By Joe Bouchard
Energy and Interest: You’re off to a good start.
If you’ve landed here, there’s already a chance that you’re going to be a great dad. You’ve chosen to google tips for new fathers, or this post has popped up on one of your social media news feeds.
I admit I’m only guessing how you arrived here. Regardless, by doing so, you've shown interest, a little bit of energy even, into giving a shit about your job as a father.
Which means you’re already off to a good start. I think so, at least…
In fact, yes, I’m fairly certain that you are. I hesitate because I know what I do not know. How to be a perfect father.
I’m in my mid thirties now, with two energetic and expressive boys aged 4 and 8. Also, I’m a stepdad to the eldest. His mother and I have been together since he was 2 and a half. He’s grown so much and to witness it is like watching a bullet whizz by. My youngest is a cheeky guy who has been working on his pouting lip lately. He’s handsome and leaning into it a little bit. My wife is omnipotent and beautiful, a miraculous beacon that keeps us all on target. As I look at my family holistically, it brings me peace.
There are bumps and bruises every day, though. One day, your baby will also be a person who has worries and pain and love and joy. This article is meant to advise you on how you can be there to play your part well. To inform this piece and expand on my own experience I interviewed three new dads who are right in the thick of it, each in their own way, and so their perspectives are unique. I’ll share with you what they have to say about the early challenges and hopes for their fatherly role moving forward.
The first new dad I spoke to was Trevor, a 33 year old Marketing Manager with a 6 month old baby boy. Next is Miguel, 30, a Tradesman in environmental work with a new daughter of only 6 weeks. Finally, I discussed fatherhood with Jag, a 45 year old Architect who is Dad to a 4 month old boy.
These dads have passed the monumental, life changing experience that is coming your way. They did it, and please take a moment to consider that these three dads were at one point complete novices.
As my father put it “I’m a rookie at this Joe, and I always will be.” His guidance, teachings, and principles come from his beliefs on how to be a good man and every step of the way he reminded me that he was just doing the best he knew how. Often, that comes in the form of a decision (that depending on the situation was more like a “ruling”) based on limited information - his experience as a rookie dad. The best and most loving conjecture he could throw my way.
Finally, before we get rolling, remember this, as one of the dad’s I interviewed so beautifully pointed out: “Advice is just advice. If you try it and it doesn’t work, you haven’t done anything wrong.”
The Role of Fatherhood: What does it mean to be a great dad?
This question garnered tons of material from our Dads, so there is much to share. However, one thing sticks out having spoken with them and attempted to give justice to their accounts - the way they spoke of their role as a dad with such enthusiasm and clarity. This showed me that they’d thought about it already, and in great depth. They have contemplated the “why” behind being a dad. This reflection is integral to deciding what you want to achieve in fatherhood and indeed, life. It is, perhaps, a subconscious choice these men made, to select a standard that they were going to hold themselves too. A standard that they decided on their own. Pretty good people to take advice from, I think.
Miguel pointed out the value of being a teacher for your child. “I didn’t talk about my emotions to my family as a child.”, Miguel says. “I’d like to be there for my daughter in that way, to help her process her feelings as early as I can.” Miguel’s thoughts here are indicative of how the role of fatherhood can vary.
The expectation that men exhibit stoicism by silently enduring hardship is dissolving with a new, healthier version of masculinity. I would say that Miguel is a sign of that, and his advice about emotional availability signals positive evolution in the role of a father.
You can share your emotions with your child, and in doing so, are teaching them how to handle and regulate their own.
Jag sees a father’s role to provide protection and guidance. When I asked how things were going and what the role of a father is, his answer felt locked and loaded. He put it to me straightforwardly “It's like being a personal assistant to a business executive.” A demanding, in your face screaming at you type of a CEO. A bonafide boss baby. Despite his playful analogy, Jag has looked on this short time as a father with a mantra handed down to him by his Mom - these early days are about patience. Going with the flow because things will change.
If you can pivot with grace when things go wrong, you’ll be a great dad. There are times when your child derails long anticipated plans with friends, hobbies, and your partner. These are the moments where you need to be there, says Jag.
We discussed more about managing this challenge and ended up sharing this sentiment: when you’re with your child there is simply nothing better you could be doing. Yes you have your interests and social callings, but a great father takes solace in the fact that he’s right where he needs to be.
You can be a great dad by recognizing these moments and stepping up.
Trevor, like Miguel, believes that teaching is a major part of fatherhood. “I’d like to be his North Star,” says Trevor. “I want him to hear about my mistakes and let them guide him. I’ll tell him about all of the things I’ve messed up and what I learned from it.” It feels correct that as a teacher and parent, one would strive to provide a point of reference whenever they can. A fixed spot in the picture that can tether your child to the way the world is. Or can be. Sometimes. In your opinion.
Trevor points out that it isn’t so much about avoiding mistakes. On the contrary, allowing your child to make mistakes will help them reflect on and learn from the experience.
You can teach your child to learn from negative experiences.
You leveled up! The dual role of partner and father
If your relationship is romantic, then remember what got you here in the first place. A connection with your partner. Perhaps your relationship has a deep foundation, or maybe it’s relatively recent. Regardless, the cosmos deemed you next in line to sire a miracle. As the universe is vast and broad, so is this second suggestion.
Don’t forget to be a good partner.
Trevor connects doing a great job as a dad to being a great partner too.
“Don’t take your foot off the gas in your relationship, just because you’re a dad now.” Trevor likes to point out that since free time is so limited, it’s a great idea to focus on being present with one another when it comes around, especially during the early days.
“She’s just pushed a human out of her!” says Trevor “That is an insane thing that she just did.” In his eyes, there are things that only his son’s mother can do. Trevor suggests that you need to support her through all of the swirling emotions brought on by the unique human experience she just conquered. Time to handle as much of the day to day as possible.
You can do this by being alert, flexible, and patient.
Feelings of inadequacy
Now and in the future, you may question your natural ability to be a father. Perhaps like me, you consider yourself to be too quiet, or not playful enough at times. I suggest that you will come to see that a powerful intangible activates within you, when you need it.
You must complete some fundamental, bare minimum duties like keeping your child fed, clothed, and healthy. You’ll need to provide a safe home. The commitment to being a great dad goes beyond those necessities, and each father will have certain aspects of this job that come less naturally. If you’re searching for a fatherly identity, then recognize this: there is no pressure to have it perfectly defined just yet. The accounts above are from Dads who have combined thoughtfulness with something else. There is an inherent evolutionary gift within us all that can be your starting point should you need it - instinct.