Dad advice from Howard Calvert, Jimi Famurewa, Michael Hogan, Ben Isaacs and Martin Robinson
1 Love your smartphone like you love your child
Most of us work in offices where nobody wants to be seen as the first to leave. But you have to get out the door at your actual finish time to see your child. Treat the journeys to and from work as office time. Inbound, plan out everything you have to do that day. During office hours, flag any non-urgent email that you can handle on your way home. Alpha Dads can never rest.
2 Embrace sleeping less
Five hours, max. That’s your night’s sleep now. There’s no getting around it. You can’t go to bed soon after your child; you have TV, news and no doubt work to catch up on. The problem is, young children will wake during the night, and rise by 6am. This will kill you at first, but you must turn it into a buzz. Lunchtime gym sessions and coffee will help.
3 Don’t leave discipline to your other half
Even if they’re better at it: it’s a job that requires a WWF-style tag team.
4 Anticipate what needs doing and do it
“The handy thing about being a father,” says novelist Michael Chabon in Manhood For Amateurs, “is that the historic standard is so pitifully low.” Throw yourself into the new challenges – from sterilising to puréeing – even if you have no clue how to. Acquiring even basic skills will make you twice the dad your father is.
5 Learn the art of distraction
Toddlers have memories like amnesiac goldfish, meaning most tantrums or wailing fits can be solved by simply distracting them. “Look, a big red bus! Let’s count your toes!” “What was I upset about again? I’ve forgotten, like a cute idiot.”
6 Wet wipes are your new best friend
Always have a pack of these pre-moistened life-savers to hand: every room, the car, your coat pocket. They’re handy for grown-up freshen-ups, too. A ‘Glastonbury shower’, if you will.
7 Park your squeamishness at the door
Michael Hogan on the horror… the horror…
I went into the train toilet to change a nappy. That nappy changed me.
My son Charlie was four months old and we’d grown confident enough to attempt a weekend in the West Country. Naturally, as soon as we left Paddington, Charlie glazed over and grunted out what smelled like a whopper. It was ‘my turn’. Typical. Off we toddled to the train toilet – never a pretty sight at the best of times. It was about to get a lot less pretty.
It wasn’t just a whopper, it was a liquid whopper. Molten peanut butter (crunchy, obviously) was down both his legs, between his toes and halfway up his back. After Charlie had rolled around excitedly on the flip-down nappy-changing table it was all over his hands. Then his face, my hands, my clothes and the walls, too. As I washed my hands in the sink for the umpteenth time, I noticed a dob of it on my cheek – the final indignity.
We staggered out of that swaying, claustrophobic stink chamber both a layer of clothing down, with looks in our eyes like Vietnam vets. We’d seen things, man.
You might start off a bit squeamish about this stuff. Being present at your baby’s birth will slap some of that out of you. A few explosive nappies later, you’ll be a different man. And it doesn’t stop any time soon – you’ll still be wiping their bum four years later. No point fighting it. Embrace the icky bits. You’ll see things, man.
8 Read everything and make it all a game
Don’t just read books with Mini-You. Read newspapers, magazines, packets, labels, road signs and posters as well. Make everything a game, too. Chores
or journeys will suddenly be way easier than before.
9 Arrange nights out with friends
Spontaneous nights out after work are in the past. As a dad, your entire life now needs the scheduling of your working day. Friendships are now projects too, you need to work on them. Of course your childless friends won’t understand this. Shake them by the lapels until they do.
10 Man up. Tidy up
Someone on the internet once said that parenthood is like having a blender that’s always on and doesn’t have a lid. Brace yourself, they’re right. Half that kitchen roll has your name on it. And if you want to go to the pub on Friday, guilt-free, so does the other half.
11 Forget Jamie Oliver
Worship at the altar of Annabel Karmel. When left to look after your child on your own, the inspired children’s chef will be your saviour. Failing that, there’s also a whole range of decent quality baby food pouches to squirt into their mouths.
12 Learn a whole new world of styling
What trousers go with what tops, colour blocking, the pros and cons of tights and leggings; you, son, will learn them all. We’re talking about styling your baby, here, not you. Although, while we’re here…
13 You are not stylish any more
No man looks good wearing a sling or a harness. Maybe they look like good parents, but they absolutely do not look good. But remember, looking like a good parent is one of the best parts of being a good parent. It’s your new cool. And it’s not cool at all.
14 You’re in it together
Most likely, your partner will be back at work after a year or so and will want to progress as much as you do – balancing childcare, careers, chores and a social life takes work and you both deserve it. Being an Alpha Dad is all about Taking Care Of Business for mum, too.
15 Get out of your house
Tom Cullen on why being a Dad shouldn’t mean staying at home
Ding-ding-ding! The speeches start. I’ve travelled 120 miles with my wife and daughter Delilah to a friend’s wedding. Delilah is only six days old. She’s the size of a cantaloupe, and only slightly more active. I haven’t touched any alcohol and I’ve been on edge that someone’s going to drop a plate of bellinis on my first-born.
But I’m there. If I were in the X-Men, my mutation would be the unfailing ability to try, despite minimal sleep, to be there. The groom’s doing that bit where
he thanks great aunt Maggie who’s made it to the big day, while a family from overseas is applauded for the colossal distance they’ve travelled. And then he thanks my wife and I, for making it there with such a young child. There’s a comforting round of applause. We wave awkwardly. An inebriated woman to my right leans over and says: “Your baby should be in bed.” Without missing a beat I retort: “You should be in bed,” before taking a celebratory slug of sparkling water.
But the more I think about it on the drive home, the more it annoys me. Don’t take a swipe at me because I’m the father. I doubt she would have said it
to my wife, who would have destroyed her. And Delilah was in bed. She was asleep in her car seat. What size bed do you think she needs? An hour later, the car breaks down and my family is stranded in a heaving central London. A homeless man is trying to fix my clutch and my wife is cradling my daughter in Burger King. What was I thinking? She’s only six days old! But, the next day we went out again. And the following day we went out again.
And no matter what people say to you or what nightmarish circumstances befall you when you do go out, be sure to get out. It’s the key to sanity.
16 Abandon your dignity
Howard Calvert on the moment he gave up on being cool
My dignity finally left me half-way down a spiral slide built for under-5s. My two-year-old daughter Willa had clambered to the top, pushing me away in her determination to climb up independently. As she mounted the slide, the true horror of what lay ahead struck her. She sobbed for me. Older children began
to push past her. Parents eyed each other to see who was responsible for the crying child.
I squeezed my way up, and as I reached Willa, she stopped crying and pushed herself down the slide, laughing wildly, leaving me stranded with no option but to follow her down. It was clear on the first turn that the slide was not built to accommodate anyone over 4ft. At 6ft 1in, my knees jammed, the plastic groaned and sagged, parents sniggered and I finally ejected myself from the equipment as Willa charged away for another go.
From mopping up urine on a Bob The Builder mechanical toy at Tesco to openly weeping at an episode of Peppa Pig, you leave your dignity behind the day your first child enters the world. But as comedian Rob Delaney says, becoming a father transformed him into somebody who would “gigglingly dive into molten copper if I thought it would make my child smile”.
17 USE A URINAL WHILE YOUR BABY IS IN A harness
Honestly. It feels odd but this is fine and a completely rational time-saving manoeuvre. Take them into a portable festival toilet, however, and you can expect to be brought before The Hague.
18 EMBRACE ROUTINE-BREAKING
Rules and routines are important (even Barack Obama, Leader Of The Free World, ensures that he has dinner with his wife and daughters every night). But so is breaking them occasionally. An impromptu pub dinner on a weeknight will remind you both that you’re more than the hassled butlers of an incontinent lordling. There will doubtless be nights when it goes spectacularly wrong and you find yourself in a dark bedroom, squealing child in your hand, two-pint buzz rapidly disappearing. But there’ll be others when you can gently clink glasses, revelling in your rebellion. Don’t fear the weeper, essentially.
19 IGNORE JIBES
Other dads may raise an eyebrow when you tell them you’re taking a day off to go to the zoo. Some knobheads may even make a whip-cracking noise when you don’t go for a pint. Rise above and don’t let other people impose their own circumstances and priorities on you. The gits.
20 MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS
Doubtless, there will be times when you’re grappling fruitlessly with a rain cover for a pram. But don’t be constantly calling base camp for new instructions. As the great Louis CK says: “Don’t be mom’s assistant. Spend time with your kids and have your own ideas about what they need.”