NBA player and fatherhood book author Etan Thomas with two of his children.
Fatherhood--it's more important than ever. More is expected of men, and research shows that guys in are delivering. Fathers have doubled the amount of time they spend with their children since 1995. The stay-at-home-dad is becoming more common. And fathers have even lately been on the receiving end of some good old-fashioned parenting guilt of the type usually aimed at moms. A study published this week (just in time for Father's Day!) in the Personality and Social Psychology Journal indicated that children are more harmed by disengaged and rejecting dads than they are by disengaged and rejecting moms.
In the spirit of celebrating dads for what they're doing right, Yahoo! Shine asked parenting experts, daddy bloggers and even some layman-dads for their thoughts on the formative experiences of fatherhood. The following are the moments to treasure, the things not to miss, and all the other little experiences that turn man into Dad.
Be Terrifed During Labor
Men are unanimous: Watching a woman go through childbirth is a humbling, disorienting, frightening experience. "If it was up to men, I don't think there would be any more babies!" says NBA Player and advocate for fathers Etan Thomas, echoing a common sentiment. "But when you hold your child in your arms for the first time, it's amazing. There are no words." Thomas has just published a book, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge, that gathers parenting wisdom from public figures like Isaiah Washington, Taye Diggs and Chuck D.
From the scientific side, anthropologist Peter Gray, author with Kermyt Anderson of the just published Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior, says that "In some societies, it's fatherhood rather than marriage that makes the man," and notes that most cultures have rituals marking the man's acceptance of a newborn child, whether it's signing the birth certificate and having a cigar, or the couvade rituals of societies in the Amazon basin.
Talk Back to a Rude Doctor, Nurse or Tech in the Hospital
There's always someone very early on who likes to make fun of dad for being clueless. Don't let anyone shame you. You're a new dad, but you're still a dad.
Change A Diaper. No, Change Lots of Them
In one of our favorite books about fatherhood, Home Game, the writer Michael Lewis explores why he didn't feel like much of a dad after the birth of his first child. His conclusion, several years and another kid later, is that to enjoy taking care of children, you have to participate in the daily grind of it. There's no highlights of fatherhood without the hard work of fatherhood. Weird but true: One diaper change is a chore. One thousand diaper changes is a blessing.
Take Paternity Leave (after your wife goes back to work)
You are entitled to 12 weeks unpaid paternity leave if your company is large enough to be covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act, points out Michael Kress, the executive editor at Parents.com. Kress took five weeks, which, he says,"was what we felt we could afford." The time alone with baby is an intense, beautiful experience for dad, and, Kress says, "It made my wife's return to work, always a difficult and emotional transition, much easier, knowing I would be caring for our little one for a few weeks before a sitter became her weekday caregiver."
Install a Car Seat
A man can't breast-feed, but he can take charge of the endless accessories that come with a new baby. These activities are neither fun nor satisfying, but you aren't a dad until you've installed a car seat, collapsed a stroller, lowered a crib mattress, refolded a baby beach-shade in the blazing sun while keeping a little person from drowning, and correctly set up a Pack N Play.
Be Confused By Children's Clothes
This one's for the wife. She will laugh when she comes home and you've dressed the baby in a bathing suit because you thought it was just a weird onesie, or you've put an older kid in her little sibling's pants, which you mistook for shorts. Laughter keeps the family together!
Stay Home Sick With Your Kid
DadWagon writer Nathan Thornburgh, who has also just kicked off "DadWagon Presents" an NYC-based reading series for paternity lit, says: "The rhythm of a household, particularly if the kids are in school and both parents work, can feel very... structured. Either you're trying to get them out the door in the morning, or hustling them through dinner and into bedtime. But staying home with a sick kid, though it can be hard to arrange with work and though it really doesn't sound like fun, can be a great way to bond. Forget hustling, forget routines, just stock up on Tylenol and a few good board games and enjoy some unscheduled parenting time. Bonus: ice cream."
Eat Something Weird
"As a parent you're so often trying to convince your kids to try new foods," says DadWagon's Thornburgh, "it's actually a great experience for you to try out something new at the same time as them." His recommendation, not for the faint of heart, is Uighur cuisine from Western China, which, he says offers dishes like "'tingy lamb face.'"'
Braid Your Daughter's Hair
We heard endless variations on men delighting in doing girlie things with their little girls. One recommended that dads take their daughters to the nail salon. Another said that braiding hair is "one of those feminine crafts that somehow oddly affirms one's masculinity, like knowing how to sew a button back on your trousers."
Conquer Fears (Yours or Theirs)
There's nothing quite like the experience of overcoming your own fear-or pretending to-in order to keep your kids from being afraid. Calmly plucking a gross, hairy bug off a toddler's face is a milestone of adulthood. As is laying groundwork so your kid won't be scared by things you were scared of as a child. One dad gave the example of prepping his child for the loud sound of the puck slamming into the barrier at a hockey game.
Do What They Want
One of my favorite sights in the world is when my 70-year-old father sits on the sofa patiently watching Disney with my 3-year-old daughter. As a dad, you're going to watch shows and movies you don't want to see, go to parties you don't want to go to and eat dinners that aren't geared for you-but your participation means the world to your children. A variation on this, suggested by Kress, is to occasionally let the kids decide what the whole family does. "One weekend, we allowed our 5-year-old to set the agenda," he says. "She chose the zoo and a favorite restaurant for dinner, and somehow these activities, though not in the least unusual for us, were all the more fun because it was her choice."
Talk to Your Kids
Etan Thomas's favorite thing about being a dad is talking to his kids. "My son is so inquisitive, he'll ask me a million questions and they're so funny to me," he says. "He asked me 'What do people who don't believe in God say after they sneeze?' I'm like, "I have no idea Malcolm!"
Take Your Child to Work
Kress says: "Kids are fascinated by what you do when you're not around. Letting my daughter spend a few hours in the office with me was great fun for me, and made her feel grown up and excited for this special time with daddy. My coworkers loved it, also."
Teach Your Kid to Drive
Apparently, it's universal world-wide: Dads are the ones to coach their children during first spins behind the wheel. This milestone was offered up to Yahoo! Shine by anthropologist Peter Gray's students in Singapore.
Celebrate Graduations and Milestones, Large and Small
"In my family, we make a big deal out of every accomplishment," Etan Thomas says. "It lets your kids know that their parents have their back and their family supports them." This is true of big events like graduations from high school or college, or small things, like the ceremony for a preschooler to move between k-2 and k-3, or a child getting his white belt (the very first one in karate). "I've seen how well children react to positive reinforcement," Thomas says.
Anthropologist Peter Gray notes that children in today's world get much more formal, outside-the-home education than they have in previous societies, and that "fathers may play greater roles and find meaning being involved in a child's transitions through the formal education process."
Walk Your Daughter Down the Aisle
These days, marriage is on the wane worldwide and the daughter has probably left home long before she gets married, but that makes this special moment even more special.
Go On Vacation (Without Paying)
Someday your child will grow up, get a job, realize how much you've done for him or her, and, if they're in a position to do so, start footing the bill for family vacations, dinners and other events. Awesome.
Know You Did Good
In my childhood, when I used to ask my dad what he wanted for Christmas, he'd always say, "A happy family." This once led to shenanigans involving my mom, my brother, the cat and me in a wrapped refrigerator box, and was seen as a harmless quirk of a non-materialistic guy, but now that I'm a parent, I know how true, and profound, his wish was. We're all parents, but we're also children, so let's take this day to say, Thanks, Dad! I love you.
And special thanks to the dads who helped with this research: Etan Thomas, NBA player and author of the new book, Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge; Michael Kress, editor at Parents.com; Nathan Thornburgh, DadWagon blogger and founder of a new NYC-based reading series on fatherhood, "DadWagon presents," and Peter Gray, author with Kermyt Anderson of Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior.