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5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad

Becoming a stronger father is possible.

Have you ever wanted to just do better as a dad? I mean mentally, physically, and emotionally? I don’t know your situation, but wanting to do better helped me start to become better. 

Some people think that a father is behind on child support because he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to pay. That may be the case for some people, but it was different for me. 

In my case, I cared very much. I wanted to pay. But I had a tough time. 

I wasn’t balanced, and sometimes I had to choose between paying a bill or paying my child support. I wanted my kids to have nice clothes or shoes when they spent time with me, so I chose to put the payment off. 

Now I see that wasn’t a great idea. But I thought money and buying things was the way to their heart, because one thing I could say about my dad is that he always made sure I had decent clothes and shoes. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought education and having the right credentials, and finding jobs to make money would make me more successful in the eyes of my kids and family. 

But I realized my kids needed more than that. They needed me.

Here are some steps I took to be a better dad:

1. I had to own some things. 

To become a better dad, I had to understand and start with apologizing for what I needed to apologize for. I had to earn trust again, but getting trust back wasn’t easy. My kids needed to know that I would be there and that I was truly sorry for not supporting them or answering phone calls. Or not having the money to give them when they needed just a little extra to have certain things. But most of all, I wanted them to know I was just sorry for not spending time with them. 

2. I had to start listening to the people in my life.   

I listened to my kids and found out that they didn’t just want me for my money; they wanted me to spend more time with them. Also, I had to learn to control my feelings because others in my life have feelings, and they need to be heard. Fathers, listen: Sometimes your kids just want to be around you or be in the same household with you. Most men I know don’t like being told what to do or how to do it. But if you listen, you’ll learn A LOT. I know I did.

3. I had to accept that everything might not go the way I wanted it to go.

Being in and out of your kid’s life won’t make the kids call you “Dad.” So you have to accept it, and you can’t give up; you have to be willing to fight to become what they need. Show them that you will never give up. I’ll always try to become a better dad, no matter what.

4. I had to stay committed to my goals. 

I focused on staying out of jail by keeping a steady job and paying my child support. It was not easy. Still, I was determined to focus and buckle down because my kids needed the better version of me. I was and still am willing to become a strong, loving father.

5. I had to realize that dads make a difference.

For me, First Things First’s Dads Making a Difference class was very important. It taught me so much about life. I thought I was alone (as many men believe they’re alone in certain situations surrounding fatherhood). I had no idea that help was available to help me navigate the roadblocks and teach me to be a better man/father.

Everyone has their own idea for what it takes to become a better dad. It has been a journey that I am willing to take despite criticism and harsh words. I’m determined to become a better father, and these steps are just the beginning. 

Other blogs:

How Kids Benefit from Involved Fathers

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

DOWNLOAD: 10 Things All Dads Need To Do To Help Their Child Be Successful

5 Ways Dads and Daughters Can Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Use this day to connect and make memories with your daughter.

Okay, just between us dads, let’s be real. For some of you, Valentine’s Day is, well, kind of enjoyable. That’s alright—no judgment here! 

But many guys see V-Day as a high-pressure hassle. Do I have to actually read the entire V-Day card before I buy it? Can I get away with carnations (the cheaper option) instead of roses? (They’re just going to die…) And so many different boxes of chocolates… sooooo many…

For those of us who are girl-dads, I wanna give you a different way to view and celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s an opportunity to:

  • Have some fun with your daughter. 
  • Show her how special she is to you. 
  • Connect and have a stronger relationship. 

With that, I give you 5 fun, unique ideas to have a special Daddy-Daughter Valentine’s Day. Here we go…

1. Two words: Dessert Day. 

Like, make this day all about desserts. Have dessert for every meal. Take your daughter on a dessert tour of your town. Pick a few places to go during the day. Think coffee shops, bakeries, crêperies—and sample some sweets. Choose desserts that are more out of the ordinary. Share a banana split. Try out a crêpe. Munch on a macaron (it’s a cookie). Nosh on gelato. Stop in between treats to wash the sugar down, take a stroll, and have some great conversation. That’ll be a Dad-daughter Valentine’s Day she’ll always remember!

2. V-Day Goodies Scavenger Hunt. 

Does your daughter like chocolate kisses? Or books? Or little toys? Hide some throughout your house and yard. Write down clues for your daughter. Make it like an Easter egg hunt, except with Valentine’s Day! End the search with a “big-ticket item” like a stuffed animal, box of chocolates, or even better… a pizza and movie night in a homemade fort with you. What a great memory to make! 

3. Over-the-Top Daddy-Daughter Date. 

I mean, Over. The. Top. Dress to the nines. Leave the house, then come back to “pick her up.” Bring her a corsage. Open the car door for her. Take her to a fancy dinner. (Okayyou don’t even have to spend a lot of cash. Drive her around the block, back home, and surprise her with spaghetti, pizza, or her favorite meal!) Be sure to decorate the table and play her favorite background music. And if you seriously want to go over the top, have someone be the server. 

Dance. 

Take a stroll. 

Then, hop back in the car (yes, open the car door again!), drive around the block, and drop her off at her doorstep. (Yes, you’ll go around the block, like, three times, but you’re making memories here!) 

4. Musical Car Ride. 

Create a favorite-song playlist. Ask your girl to write down her favorites and add some of your own fun tunes. Take her on a car ride and jam out. Open the windows and sing as loud as you can. Dance at red lights like no one’s watching. Grab some dinner in the drive-thru, but be sure to crank up the volume while you’re in line. Drive past some places that are special to you: the house you grew up in, your first apartment, where you went to school. She’ll love hearing stories about you before she came into the world in between songs. But… don’t forget to keep on singing… loudly

5. Making Valentine’s Special for Others, Together. 

Find out who needs a pick-me-up on V-Day. Deliver flowers, candy, or Valentine’s notes to family members. Bake cookies for your neighbors. Write cards to folks in the hospital or assisted living homes. Explore how you can brighten someone else’s Valentine’s Day together and extend the good memories to them. 

Oh, sure, you can see Valentine’s Day as a hassle. But you can also see it as an opportunity to make memories with that special girl in your life. Your daughter will cherish those memories for the rest of her life, and your relationship will be stronger because of it. 

So from one girl-dad dude to another… Happy Valentine’s Day! 

Honey, the test was positive.” When you find out you’re about to be a dad, the lack of experience can strike fear into even the most confident man. There are a few things I’ve learned after playing a part in bringing seven kids into this world that would’ve been helpful to know on the front end. [You read that right. Seven.]

Things I wish I’d known before I became a dad…

1. I didn’t have to be a hero for my kid to think I am a hero.

Your kids think you’re great, not because you’re the biggest, strongest, smartest, most powerful person in the world. They just think you are. You’re their hero because you’re Dad. You don’t have to become a great musician, make a lot of money, or be able to show them amazing tricks. Being the person who spends time with them, provides, and takes care of them cements your hero status in their eyes.

2. My words carried more weight than a giant boulder damming up a mountain stream.

Your words will build up or tear down your child. Even babies respond to their parents’ voices. Talking and reading to them as infants, teaching them as toddlers, and affirming them as adolescents—your words make an impact. The more “I love you’s,I’m proud of you’s,” and “I’m thankful to be your dad” they hear, the more validated they’ll feel.

3. I didn’t have to know how to be a good dad before I became one.

Being a good dad is definitely something that can happen through on the job training. Even if your dad wasn’t around for you, you’re still able to be a good dad to your child. Changing diapers, building Legos, and listening to your daughter talk about her day are all skills that can be learned once your child is born. While good examples help (and every dad should seek out other dads they can talk to and get advice from), previous experience is not a requirement for you to fill the position of a good dad. 

4. My kids would be giant sponges.

They watch you and they listen to you. They absorb what they see and hear. Then they follow your lead. If you fuss a lot, then they’ll fuss a lot when they’re playing with their toys. If you’re gentle, they’ll be gentle. “Do as I say and not as I do,” doesn’t work with your little ones. If you want to raise a future adult who respects others and has good relationships, be that adult

5. Tapping into my inner child can make it easier for my kids to respect my authority.

Dads have a reputation for being playful, silly, and adventurous. There’s an essential place for this in fatherhood. It gives you parenting cred with your kids. When your kids know you like them and enjoy being around them, it will be easier for your child to respect and obey you.

Whether you knew it or not, you have everything you need to be a good dad. Be present. Pay attention to your child. Don’t let fear of failure prevent you from diving in. On the job training will help you learn everything you need to know about being a dad. And your biggest influence will also be your biggest fan—your child.

So you’re a new dad. Congrats!! This is an exciting time. Did you get your how-to manual full of explanations and instructions? You didn’t? Hmmm, wonder what happened there? Oh wait, that doesn’t exist. If only kids came with instruction manuals. (Even if they did, would you even read it? I probably wouldn’t. Maybe that’s why the shelves I put up are crooked…)

So here you are asking the questions: What do I do now? What do I need to know? All valid questions. (We don’t want our kids to end up like those shelves!)

It’s ok, Dad—I got you! Here are some first-time dad tips as you begin this journey.

You don’t have to know everything.

It’s ok to not know everything. (Here’s a little secret, Mom doesn’t either.) Parenting is all about learning; each day brings new challenges, new adventures, new lessons. You have a partner in this so walk the road together. Embrace the journey and give yourself (and mom) lots of grace because neither of you knows it all.

Kids come in different models.

All children are different. All deliveries are different. Your experience won’t look like mine or your buddy’s, and that’s ok. Embrace this time, ask lots of questions, seek counsel from dads who have newborns. (I highly recommend talking to those dads; dads who have been in the game for a while may have forgotten those first weeks and months… sleepless nights are a real thing.)

Be present.

You’re not going to know everything it takes to be a dad, but one of the most important aspects is to be present and involved. Take every opportunity to hold your newborn, swaddle, feed, talk, and read to them. This all strengthens the bond between you. (And Mom will be impressed!)

Diaper duty… you got this.

The first time I changed a diaper was the day my son was born. My philosophy was that if a kid was gonna pee on me, it’d better be one I helped create. Change lots of diapers! Changing diapers is a dirty business (often literally) but it’s nothing to fear and creates an awesome opportunity to bond with your newborn. Talk to your baby and make goofy faces at them while changing their diaper.

Feeding time… you have a role, too!

Be part of feedings. If mom is breastfeeding, you’re on diaper duty… there are those diapers again. Our routine for nighttime feedings was my wife fed and I changed the diaper. We’d alternate rocking our son for a bit. Here’s a Hero Tip: If you’re bottle-feeding, own those night feedings. This is as much about mom as the baby. She will love the time to rest. Hero Status: Unlocked.

Babies are gonna cry… that doesn’t mean you should!

Babies cry and that’s ok. What you’ll learn is that they have different cries for different reasons. You will get to know these. Make mental notes as to what sounds mean what.

Newborns are great to watch sports with.

Make your newborn part of what you love to do. My son watched tons of baseball and Moto GP races when he was little. We also took him to car shows, baseball games, and boat races. He doesn’t remember, but I can show him he was included in what I loved.

Dad jokes… everyone else is welcome.

You are a dad now, so you have a responsibility to share dad jokes every opportunity you can. Brush up on those skills, watch some YouTube videos, and be prepared for lots of eye rolls.

You’ve got this, Dad. You’ll have lots of questions and you will learn a lot in the coming weeks and months. That’s ok—fatherhood is a journey… embrace it.

For more information and tips for a first-time dad (and mom), check out our class, Oh, Baby! Online.

Just wait until they turn 13, they said. Yeah, they’re cute now, but the day is coming, they said. Then my daughter turned 13. And I admit, the days are a lot more unpredictable when you have a middle school daughter. I never know whether I’ll be driving Jekyll or Hyde home from school on any given afternoon. Hair colors change from day to day, moods change from minute to minute. One moment they are cuddling in your lap like they did when they were 3; the next moment they’re rolling their eyes at you and holing themselves up in their room. 

Can you relate?

It’s a confusing time for middle school girls—they’re caught somewhere between being a little girl and wanting to be an independent young adult. They are seesawing between the two at any given moment. 

middle school daughter

It’s a confusing time for us dads, too, for obvious reasons. On the one hand, it’s hard to know what to expect out of your daughter. But more than that, it’s easy to feel like your role as a dad carries less weight than it once did. As a dad of a middle schooler, sometimes I feel like I’m a benched player when I was once a starting quarterback. 

Well, as a fellow dad-of-daughters, I’m here to say that you (and I) are still in the game. And I’d like to share some words of encouragement for being the best dad you can for your middle school daughter. 

Your daughter needs you to spend time with her.

Yes, she wants to exercise a lot more independence. She wants her space, her privacy. But your middle school daughter also desires to spend time with you. I mean good, quality time where she has your undivided attention. She not only wants to know you love her, but also that you like her, you like being with her, hanging out with her. Make time to do your favorite things together. Go on a coffee date, chow down on greasy cheeseburgers, take a hike, watch a movie, jam to music in the car (both yours and hers). If you haven’t already, find the activity that is going to be “your thing together.” (My daughter and I have “our” TV show that we watch together.) If you do have “your thing together,” go ahead now and make plans to do it again soon. (No, like, right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait here…

Your daughter needs you to listen.

It used to be that I could sit my daughter down and teach her all kinds of wisdom and “life lessons,” and she’d hang on to my every word. At 13, that doesn’t work quite as well anymore; “life lessons” come across more like lectures or replays of what’s been said before. But where my daughter and I do connect nowadays is when she comes to me to talk. I’ve found the key is to do a lot less “lesson-giving” and a lot more listening. Listen to understand. Ask questions to get an idea of where she’s coming from, how she’s feeling. And always, always let her know that she can come to you anytime with anything on her mind… and you won’t respond with any kind of judgment or ridicule.

And a funny thing happens sometimes: in the course of simply listening to my daughter, somehow a nugget of wisdom will slip through the cracks and get heard by her. Amazing how that works.

Your daughter needs you to affirm her. 

Lots of changes are happening in your middle school daughter’s life: brain development, friendships, body changes, emotions. It’s just a normal part of her development. But when your daughter experiences these changes, it can cause her to be unsure of herself, and she needs a regular boost of confidence. This is where you come in.

All middle school daughters need to hear certain things from their dads. Let her know how intelligent you think she is, how creative, how bright. Tell her that anyone would be lucky to have her as a friend. Don’t shy away from complimenting her physical appearance in an appropriate way: her hair, her eyes, how tall she’s getting. (My daughter is an avid cross country runner, and she beams whenever I ask her to flex her leg muscles and show me how strong she is.) Let her know she grows more and more beautiful every day. (Seriously—she needs to specifically hear the word beautiful applied to her.)

Affirming who she is and who she is growing to be can make all the difference in how your middle school daughter feels about herself and her future. 

Your daughter needs you to be interested in her world.

Her world in middle school is more complex than when she was younger. She’s discovering what she likes and dislikes, trying new interests, and devoting more time to activities she can call her own. It’s important to remember she considers this part of her space, her world; but, she wants you to come over and visit often.

Ask her questions about what interests her. Allow her to be the expert on whatever it is she’s into. Ask her to tell you about her best friend, how she goes about putting color in her hair, or what’s going on in the reality show she watches. The trick is to show genuine interest without seeming intrusive or nosy. And you certainly want to avoid coming across as judgy of her friends or interests. Showing interest in her world tells her that you are interested in her and that she means a lot to you. 

Your daughter needs you to believe in her.

Here’s something I realized about my daughter not too long ago: it’s possible that she’s going to do something later in her life that will absolutely change the world. I have no idea what that might be. Maybe she’ll help heal people as a doctor, or write award-winning screenplays, or solve some major crisis in a far-off country. And the same possibility holds true with your daughter as well.

Here’s the question I have to ask myself: when that time comes around, do I want my daughter to look back and see that her daddy believed in her every step of the way

Absolutely I do. 

And I’m sure you want the same for your daughter as well. Let her know you believe she’s capable of making a difference in the world around her, both now and in the future. 

Dads, I’m asking you to join me in the mission of being the best dad you can be for your middle school daughter.

Let me leave you with a sobering thought: this is the stage when it’s the easiest to pull away from your daughter but is possibly the most crucial stage to stay in the pocket. You’re still in the game and called to play it strong. Your middle school daughter needs you, whether she’s Jekyll or Hyde on a given day. Now, go eat some greasy cheeseburgers with her and tell her she’s beautiful. 

For more great information on being the best dad for your daughter, check out the links below:

We can all demonstrate a healthy and responsible fatherhood model for our community. Pass this information along to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

With friends and in your own family…

  • Participate in marriage and family enrichment programs and encourage friends to do it, too.
  • Honor the covenant of marriage and be an accountability partner for fellow married friends.
  • Help mothers to be supportive of fathers’ involvement with their children, and ask your wife how you can be more involved with your own children.

If you’re an employer…

  • Create personnel policies and work environments that respect and encourage the commitment of fathers, and that enable parents to be more involved with their children.
  • Research the effects of relocating families and find ways to make the transition as smooth as possible for employees who must move.

If you’re a civic leader, elected official or community organizer…

  • Promote community organizations that model fatherhood and male responsibility.
  • Strive to develop neighborhoods that are stable and supportive of family life.

If you’re a religious leader or organizer…

  • Challenge fathers to assume moral and spiritual responsibilities.
  • Offer a broad program of teaching, supporting, counseling and training fathers in their vital role.
  • Encourage and recognize involved fathers, and provide opportunities for men to learn from each other.

If you’re a mental healthcare worker, healthcare or a family life educator…

  • Begin with a view in favor of fatherhood within the context of a marriage relationship.
  • Guide fathers to both accept and appreciate their unique roles within the family.
  • Provide continuing education on fatherhood and its responsibilities.

If you’re a family law attorney or judge…

  • Promote accountability of all fathers for each of their children.
  • Reassess current trends in family law and be an advocate for responsible fathering.

If you’re an educator or childcare provider…

  • Encourage fathers’ involvement in the classroom and invite fathers or father figures to participate in school activities.
  • Educate boys and young men concerning their potential influence as fathers.
  • Train staff about the father’s crucial role in a child’s developmental growth.

If you work in media or journalism…

  • Promote articles, research and organizations that address and offer solutions to fathering issues.
  • Discourage advertisements or programming that reflects irresponsible fathering practices.

Image from Unsplash.com

Many men find themselves trying to father from a distance due to work, divorce or military deployment. Fathering from a distance can be especially trying with celebrations, plays and concerts often occurring during the week. How can dads stay connected while they are away and not feel like a third wheel upon their return?

Brian Vander Werf travels almost every week for work. Even though his girls have never known a time when their dad was home all week, it is important to him to stay connected and in the loop while he is away.

“Before I leave, I make it a point to get with each of my girls to find out what is on their calendars for the week,” says Vander Werf. “I want to know about tests, ballgames, concerts or other events that are happening. I share with them where I will be and what is happening in my world that week, and I want them to know that even though I am away, they are important to me and I care about what is happening in their world. Also, I make sure I get my hugs in before I hit the road!”

When he travels, Vander Werf stays connected via texting and evening phone calls.

“There is no question that staying connected while I am on the road can be complicated,” Vander Werf says. “My girls are older and texting seems to be one of the best solutions at the moment. I have really struggled with it because that is not my thing and not my idea of a great way to connect, but it is definitely a big part of their world so I find myself texting back and forth a lot with the two of them.”

Do his girls know they can contact him throughout the day if they needed him? “Most definitely!” he says. “They know I am in tune and paying attention. I would want to know if something was up.”

Technologically, dads have lots of options for staying connected to their children. Here are some ways you can connect:

  • Let your child pick out a book for you to read together at a designated time each evening.
  • If you won’t be able to talk while you are away, create a video before you leave for them to watch while you are away. You could even hide it and leave clues behind so they have to search for the surprise.
  • Record yourself reading a book and leave it under your child’s pillow.
  • Write and hide messages in places you know they will be found throughout the week.
  • Write letters to your children and include something fun or crazy in the letter.
  • If they have a special event, arrange for flowers, pizza or a card to be delivered that day.

“Staying connected isn’t always easy,” Vander Werf says. “However, it is absolutely worth it! Even though I am out of town, my girls know I love and care about them.”

Image from Unsplash.com