A week ago I wrote about a recent parenting mistake I made: I called my son a girl. It led some readers to comment on my skills as a caregiver (one wrote that I was a "parenting fail," which is a succinct way of saying "me bad talker to kid person"). Interestingly, my parenting fail was the most trafficked post I've done to date. Which underscores something we all already know: failure and dysfunction equal ratings. The most popular reality shows are those where people fist fight, break up, are housewives in major metropolitan cities, etc. Have you watched School Pride, the excellent new show on NBC that's basically Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for broken down schools? Probably not. Have you watched Jersey Shore? Exactly.
Wth the idea that failure equals ratings, I've decided to create the horrible dad handbook. It's an easy-to-follow guide to falling well short of fathering excellence. I expect this post to be huge. The Landlord huge. Tween boy playing "Papparazzi" on YouTube huge.
Go missing. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFA), one in three children live in a fatherless household. "We have more absent fathers today than at any point in the past," Roland Warren, president of the NFA, told me back in May. "In these cases, the definition of fatherhood is reduced to the act of conception."
Don't do no learnin'. The mother-baby connection begins long before the water breaks. Mom must make conscious diet and lifestyle decisions during the conception period. Once pregnant, there are nine months of growing and showing. For Dad, the connection largely begins in the delivery room. In other words, when the baby is born, Dad is on Day One, and Mom is on Day 462. "For the mother, the connection is biologically constructed," says Warren. "Fathering is less so." So it's incumbent upon guys to educate themselves. But moms, if you give him your dog-eared copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting, all you're doing is giving him a thick coaster for his nightstand. Guy can use dad blogs and message boards, and dad-targeted parenting books. (Like this one, out next spring.)
Make fun of people. Show me a dad, and I'll show you a d#@$. In other words, guys are by nature insulters, ribbers, jabbers, botherers, and not-let-go-of-the-issuers. But a father needs to know when to turn it off, otherwise expect your little monkey to mimic or repeat your offhanded jabs. To a kid, watching you make fun of an obese person at the mall is like a d#@$ flash card.
Expose your kids to adult advertising. One Sunday afternoon, Jackon was quietly playing with Legos. Out of nowhere, he said, "Not too heavy, not too light, Bud Light." A good friend of mine recently told me about a trip to the playground with her son and one of his little friends. While on the swings, they sang a song together: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." Be mindful of what's on the tube, even when it's not tuned to child programming. Be especially wary of the local news, which focuses on death, tragedy and disaster.
Buy a treat on every trip. You go to Target to buy a new blender (for healthy, kid-friendly smoothies, not pina coladas of course!), and next thing you know you're in the checkout line with a Ben 10 Omnitrix glow-in-the-dark alien DNA containment unit (aka a green fannypack). You go to 7-11 for a gallon of milk, and leave with a ring pop. This is hardly an awful thing to do, but it's a bad habit to get into. Soon, every time the car starts it triggers a Pavlovian expectation of a treat, and when you say no they lose their every-loving minds.
Be their waiter. First off, I was a terrible waiter when I was a waiter. Secondly, I didn't appreciate the sassy way some people ordered you around and expected you to do the impossible. Patron: "Do you have root beer?" Me: "No." Patron: "Hmm. Do you think you could get some?" Me: "Sure. [wiggling fingers] Alakazam!!!" So naturally, I don't like being ordered around by my children. My youngest boy Tanner likes to say "I want...." and then trail off until he thinks of something, which can take minutes. "I want.... uh.... uh.... uh... tomatoes." Now, I don't give them my attention until I hear magic words. (Alakazam doesn't qualify, by the way).
Underappreciate Mom. Children model their relationships on the ones they observe. So Jackson won't learn to treat people well unless I treat people well. And it all starts with treating Brandy well and making her feel special. Most dads don't know that it's the little things that upgrade mundane to marvelous. Planning a night out on the town? Make an invitation and put it in the mailbox. Cooking dinner for her at home? Create a menu in PowerPoint (and get funky with the fonts and clip art!). Movie night at home? Buy a strip of red carpet and put a “world premiere” sign on the front door. I know you can do it, guys, because you already have: Your charm, sensitivity and powers of persuasion are the reasons you’re reading this in the first place.