Despite more than 30 years of research on fathers, there's no real consensus on what it takes to be a good one. Ask any number of scholars and academics in the field and they'll give you a list of all-too-often impossible "must-haves" in order to be a good dad. At The Daily Dad, we're pushing back against all that. Our mission is to encourage, promote and celebrate inspiring, engaged and involved dads everywhere. Our claim is that any man, of any marital status, employment status, custody status and whatever-other status can be a good father by just starting where they are.
We've come up with a list of 10 things that can aid in the process to becoming a more involved, loving and all-around hero dad that kids deserve. But again, there are no rules. You don't have to do them all to be a good dad. There will be some that you identify with more than others, and that's great. Being a dad is all about finding your own path to what makes you and your children the happiest. So read through the list, pick a few you want to implement, and have fun!
1. Be Your Own Kind of Dad
Being a dad means something different to everyone, even your kids. Sure, you should find out what they love about you and what they want from you, but what do you love about being a dad? What's your favorite part? Is it taking the kids out for milkshakes? Is it teaching them to build stuff? Is it taking pictures of cool activities with the kids and then blogging about it?
And what kind of dad are you? The protector with a huge soft side for kid kisses? The hipster dad producing dubstep beats with your kid? The gadget geek taking your kid geocaching on the weekend? All the research shows that your own identity as a father—what being a dad means to you—is the major predictor of how involved you are with your kids. So own it—your own way. And whatever it is that makes you love being a dad, do that all the time with your kids. It's extremely likely they will inherit their own father identity from you: boys will become it; girls will look for it. Long story short, if you "aren't really into" being a dad, you're doing it wrong. Change it up! Be your own kind of dad.
2. Use Social Media the Right Way
Almost everyone uses some form of social media. Not only should parents be keenly aware of their kids' social media use for obvious safety reasons, but a parent can use social media to celebrate their kids, to give them a public compliment, to post a #tbt photo, or anything else along those lines. It's like in the old days when dads would open up their wallet and show their coworkers and friends photos of their kids. Social media is the modern day wallet, and dads are starting to light it up. We've seen this in our #iDAD submissions: hundreds of dads taking photos of themselves with their kiddos to show off how great they think their kids are. When parents do this, their kid is left feeling like their parents care about them enough to let the whole world know.
3. Be Involved
Talk with your kids! This is overlooked by a lot of dads. Do you know your kids' friends' full names or where they live? Do you know what classes they're taking and their teachers' names? What are their favorite shows or video games? Even more importantly, when was the last time they felt down, rejected or excluded? Have they ever felt like there was no one they could talk to? If you establish early on that you're always the person they can go to for help or just as a confidant, that pattern will continue. (Hint: research shows that this is especially important for your daughters, but you should show your sons that real men talk, too.)
Ask tons of questions. If you don't know what to ask, we suggest using our top 100 things you should know about your kid, which is a list of 100 conversation starters. And when you blow through that 100, you can go back and ask them again because interests change with kids from week to week.
4. Remember Important Dates and Do Something Special
Okay, remembering what makes a certain date important is the first step, but it's only the first step; don't stop there! What takes it to the next level is to be the dad holding a flower for his daughter at her dance recital, a special gift just from dad on their birthday or a personal card for graduation. Don't just let your partner do all the work and think signing your name on a card is enough. Do something special on a special day.
5. Take Your Kids Places
We're not recommending you book a trip around the world, but we're advocating taking your kids with you when you have to run to the grocery store, the hardware store, to visit someone in the hospital, etc. Kids learn when they're in new environments, so expose them to new places and talk with them about what you're doing. Kids love learning from their dads, so give them lessons throughout the day. A study of family leisure time showed that from the kids' perspective, the best time with dad was spent doing normal things, like talking about things that mattered to them, playing video games together, eating dinner, listening to music, horseplaying and developing hobbies. No need for epic family vacations (because really, watching dad flip into cussing rages trying to set up a tent isn't exactly quality time).
6. Be Honest with Your Kids
Kids won't be honest with you if you're not honest with them. When your kids ask you a question, answer it honestly—and with consideration and sensitivity for their ages. When they ask you why you're doing something, tell them. ("I'm trying to get that toy you shoved down the toilet out so daddy can use the potty!")
7. Take Time to Do Nothing with Your Kids
Okay, we know Tip 5 is to do stuff with your kids, but we're also advocating being completely engaged with your kids when you're doing nothing. It's for the times when you're not going to go out and do anything huge, but you can still maximize your time with your kids. If you're watching a movie, really be engaged with your kids when you watch the movie. Talk with them about why a part was sad or why they found a part funny. Whatever time you do have with your kid, make it about them. Put away your phone, tablet, remote and computer screen, and make some eye contact, for heaven's sake. Most surveys of father involvement include some question about spending time doing what your kid wants to do. So do that. Let them paint your nails or style your hair. Play dolls, climb trees, paint, do whatever it is they love, whether you hate it or not.
8. Cook with Your Kids
Unfortunately, life and all the accompanying responsibilities prevent us from having as much free time as we want to spend with the kids. To combat this unfortunate reality, dads ought to figure out what responsibilities they can do with their kids. Cooking is an opportunity for such companionship. Have you seen "Master Chef Jr."? You may be grooming the next Gordon Ramsey! But remember to give your children tasks that are age appropriate. No, your 3-year-old can't julienne vegetables and your 6-year-old is probably not capable of manning the grill. With that said, your kids really are able to participate in the kitchen with you in more ways than you might think.
9. Appropriately Use Punishment and Rewards
This is one is huge—the guideline of all guidelines, the essence of all discipline and parenthood...have we hyped it enough for you?
Here it is:
If you want your child to stop doing something, punish them.
If you want your child to start doing something, reward them.
Really, that's it. That's the key element that so many fathers miss. We think we're supposed to be the "enforcer" or the "judge/jury/executioner," and most kids think "dads mean business." But if all you do is punish your children, they'll only know what not to do and never learn what they can do.
10. Go on an Adventure this Summer
We created a treasure map for summer activities with your kids so you can print it out, put it on the fridge and embark on the summer treasure hunt of your lives. Spend this summer making memories with your kids doing things that are absolutely free of charge. Keep the map and any tokens from your adventure in a box for your kids' keepsakes. Imagine how fun it will be for them to look back at the effort you put into planning a great summer with them!