one is ever ready,” he said. In this picture of Phoebe and me, you can see I was trying to be like, “I’ve got this,” but I was actually like, “This is terrifying.”
But you can at least prepare. And it’s a lot easier to prepare before you’re running on four hours of fitful sleep and all kinds of anxiety about screwing up this brand new person.
I am an authority on becoming a dad. I’ve done it twice. But only the first one counts. Any subsequent births are kind of like sequels—never quite as noteworthy as the original. (And don’t get me started about prequels.) (I love you, Zeke.)
Seriously, people comment all the time, “You kids are so quiet/cute/obedient/smart/fun/well-behaved/polite/kind/awesome!” Rarely do people add, “just like you.” But I know that’s what they’re thinking.
Obviously, I didn’t screw up my kids too bad to have strangers in libraries need to be hushed as they raved about their excellent character and perfect posture. My friends should heed this advice, or their children will likely grow up to be Lindsey Lohan or telemarketers (Lord, have mercy). And you must share this with your friends, or you will be held responsible for how many terrible tabloids and inconvenient no-call lists we have in 2040.
Here’s what my friends, your friends, and new dads everywhere need to hear:
- Marry an amazing woman. This makes being a great dad much easier.
- Sleep with your running shoes on. I did this for the first few weeks of Zeke’s life. He would start to wake up, and at the first precious little, “Oink,” I’d spring up, grab him, re-swaddle him, and head outside. We would walk for an hour in the 2am quiet, with him staring at the streetlights in wonder, and me staring at him in wonder. (And trying not to trip.)
- Use cloth diapers. This will enable you to endure long stretches of caring for your child, cleaning the house, and giving your wife back massages, as you won’t have to leave to use the bathroom.
- Put cloth diapers on your kid, too. Feel free to use disposables at first, as newborns poop an average of 75 times/day. But once that’s down to under 30 times/day, you should use cloth, because over the next three years, you’ll save a few thousand dollars. If you invest in that immediately, by the time you retire, it’ll be worth a few thousand and fifteen dollars. (The economy isn’t what it used to be.) Alternatively, if your kid ends up needing diapers for more than three years (let’s say…30), you could come out way ahead. So buy them big.
- Get used to crying. The first year of parenting is full of tears. You just have to figure out what’s needed. Food? Sleep? A little snuggling with Mama? Find those needs and meet them. And you’re not the only one who will be crying—your kid will want some of the same things. But at the end of the day, if the your baby is clean, not too warm or cold, fed, and not dangling off of the balcony of a hotel in a large city, I’m sure they’re fine. For what it’s worth, we used a philosophy (a book?) called Baby-wise. Chrissy read it. You should get it for your wife. You teach your kid to sleep, and you don’t have to care if they’re crying. Win!
- Encourage breastfeeding. While it may seem a bit awkward, it’s apparently something that happens in nature all the time. All kinds of mammals breastfeed: cows, pigs, squirrels, iguanas, ducks, Subarus, rhinos (wait, are rhinos mammals?). Check out the new BBC documentary, Breasts and Udders of the World if you don’t believe me. It’s good for your kid, and your wife needs encouragement to try but grace if it just doesn’t work.
- Take as much time off as you can. Talk to your boss about how much you admire Europeans. Get her to agree that she loves Europeans, too. Then explain that you’ll be taking six-months paid leave after your kid arrives.
- Learn to do new stuff like cook. Garlic scapes sautéed with almond butter you milled yourself? Grape leaves around lamb bruschetta? Ladyfingers soaked in scotch, lit on fire, and drizzled with organic wasp honey? Your wife will love you. It might also be appropriate to clean, shop, and change diapers.
- Cut out as many activities as you can. You have one activity now: surviving. That’s why you need all this time off of work. You can get out of anything when you have a newborn. “I’d love to come over and re-caulk your deck, Brian, but you know, with the baby and all…”
- Choose one thing for each of you that will keep you sane. It could be paintball, cross-stitch, a daily coffee, or huffing glue. Just pick one and help each other stick to it.
- FREE BONUS TIP! AVAILABLE ONLY TO PEOPLE WHO MADE IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF THE POST! Don’t ever give your child a pacifier. The last thing we need in this country is more passive kids. Last week, we celebrated our nation’s independence. But we are falling behind. We need to do something. Give your baby an “aggravator” or something. Maybe set them up in front of World of Warcraft. We need our babies to rise up together!
What advice would you give to new dads?
My experience as a father has been atypical, with a few years of it in China and South Africa. But I have found that fatherhood is a long trudge with occasional bursts of indescribable joy. The joys include gurgles and zerberts, strollers and first steps, reading and knock-knock jokes. And the trudge is multi-faceted, too.
I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night so my wife could sleep just a little more. I’ve paced before dawn wondering how I’d find a job to support my growing family. I’ve worked long hours. I’ve eaten lunch at my desk to try to get home earlier. After work, I’ve done the dishes, changed diapers, and figured out an insurance question. Before work, I’ve read the Bible and prayed I don’t screw up my kids. I’ve found a deal on a car. I’ve changed the oil. I’ve asked for a raise. I’ve taught Sunday School. I’ve shown my daughter how to ride a skateboard. I’ve tried to be gentle. I’ve told my wife how smart and hard-working and beautiful she is. I’ve built a mammoth treehouse. I’ve volunteered at the school play. I’ve devised a work schedule so my wife can get her PhD and not worry about childcare. I’ve worked out so I don’t die early from something stupid. I’ve gone to Cub Scout meetings. I’ve checked math homework. I’ve been available. I’ve done my best.
In the midst of that trudging, it’s easy to lose my way. Like dads across the country, this weekend, I’m hearing:
- I love you.
- Thank you.
- You’re the best.
- Have a beer.
All of these are very important. I’ve heard all of them from my kids (ages 9 and 7). Ok, they’ve never told me to have a beer, though I’m working on that.
Even so, even for a man with good relationships with his kids and wife or girlfriend, there are two things that are not said very often that we dads need to hear.
I need you.
We need to know that all these things, this effort, this work, this sacrifice matters to someone. If my wife and kids tell me how much they need me, how they appreciate what I do, that without me they would be having a hard time, then I have some evidence that it matters. In the midst of the trudging there has to be a voice telling me that my strength is needed. Without this, we men are prone to squander our strength to sloth or to misguided pursuits.
When I hear, “I need you, Dad” I’m ready to run into a burning building. (That may be foolish, but I’d rather be a fool with a short life spent for others than an old, wise man who looked out for number one.)
If a dad doesn’t hear that he’s needed, it’s a lot harder to do all the stuff that a good dad ought to do. But just being needed can lead to stress and anxiety. I’ll put pressure on myself beyond what’s helpful. There’s something else we dads need to hear.
I need encouragement. When I’ve put the kids in bed at 8:00 pm and I’ve been going since 5:00 am, it is very hard to do one more thing—some banking, planning for a vacation, or even just having an intelligible conversation with the woman I love. I need grace for the moments when I am running on empty. I need to know that I can keep learning and figuring this out. Even when a guy’s had a great dad, his personality and own kids are different. He needs to grow a lot.
Being a father takes time, and it never feels like there’s enough to even read the manual, let alone fly the plane. I need to know that my kids and wife understand I’m doing my best and that I want to do better. And if they think I actually can do better, and are helping me to do so, I probably will actually be a better dad.
When I hear, “Keep growing, Dad,” I can continue the trudge. It’s 10:00 pm on a day that I biked 15 miles with my family, went swimming, and had a campfire. I’m exhausted. But with my family’s encouragement and amazing grace, I can still write a blog post that I hope will help a couple of families out there. And I’ll be learning, too, so that tomorrow, I’ll be a smidge better.
Rare is the man that things he’s getting an A as a dad. So find one and tell him how much he’s needed and that there’s grace for growth.
What else do you think dads need to hear?
We are about to go to our friends’ house to watch the Super Bowl. There are a few things I want to tell you.
Although this seems like a really big deal, it isn’t. It’s just that the people in our country don’t have anything to get excited about all together anymore. We used to get excited together about fighting against the British and stuff, but we haven’t all gotten excited about the same stuff in a long time. So we get all worked up about this game instead.
You are not less of a person because you can never play in the Super Bowl. Men are the only people who play. Sometimes the reporter on the sideline is a woman. And I’m sure someday soon a woman will be anouncing the game or in the studio at halftime and another will be running the sidelines as a referee. But the players are all men, and that will not change. I really hope and pray that you will do something more important with your life than play a football game (or report on one or referee one).
Don’t be like the women you see. You will see women dancing on the sidelines of this football game, my love. They will not be wearing many clothes. They will be amazing athletes, maybe even as amazing as the men on the field. But their whole lives go into being beautiful, and that’s kinda sad. You’re way more important than just having smooth skin and showing it off. You’re a lot more valuable than a pretty face. The shape of your breasts and butt and your ability to dance don’t give you your worth as a person. No matter how gorgeous you are when you grow up—and I have no doubt that will be really, really beautiful, since you already are—please know that your mind and your soul matter more.
There are a lot of men you should avoid. There will be some really funny and cool ads on during the Super Bowl. We’ll laugh and look at each other with our mouths wide open. But commercials sometimes kind of lie, saying things that are not true. I’ve heard about the ads that are going to air tonight—GoDaddy, Kia, Doritos, and the rest. They show women mostly naked. They do this because they think men really want to see that and that men are dumb enough to buy something because a mostly-naked woman was in an ad. A good man decides to really love one woman, not just her body and not lots of women. That’s the kind of man that I hope falls deeply in love with you one day. I love your mom and don’t look at other women naked. And trust me, you don’t ever want to be with a man who just wants to see other women naked.
You can always talk to me. This is some big stuff. You can ask me anything, and I will always make time for you. You’re the best.
What else would you say to girls and young women about the messages around the Super Bowl?
Leave a comment below.