From the chilly sidelines of a middle-school soccer game, I overheard two dads commiserating on how difficult it is to be a father. While their wives seemed to embrace motherhood, they felt ill-prepared for their parental role. If only, they lamented, fatherhood had rules – like sports. None of this “bonding” and “limits” mumbo jumbo contained in the parenting books, but actual rules set out in plain English. Better yet, in X’s and O’s. Why wasn’t there a playbook for being a good dad?
Why, indeed? I thought. Having observed my own ex-jock husband with our five children since his paternal rookie year, I realized a good father must possess many of the same “intangibles” required of a good athlete: desire, stamina, consistency, goals. Perhaps what was intimidating these two dads was not so much a matter of knowledge as of semantics.
So, here it is, for all you dads – the draft picks, the rookies, even the veterans – a Playbook for Fatherhood that will enable you to be on the same page as your wife, keep your head in the game, and put points on the board.
So, bring it in and listen up:
• Fatherhood is not a fantasy league. There’s no draft to get the players you want; no deadline to trade or bench the players you receive. The team you get is the team you play. Hoping for a girl and you got a boy; one baby, and you ended up with twins? Take it up with the big GM in the sky box. Your job is to help your players make the most of their unique talents. It will be the most challenging and rewarding job you will ever have.
• When you have the open shot, take it. You may feel you lack the knowledge, experience, or energy to deal with your children, but don’t always pass off to your wife. If she’s the one home with the kids all day, she can get pretty tired of having to change the diapers, settle the disputes, and enforce the rules. Resist the urge to say, “Go ask your mother.” Take some responsibility and go to the hoop. (By the way, when it comes to changing those diapers, just remember: You can’t stop it; you can only hope to contain it.)
• Unlike volleyball, there are no do-overs. Childhood is short. If you spend it at the office, on the road, or in front of the TV set, you can’t get that time back. Spend time with your children now, while they’re young. You’ll be glad you did.
• But, you can take a mulligan. Accept that you will make mistakes. All dads do. The key is to admit those mistakes, and try to do better next time. In doing so, you will have taught your kids a valuable lesson – no one hits it straight down the middle every time. And when your kids make mistakes, have a short memory and prepare for next week.
• Raising children is like playing hockey. Every now and then, you’ve got to come off the ice. Being a parent is stressful. You and your wife should take frequent breaks, even if it’s just to walk around the block. An evening away is better; a weekend away, better yet. But a break of any kind can give you a chance to catch your breath, get your legs back, and be ready for the next shift.
• The referee’s decision is final. Never attempt to overrule your wife’s decision in front of the children. Kids quickly learn to divide and conquer. When faced with a difficult call, you and your wife need to huddle in private. Go upstairs for the review if you can; otherwise, go with whoever was in the closest position to make the call. Just know that, regardless of the decision, your children will consider it the worst call, EVER.
• It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Actually, it’s never over. Sort of like a Little League baseball game. Your children, whether they’re two or fifty-two, are always your children, and you will always worry about them. It’s a parent’s curse, and blessing.
There you have it. Now, go out there and execute, turn up the intensity, make the second effort, and keep the drive alive. Remember, there’s no “I” in father. And, when the game is over, and your kids are standing in life’s winner’s circle, maybe, just maybe, they’ll look straight into the camera and mouth, “Hi, Dad!”