I am no expert, and I have no illusions about that. I have no degree in child psychology.
But I do have two kids and so, like every parent, I have some experience in parenting; though not nearly as much as many, many others, considerably more expert than I.
But yesterday, I posted what I thought was a relatively innocuous tweet -- "Gotta get up extra early tomorrow to go out for back to school breakfast with my boy" -- that led Teecycle Tim Cigelske to comment, "Nice!I need to crib your dad cheat sheet."
I joked about launching a seminar, but it got me thinking. Maybe I could share a few things I've learned in my so far relatively brief run as a dad. While thinking of these, I had in mind the many friends that have recently had babies. These ideas and ruminations are especially for them ...
- Enjoy every second. It's a complete and utter cliche, but time really does fly. When my boy stopped being a gurgling baby to became a curious, intelligent, fun-loving but serious, chatty little man is hard to pinpoint. The other day he asked if I missed the baby him. Yes, I said, and no. I miss who he was then, but I love who he is now, too. They change constantly. Watch closely, so you can see it all unfold.
- Treat them like people. I've never talked down to my kids. Whether or not it accounts for my son's great vocabulary and conversational skills, I can't say for sure. But I bet it didn't hurt. And I try my darnedest to never lie to them. Sometimes it's tempting to make up convenient excuses to not do things they want to do. I wish I could say I've never, ever done it. But I can say with some pride that I have very, very rarely done it. Trust is trust, gain it early and clutch it to your chest tightly for as long as you can.
- Remember what it was like to be a kid. That means even when the day sucks, have fun. Did you like it when all you wanted to do was play with your dad and all he wanted to do was get the lawn mowed, finish his chores and smoke his pipe in front of the boob tube? Screw that, dads. Get on the floor and play. Because 15 years from now, I promise you that you will regret having not done it. You will never regret having let the lawn go an extra day. I measure every potential activity that would take me away from my kids carefully. If it starts after their bedtime, and is optional, fine. If it's during waking hours, it's rare that I'll choose anything over spending time with them. Maybe it's because I came late to dad-hood, but for a few years, I can miss some concerts and things to be there to watch them grow.
- Plan for fun. As Chevy Chase made so comedically clear in his "vacation" films, you can overreach. But, while many of your kids' memories will form naturally -- like stalactites in a cave -- from everyday life, others can be factory-made. Don't put too much pressure on and don't over-excite them in advance (in case things don't go quite right), but plan some fun and offer them a wide variety of experiences. You did it for yourself, most likely, before you were a dad. Now, do it for them.
- Read. And then read some more. And when they can do it, listen to them read. And then listen to them read some more. Take them to the library. As soon as they can scrawl something that looks kinda like their name, get them a library card. And teach them to appreciate art and architecture and nature. And remember that there is simply no reason to turn the TV on for them in the first few years. No reason at all.
- Indulge -- nay, super-encourage -- their curiosities and their interests. I may tell Andy Tarnoff that the best thing about the iPhone is that it allows me to stay on top of my work at all times, but in reality, I love my iPhone because it lets me show my kids cool stuff. This morning, we passed a tour bus on the freeway and my son asked what they look like inside. Google "rock and roll tour bus" and there are photos. When listening to a reggae CD one day, my son asked, "What do Kojak and Liza look like?" iPhone! When my son was interested every day about whether a certain tree near the Northpoint Water Tower would ever again get leaves, we stopped to look for buds. When it finally did go green, we pulled over and took his picture (iPhone!) next to it and tried to find out what kind of tree it is (no luck yet, but if you're an arborist, I have photos!).
- Take interest in their interests, too. I'm not really a superhero fan, but when talk turns to Hulk, I don't change the subject, I ask to know more. I expect when my daughter is a little older, she'll have different interests than the 40-something man I am, but I'll listen and I'll ask questions and I'll sit for tea with dolls, if that's what on offer. This is an extension of No. 2, above, I think. Taking them seriously and being genuinely interested in what interests them shows that you respect them.
- Let them help. I did some re-grading in my backyard the other day. My son wanted to help. Did I think it would make the tough job easier? No. Did it slow me down a bit? Sure. Did he bonk the tamper down onto his foot? Absolutely, but not enough to injure himself. But, you know what? We did the job together, even if only a little. He's damn proud of having helped and I'm proud of him for asking and for helping, too. And these experiences help remind me to be a more patient person.
- Teach them respect. That means, be polite, be considerate, be honest and be on time ... even if you are not always those things yourself. Those traits will serve them well their entire lives. And teaching them to your kids will remind you about the importance of them, too.
- Hug them a lot. And kiss them. And tell them that you love them and that you are proud of them. Because I know you do and that you are. They oughta know it, too.
People told me kids would change my life, but always with a kind of look that made it seem like a bad omen (no more free time, no more disposable income, etc.). Few people, if any, told me that it would improve my life a hundred-fold; that it would make me a better person; that it would be the most important thing I would ever do.
Sure, I likely haven't told you anything you didn't already know and a lot of this is "no sh*t" kinda stuff, but nobody really told me any of it. Like most of you, I learned it on my own.
But for the new dads out there, maybe it'll at least make for 4 minutes of vaguely interesting reading. If you want practical tips, I could probably come up with a few, though, really, those will come from your kids. Just watch, listen and learn.
Oh, wait, I just realized that like Nigel Tufnel's Marshall stack, this list also goes to 11.
11. Remember that your kid is not you. It's tempting to think they are just little extensions of you. My son looked a lot like I did as a baby and even now has a lot of the same emotional and physical traits as I did at his age. So, I fell for it. But it didn't take me long to realize that he is not me. We are major parts of one another, but we are different people. I can guide him and gently nudge him, but he will make his own path in life and, unless he decides to become a Yankees or Juventus fan, I will respect his decisions.
OK, I'll shut up now.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.