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Apps for the iDad

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The first great invention for fathers was the vas deferens. I like to imagine that this vital duct in the male reproductive system—like every gadget available today—once had its own product launch party. I can see it now: it’s 50,000 B.C., and cavemen and cavewomen are standing around eating grilled mammoth and gossiping about each other (“Ugh, look at that pelt,” one of them says. “That is so last Ice Age.”). After the big unveiling, they learn that not only is the vas deferens the best gadget for producing babies, but it comes standard with all members of the male species.

Thousands of years later, the vas deferens is still the best baby-producing doohickey on the market. But not for long. With the advancements of in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, the vas deferens is in danger of becoming an inferior product.

As life has gotten more complicated, technology has made things easier. First came the telephone, then the television, and then the computer. Now the telephone is a television and a computer. It’s this same advanced thinking that gave us blankets with sleeves.

Parents—and fathers, in particular—have plenty of technology at their fingertips. In fact, with a little research I discovered several apps, products and services aimed at making us better, more productive fathers. And we need the help. Simply going online and hitting a few computer keys won't improve a man's parenting skills. Although I must admit, a few computer keys have captured the storyline of some past relationships. (Control? Escape! Return.)

Plus: Check out our round-up of best apps for dads.

Nevertheless, I became the guinea pig in my own experiment, testing new items to see what worked and what didn’t. The first product was 24/7 Dad Interactive, an instructional CD-ROM produced and sold by the National Fatherhood Initiative. Admittedly, I was rather cynical when I started 24/7 Dad Interactive but quickly found it fascinating, particularly the sections about parenting skills, relationships, and discipline. Users are invited to answer personal questions, and are repeatedly reminded to “be honest with yourself.”

My only criticism is the overly saccharine reverence the program holds for children. At one point in the presentation Mario, the CD-ROM’s “host,” says this about his three children: “They can be a handful.” That’s like saying a nuclear bomb can cause skin irritation. Come on, Mario. If I have to be honest, don’t you?

The iPhone and iPad have thousands of apps. When I got my iPad a month ago, my plan was to outfit it with some apps that my son Jackson would enjoy. So far he likes playing Labryrinth 2 HD, and laughing like a hyena on moonshine while crashing his hatchback on Real Racing. Some of the more dad-friendly apps are Trapster, which alerts users to speed traps and traffic cameras, and Grill Guide, which not only includes cooking tips but has a digital ruler for measuring the thickness of chicken breasts and steaks. And let's not forget Parenting Seasons, the awesome new app-a-zine with a slew of cool ideas/activities for your favorite equinox or solstice. But the most prudent, laser-focused parenting app ever made is Diaper Tracker: Enter the time of baby’s bowel movement, and choose the appropriate description (seedy, soft, etc.) and color. You may never look at a Benjamin Moore color chart the same way again.

Mom: “How were George’s poops today?”

Dad: “The first one was Serengeti Sand. The other was Appalachian Spring, with a hint of August Morning.”  

Technology has improved so many of life’s passions. Look how far we’ve come with exercise: the very first StairMaster was a two-story building. So why not fatherhood? Asking for help is one of the keys to good parenting. And unlike an in-law or grandparent, technology doesn’t need to be asked. It’s simply there for the taking. I’m going to use it because when the vas deferens becomes obsolete, I want the rest of me to be the best fathering gizmo available.