My opening statement may be slightly harsh. However, to be perfectly frank and candid, some men just are not built for this thing called fatherhood. Unfortunately, this thing called fatherhood does not come a written manual. And, if you were to query a large sample of individuals, they would assert that parenthood itself is not suited for everyone – regardless of gender. Sure, there is no shortage of books on the market that provide some informative, smart, and well-intentioned guidance.
Nevertheless, every possible action required by a parent cannot be anticipated or scripted. Some of the parenting knowledge that I have extracted over the course of the last 5 years has been trial and error. There are some things that cannot be learned from a book. I have learned that fatherhood owes much to natural instinct, forethought, sacrifice, and sometimes just plain common sense. Nevertheless, I would be misleading the audience if I allege to have never referenced a book or scoured the Internet thoroughly for parenting information. Generally, the exercise is hit or miss. I found a lot of lists missing in-depth information for new fathers.
Therefore, I have decided to compile a detailed list of skills and pieces of advice for the gentleman; information that may not be readily available in a book or compiled on the Internet. This list is by no means an exhaustive list; as parenting is an organic and ever-changing journey. Becoming a new father can be absolutely terrifying and petrifying. Trust me, there is grit and grind to parenting. It is involved and it is exhaustive mentally, emotionally, and physically. To quote Furious Styles (G-rated version): Any fool with a penis can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children. Again, many men aren’t built for the grit and grind to come with being a new dad. So, let’s explore some essential responsibilities every new father should take up.
10 Essential Parenting Skills & Responsibilities That Every New (Or Not So New) Father Should Embrace
- The first topic that I am going to touch upon can actually be included in 5 Fatherly Duties That I Hate to Perform – the proper installation of a child’s car seat. This will be one of the gentleman’s first responsibilities as a father. The hospital where our children were delivered would not even release my wife and child unless a car seat was installed in my vehicle. Now, let’s address the basics. Car seats belong in the backseat, preferably in the middle if there is only one child. There are two possible directions for car seats: rear-facing and forward-facing. These positions will be determined by your child’s height & weight in accordance with your state laws. Rear-facing is the best direction for infants and toddlers for as long as possible in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations for height & weight. Your basic options for a car seat will be infant, convertible, travel system, and booster. The installation will be performed using your vehicle’s preexisting seat belts or LATCH (lower anchor & tether for children) system – never both at the same time. A gentleman should locate the lower anchors in the car if using the LATCH system (vehicles manufactured after 2002 are required to have them). Upon installation, the car seat should not move more than 1-inch side to side or back and forth. The best technique that I have found useful is (once properly buckled in) placing one’s knee in the car seat and pushing down to remove any excess space between the car seat and the car’s backseat while simultaneously pulling on the seat strap to remove excess slack. If you put your back into it, that car seat should not budge even the recommended inch of movement. Monitor regularly for looseness as this may occur over the course of time. I strap mine in so tight, it rarely happens. The shoulder straps should lay snug across the child’s body without any slack. During colder months, it is recommended that coats be removed upon securing the child in the seat. It is definitely double work, and it helps to possess a remote start to one’s car to warm the interior, but the peace of mind is reassuring. All that being said, a gentleman’s first mistake is being a know-it-all and not reading the owner’s manual. Read it! It provides vital instructions regarding car seat angle, seat belt-positioning, etc. If you want peace of mind, knowing your car seat is properly installed; contact your local police station, fire station, or hospital to locate a CPS (child passenger safety) technician. You can also visit https://cert.safekids.org/. Bonus: Never purchase a used car seat and you should register it to be notified of recalls.
- I am a strong believer that a child should be afforded the opportunity to enjoy their childhood. In my humble opinion, our children are being exposed more and more to adult themes revolving around sexuality, violence, and death. It is definitely important for a parent to communicate with their child to prepare them for the world we live in, however, a parent should mitigate unnecessary exposure as much as possible. Regardless of family or friends, I try my best to ensure my children are not exposed to toxic environments or an adult atmosphere. I am old school. When adults congregate and commence to engage in adult conversation, it is time to put the kids to bed. It is also important to vet what your children view as entertainment. IMDB offers a great comprehensive parental guide for television shows and movies. I even go as far as to not leave the television station on a standard network before I go to bed or leave the house. You never know what might be broadcasting when you turn the TV on with the little ones there. Commercials are even raunchy and inappropriate nowadays. I found a Disney channel that is strictly cartoons with minimal commercials along with a jazz music station (no commercials, only depicts a picture of the artist & song) that is kid-friendly. Baby First TV is also a great television channel that is very educational. The same applies to radio stations in my car. Earth, Wind, and Fire is the music we listen to in my car. And if I decide to change it up, it is always a golden oldie station.
- A gentleman should ensure that his house is as safe as possible. Let’s run through some basics. As a newly minted father, go to your nearest Target and invest in the following supplies: plug protectors, cabinet locks, doorknob covers, baby gates, table corner guards, and stove knob protectors. If you are past this stage, hopefully, you have a home security system. Personally, in addition to standard locks, I have alarms on every entry point into the home, motion detectors, and glass break sensors. And if an intruder can get through all of that, a secured panic button in a secret location will alert the authorities of anything amiss. Firearm in the house? Secure it! And I’m not talking in your closet under a few sweaters. You will require a heavy-duty, steel safe with all the bells & whistles of modern technology. A gentleman should ensure his home has both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor in his home. Check them monthly. Change out batteries twice a year. Bonus points for the gentleman if both his smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are linked to his home security system. The proper authorities will be alerted immediately. Trust me. Our oven ceased to operate safely and leaked odorless carbon monoxide into our home. Thank God I purchased detectors from Costco the year prior to the event. As soon as I heard a loud beeping noise, I instantly knew what it was and contacted the fire department. The family was fine, but it was scary. Don’t procrastinate, buy some today!
- True story: One early evening, I was approached by a young woman while I was pumping gas; she wanted me to watch after her kids in a car at an adjacent gas pump while she went into the station to pay and for directions – she was lost. Now, what wasn’t lost on me was the oddness of the situation. This Caucasian woman just asked a black male she didn’t know to watch her kids in a city in which she was lost. I guess I have an honest face. Nevertheless, a gentleman should never leave his little ones unattended until they can reasonably look after themselves. They should always be secure. They should always be within seeing, hearing, and talking distance. For example, when I am working in the yard, I am constantly communicating with my kids, making sure they don’t stray too far from me. Instinct and forethought. Accidents can happen. Kids can be kidnapped. Wild, stray dogs can maul. No one likes to think of the worse, but when you are responsible for someone else’s life, a gentleman needs to think about the worst and do his best to prevent it. And I still can’t wrap my head around the circumstance, but obviously, someone needs to hear this because it keeps occurring. Gentlemen, please ensure that you are not leaving your children in the car before you exit and go about your business. Set aside all distractions, your children are your first priority, so check the backseat if you must to prevent this potentially fatal mistake. Bonus: Have you checked the sexual offender registry for your area? You should.
- Let’s shift away from safety for a moment. It is important that a father communicates with his children. I always made the concerted effort to talk to my children utilizing adult words. I never used what people may deem as “baby talk”. Studies indicate that children from low-income environments are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their counterparts in a higher socioeconomic position. The more words a child is exposed to at a young age, he or she is more apt to have better literacy development and perform better academically. Read to your children. Explain words to your children. Spell words to your children. Ad lib and add another layer of complexity to the story. Gent Hint: A father can become his children’s tour guide. When you are out and about with your little one(s), describe your surrounding environment in vivid detail. Describe the color of flowers and trees around you, the insects you encounter and their purpose, the fire department and their role in the community, etc. You should have no shortage of material to discuss. And with children, this communication will spark a series of questions that will facilitate a back and forth. Trust me, they are absorbing everything. Honestly, sometimes I listen to my children and their logic and diction are better than some adults.
A gentleman should definitely know how to cook. And that means breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Preparing a home-cooked meal is not difficult. A gentleman does not need culinary skills suited for programming on the Food Network. A gentleman needs patience, dexterity for cutting & slicing, and the ability to follow instructions. A father should invest in quality pots & pans, silverware, and a cutlery set. Purchasing kid’s dinnerware is also a wise decision, preferably microwave safe and BPA free. Bonus Tip: Sit down and have dinner as a family (another opportunity to communicate).
- And speaking of food, a gentleman should take up the practice of reading the ingredients on food packaging. My family learned the hard way. If your family has a history of allergies, you should definitely consult a physician that specializes in pediatric allergy and immunology. Unfortunately, both of my children inherited my childhood allergies, and we were rewarded with a trip to the emergency room for my firstborn. And thus began the practice of reading every label for food. This exercise can really educate the parent consumer regarding what products are genetically modified, loaded with sugar or salt, and full of preservatives. I have also become keenly aware of administering proper dosages of medicine. My occasional obsessive compulsive leanings have me double-triple checking labels and measurements, so that’s a good use of OCD. Bonus tip: When multiple people are involved, if there is doubt, a gentleman should always communicate with the other party to ensure there isn’t any double dosing.
- True story II: So, I am peppering the allergist with questions regarding Ava’s proposed treatment of her severe allergies, and I notice that he is looking at me with a puzzled face. After I finish my line of inquiry, his response was a question about my place of employment. I told him and asked why he needed to know where I worked. He told me that generally he didn’t receive good questions from patients or families, and he surmised that I worked in a hospital. The moral of the story: A gentleman should know how to communicate intelligently with authority figures. It may be a physician, teacher, or counselor. True, at some point a parent has to place trust in a professional that is tasked with the care of our child. Nevertheless, a parent should never abdicate his role as a parent, you are your child’s primary advocate. A gentleman should be measured, reasoned, and studious toward the circumstance or topic; be it vaccinations, school curriculum, etc. Bonus Tip: Use the notepad on your mobile device to take notes during your question and answer interaction.
- Investing in a quality camera was one of the best purchases I made as a father. I own a Canon Rebel 3Ti that I procured as bundle at Costco. The pictures featured predominantly here are results from said camera. Of course, if the financial means aren’t available for a professional camera, many mobile phones are equipped with cameras that offer exceptional quality and a myriad of features that can help capture those precious moments of parenthood. Bonus: Investing in a software program such as Lightroom can really add a layer of complexity and professionalism to your photographs.
- Any gentleman worth his salt as a father should be able to properly and safely assemble children’s furniture and any kind of kid’s contraption that requires tools. And speaking of tools, a quality set of basics (screwdriver set, drill, wrenches, hammer, etc.) should be in your possession, not only for assembling baby beds or dressers, but also for general household maintenance. As per usual, set aside vanity and read the owner’s manual for full instructions. Generally, I ensure all the pieces for assembly are included and I read the instructions twice before putting it together so I have a clear roadmap of my work ahead. As with anything, ensure everything is tight and sturdy. Furniture that is at risk of being tipped over should be bolted to the wall. Now, a quick word about infant beds. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) should be on every new father’s radar. Mortality rates for infants are higher in low-income families and African American families. So, keep the following points in your mind, because, if you know better, you can perhaps do better.
- Absolutely no smoking in the household.
- An infant should be placed on his or her back while sleeping.
- An infant should sleep in the same room with parents in a separate crib; absolutely no cosleeping.
- The crib mattress should be firm and devoid of pillows, stuffed animals, or any extraneous objects that may pose a risk of suffocation. A gentleman should consult with a pediatrician regarding when his child can sleep on a pillow. I was so paranoid, my children didn’t sleep on pillows until they were nearly three years old.
- If you swaddle your infant, ensure it is snug but not tight and doesn’t obstruct the mouth and nose. If you swaddle too loosely, an infant can suffocate in the loose material. Swaddle too tight and your infant’s joint and hip development may be affected adversely.
- You should avoid excess layers so your child doesn’t overheat.
Does this all sound terrifying? Well, it should. This is a life that you are now responsible for, and a gentleman needs to take as many precautions as possible. Hell, to this day, I still check my kids twice before I go to bed to ensure they are still breathing. Trust, a gentleman needs to properly educate himself. Please consult your pediatrician and take parenting classes to better prepare for the monumental work ahead for you. For more information about SIDS, please visit https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sids.html