Before becoming a father in 2017, I dreaded changing diapers. Now that I am a father, I long to win the poop lottery. To see my boy take a gigantic dump is curiously gratifying. Digestion system. Check!
Before becoming a father, I wrote a lot about supporting mothers because I couldn't fathom having to carry a child in my belly for nine months. It didn't seem possible to naturally give birth to something so big. Watching a C-section video is also uncomfortable. I felt guilty not providing equal care. It was the least I could do.
But now that I am a father, I've come to realize that I haven't been giving fathers enough credit. Being a father is also damn hard work! From 11pm – 6:30am shifts, to then having to go grind it out at work, to providing constant moral support, I give props to all dads. I wish the mass media would better recognize dads rather than constantly vilify fathers for not doing enough.
There is a tremendous amount we fathers can do to provide for our children and make our partners' lives easier. I simply do not believe fathers are given enough credit. Most articles you see are about fathers not doing enough around the house or not spending enough time with their children.
But I believe encouragement is a strategically better way to make fathers try harder.
Become A Better Father
What is more painful? Seeing a loved one suffer or experience the suffering yourself? I argue the former is so much worse because there's nothing you can do to take away the pain. If there was some sort of pain transferring system, I'd enlist right away.
I've dreamt of fatherhood since I was 37, about two and a half years after I left my cozy day job that occasionally beat me with a stick. I needed time to get my life together before taking on the most important role of them all.
And although it took until almost age 40 to become a father, better late than never. In retrospect, I wish I had kids sooner. this way, I could be in the lives for a greater percentage of both of our lives. However as an older parent, I also recognize the ability to make up for lost time.
Here are some things I think every father or father-to-be should endeavor to do to become a better father. I'm frankly sick and tired of people pushing the narrative that we fathers aren't great parents.
How To Become A Better Father
1) Get your finances right.
If you aren't willing to be more financially disciplined for yourself, at least do so for your family. Believe everything you read about the cost of raising a child.
Your job as a father is to maintain or grow your income stream and balance sheet until your child is old enough to earn on his or her own. I encourage all fathers to have a net worth goal before and after having children.
If your partner can also grow her earnings while juggling a precious one, fantastic, but don't count on it. Please stay on top of your finances like a hawk. Once you have children, the stress at home goes up. By being on top of your finances, you at least eliminate one of the great stressors for all parents.
2) Make sure your job gives you time.
Screw the job that only gives you a couple weeks of paternity leave. The first three months of your child's life is both brilliant and trying at the same time. Your baby will only sleep for 1 – 3 hours at a time.
Further, your wife will go through tremendous hormonal changes that leave her happy one moment, and sad another. She will be incredibly sleep deprived. She needs you more than she will let on.
The easiest solution to get more time at home is to offer to work part-time from home. Providing some work is much better than providing no work. Post-pandemic, working more days at home is now the norm. However, trying to work full-time while taking care of a child full-time is practically impossible.
Therefore, it's up to all of us to find a job that provides more flexibility or speak up when we need more flexibility. One man decided to retire early because his law job took too much time. Further, he had a working spouse who could still bring home the bacon.
3) Give every hour you can spare.
Although you may be dead tired after working a 10-hour day, rest assured your partner will be even more tired taking care of a newborn due to the mixture of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and frustration along with joy.
If you can relieve your partner for one or two hours before going to work and providing hours of support after you come home, you will create a happier household.
Professionals in many occupations work 12 – 16 hour days to get ahead. If you're working less than that, allocate the difference towards taking care of your child.
A great goal for fathers is to try and spend the most time possible for the first 2-5 years of their child's life. When the child finally goes to preschool or kindergarten, more time can be used to relax, work, or do other things. But until then, fathers should try and gut it out.
4) Establish a stable place of residence.
It's important not to move residences during pregnancy and for at least a year after giving birth. The reason is to minimize stress and increase harmony. A lot can go wrong during and after pregnancy. It's no wonder why there's such a rush for parents-to-be to buy.
If you are a renter, I suggest building a positive relationship with your landlord now. The better your relationship, the less likely he will raise the rent or ask you to leave.
Simple things such as paying on time, fixing small things on your own and telling him about it, and sending a holiday card goes a long way. Do your best not to screw your landlord.
If you plan to buy a home in this still strong but fading housing market, then I suggest thinking about a forever home with the budget you can afford.
Although your forever home likely won't be forever given the average homeownership tenure is about 11 years post-pandemic, it helps to have one home for your children to grow up in.
Because my parents were in the U.S. foreign service, I had to constantly change homes every 2-4 years. The constant traveling wasn't conducive to establishing good friends or building deeper relationships with a community. However, moving around forced me to develop my social skills.
5) Build relationships with other fathers.
Every father should join a father's group, just like every mother should join a mother's group. Leaning only on one another can be tremendously taxing after a while, especially if you are both new to parenthood.
You need to gain support from other fathers who are going through the same thing. Society still hasn't fully embraced stay-at-home dads, even though there's no occupation more honorable than taking care of your child. Further, it can often take a while for toddlers to start loving their fathers as much as their mothers. While you’re waiting for more love, some interactions may be emotionally painful.
Check out your local fathers Meetup group online. There will likely be one that plans weekly or monthly gatherings. You will also feel less lonely as a result. Also make an effort to bond with other parents at your child's school. Making friends as an adult takes greater effort!
6) Read as much as you can about kids before and after.
There are actually manuals that will guide you to become a better, more confident father. I suggest reading books such as:
- The Expectant Father by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash
- Don't Just Stand There: How to Be Helpful, Clued-In, Supportive
- Engaged, Meaningful, and Relevant in the Delivery Room by Elissa Stein and Jon Lichtenstein
- Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads by By Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden.
The great thing about fatherhood is that there's been literally billions of fathers before you who have succeeded!
Once your children are born, it is helpful to continue reading to them every day. You will help develop their ear for language, especially if you're teaching more than one language. As a writer, I appreciate the effort it takes to put together a book. The more I read, the better I write and vice versa.
Speaking of books, I highly recommend you pick up a hard copy of my instant Wall Street Journal bestseller, Buy This, Not That. The book helps you build more wealth and make more optimal decisions with your life. I touch upon family finances, private school, marriage, and so much more. I'm certain you will become a better father if you read my book.
7) Create a checklist of everything you want and get it done before your baby arrives.
It's likely that your partner will have a laundry list of things she'll buy off Amazon before the baby arrives. Amazon Prime is your friend. I suggest going through the items together to see what you really need. It's kind of like a pre-vacation checklist.
The most important items are obviously right fitting diapers, swaddles, outfits, a bassinet, a crib, a jumper seat, a changing table, pads for the changing table, baby wipes, a baby wipe warmer, a baby bath tub, Oogiebear, lots of tissues, NoseFrida, baby CPR guide, a stroller, a feeding/diaper changing/burping/pooping checklist, Windi (magic fart/poop stick), rash creams, baby formula, and more! We fathers must help relieve the mental load placed on mothers.
8) Plan the support network.
The first two weeks after birth will be a difficult time period. You must be 100% present for your partner during this time. It may or may not be a good idea for relatives with parental experience to come by for support or not. Have an open discussion.
I highly recommend hiring a postpartum doula (night doula) for the first month if you don't have anybody else to give you guidance at home. A postpartum doula will help give you confidence as parents, guide you on what to do, and help take care of your baby when you can no longer function. The biggest hurdle with getting a night doula is the cost.
After the 4th trimester, you can work on coordinating with friends and family when they can arrive. Don't take anything personally during these three months!
9) Be present with your children.
Not being present as a father is as evident as your dinner date texting at the table. Mothers know whether you're enthusiastically checked in, or unenthusiastically checked out. The #1 priority for all mothers is the survival of their baby. Therefore, even though they may love you like no other, that doesn't mean they will trust you like no other to sufficiently care for your child. You must earn their trust by being present.
Being present means looking at the baby while playing, observing the different sounds your baby makes, making deductive conclusions as to what the baby wants at any point in time, clearing a bassinet of potentially life-threatening clutter, singing and caressing the baby securely, driving defensively, and so on.
Perhaps one of the hardest things a parent must do is put their phones away while playing or caring for their child. As someone who has an online business, not checking my phone constantly is difficult. However, if we just set aside 30 – 60 minute time slots where checking a phone is off limits, we will become a much more present parent.
Kids notice when we aren't paying attention! Further, kids want to watch a screen as well.
One of the saddest facts is that the average amount of time a university-educated father in the U.S. spends with his kid is around 85 minutes a day. Let's try to do better than that.
10) Provide constant reassurance to the mother.
You're on an unknown journey together. There will be tears of sadness, coupled with moments of joy. Embrace them all. Just because a woman is the one biologically able to have a child doesn't mean she has child-raising all figured out. Learn together. Give her confidence. Be the co-captain she needs. Learn to be patient.
Whatever can go wrong will go wrong when parenting. Your children will have temper tantrums. They may have a visual disability or a learning disability. Provide constant reassurance and strength that everything will be alright. Kids are tough. Thankfully, they will cope and get better. So will you.
Over time, our confidence as parents grow. When we had our second child, we were so much more relaxed because we knew what to expect.
11) Be congruent with your thoughts and actions
Finally, I realized in my fifth year of fatherhood that some of my beliefs were incongruent with my actions. Namely, that I thought I was a better father than I really was.
Because my children were almost always well-behaved with me and rascals with their mom, I thought I was doing a great job. When in reality, it was because I was always taking them to fun places and feeding them yummier foods.
Better fathers are not delusional. Instead, they are more self-aware and congruent with thoughts and actions.
Fathers, Do The Best That You Can
Being a good father is so difficult. We constantly have doubts about whether we are doing a good enough job.
Dad guilt could be even more prevalent than mom guilt because there are more full-time working fathers than full-time working mothers. As a result, more dads feel guilty about not spending as much time with their children because they're at work all day.
After leaving work in 2012, I began to structure my life so that I could be a more present father if that day came. This meant building passive income streams in order to not have to go back to work.
Being a present father also meant building an online income stream just in case my passive income streams disappeared. You just never know. One day, a crazy thing like a pandemic might crush your investments, get you laid off, or shut down your business operations.
In 2015, I also helped my wife engineer a severance so she could have maximum flexibility. We both wanted to be stay at home parents with at least our first one since we were novices. We bought a fixer-upper in a quiet neighborhood a year before and remodeled it before our baby came.
Despite all the planning, I've found it still so hard to be a good father. Many times, I'm physically and mentally exhausted because I'm trying to juggle too many things. Then, when I come across yet another article saying how fathers aren't doing enough, it makes me just want to give up. This article services as a kick in the pants to keep going!
My Hope As A Father Today
My biggest fear now is wondering whether my children will think I did a good enough job when they are older. The scariest thing about trying to be a good father is you don't know if your efforts will pay off until years down the road. You try to keep the faith, but the constant doubt is still there.
Children have an incredible way of humbling us. No matter what someone tells us or how our children treat us, let's keep our trying our best to be good fathers. Whatever happens to our children, so long as we did our best to raise them, we won't be left with doubt.
Working To Be A Better Father Updates
Pre-pandemic Update 2019:
I wrote this post when my son was three months old. Being a father is way harder than I could have ever imagined. Your endurance and patience will be tested beyond your limits. You will always worry about your child's safety. But to see him hit every milestone is an absolute blessing. You cannot love someone more than you can love your child. Enjoy the moment and count your blessings!
Pandemic Update 6/21/2020:
Raising children in the middle of a global pandemic where schools and businesses are closed has been really tough. Our days have gotten a lot longer. However, I am thankful to be able to spend more time with my son and now six-month-old daughter. Spending more time together is one of the key positives of this difficult period.
Post-pandemic Update 2Q2021:
Our son is attending preschool again on August 25, 2021. His attendance will bring a lot of household relief given he’s been at home since March 2020. I will take a sabbatical and reassess everything. My hope is that when our son goes to school full-time, I'll be reinvigorated to write a lot more. If not, then I will re-retire and do something else that doesn't require as much work.
Post-pandemic Update 1Q2023:
Our daughter is three and is speaking non-stop! She is developing her own strong personality and we have our hands full. I regularly spend four-to-five ours a day with our children now. Having two is a lot of work! But I also feel so blessed. I’m no longer chopped liver, but the main course as both my kids want to spend a lot of time with me now. Here are my goals for 2023 as well as my 2022 review.
The time is going by extremely quickly and I have no regrets forsaking income for time with my children. I'm also excited to publish my first book with Penguin Random House entitled, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. I'll be thrilled if my kiddos can one day bring the book to show and tell!