One of the biggest preliminary pitfalls new dads face is the whole concept of Extreme Dad. No, it’s not being like Tony Hawk. Although I’ll bet he’s a pretty cool dad. Hell, that dad skateboards for a living. Unless you own a candy factory, there’s nothing cooler in a parent.
I’m talking about the other Extreme Dads, which come in two distinct flavors. First, the soon to be Dad who worries himself sick about impending fatherhood because he thinks there is no way he can handle it; then there’s the “perfect” dad who wants nothing but perfection for himself and his child. Superdad. The dad who wants his kid to always evade illness, be captain of the football team, and to go to school in his own rocket car.
The first Extreme Dad thinks he can’t handle it. It will be too hard. I remember reading the first sentence of Dr. Spock’s book: “You know more than you think you do.” Basically, he’s telling you to relax. It will be alright. You’ll figure it out. And you will. Unless you’re really, really stupid. But if that’s the case then you’re probably not a big “reader” and you’re not reading this anyway and are far too busy trying to figure out how to get the DVR to record “So You Think You Can Dance.” And then you just realized you don’t have a DVR. But I digress.
Then Perfect Extreme Dad comes in and gets nothing but the best toys, clothes, and furniture for the new baby. Only educational toys, lots of “brain developing” CDs, and has already started a college fund specifically because “Harvard is so expensive.” Chill. Relax. Your baby will chew on an armchair and be happy. And if he chooses Princeton over Harvard, you’ll just have to accept that.
So which Extreme Dad was I? Well, since I’m a bit of an over-achiever in the field of being an overthinking neurotic, I was both at different times. If there’s a dysfunction, I don’t want to miss out on it. But I was mostly the former, which is what my book is based in, but then I was the latter until I finally settled into that happy Dad medium. Not medium Dad, Dad medium. There’s a difference.
I went through everything from “I can’t even put this together! Why are there so many pieces to this stupid sippy cup?!” to “The baby is coughing, I shouldn’t have had him out in the rain for eight seconds. This is my fault!” “Pipe down, Extreme Dad,” was the voice I finally heard in my head. Actually it may not have been in my head; I think my wife said it out loud.
So I learned that the one thing that helped me the most about being a Dad was, ironically, being myself. You have to take all the material things out of the equation because they don’t matter. They really don’t. It has nothing to do with money, your job, your house, or your car. Especially your car, since with kids you’ve had to give up even the thought of a sports car because there’s no room for a car seat/docking system, etc. There is no cool guy driving a Porsche that smells like throw-up and dirty diapers. Sorry, some things you just gotta let go. OK maybe when the kids are older…
So I learned by unlearning, the Jedi way. Relax and be yourself and the rest will follow. Just be a dad. Not anything else. Don’t worry about buying stuff or even not being able to buy stuff. In fact don’t worry about the stuff at all.
Sure, I can’t skateboard and I don’t own a candy factory, but you know what? My kids don’t care. We play pirate games, play hide and seek with new rules invented by a four year old, and watch Dragon Tales together. Your kids don’t want a perfect dad, they want YOU. And maybe Tony Hawk.