How To Be A Cool Dad, But Not Too Cool Dude.
The first rule of "Cool Dad" is: there is no Cool Dad.
I was inspired to write this article because of all the loving support and feedback I've received from my family and friends related to the compliments about being a great Dad. I try to be a self-effacing kind of fella, so to sit here and preach about why I'm so great isn't exactly my cup of tea. Truth is, and this is directly related to being a "Cool Dad", I've found in my life and in my Dad skills that I constantly have to remind myself of my past mistakes and faults. I am only as good as the mistakes I've learned from and the forgiveness I've received from those I've hurt in my life. If you recall your own experiences and relate those to your child in a way that matters, you're on the right track already!
The author and his daughter
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Amazon.com: Your Life As A Painting eBook: Ben Zoltak, Rob Stolzer, Marie Updegrove: Kindle Store
The only good formula is a constantly evolving one
The most amusing thing about the compliments I've received from people about being a good Dad is that what I thought was a "Cool Dad" when I was a kid, wasn't. I thought the Cool Dads were the Dads who bought their kids all the coolest clothes, took their kids on the coolest exotic and expensive vacations, and gave their kids tons and tons of money. The problem I ran into when I became a Dad was that, although I believe I may be one of the richest men who has ever lived, I've never had much money! Ha! Now that I'm older, I understand that those three attributes I mentioned above (all monetarily inspired) are still well and good and you should be proud of yourself if you've been able to give your kid those things, but they are the cherry on top of the sundae that is Fatherhood; and if all you feed your kid is cherrys, you are a lousy excuse for a Poppa and I hope the Great Spirit finds you and works her magic on you; because this little collection of verbs I'm putting together won't do much to put a tide in your shallow pool of existence.
My daughter and I have good rapport. I'm not 100% sure why that is but, I believe part of the reason we have good rapport is because I'm not 100% sure why that is! I also think part of the reason is that the only good formula is a constantly evolving one. There are a few standards, things that seem so obvious, but just like Fatherhood, what may seem obvious isn't so plain to see until you look at it twice.
Maybe the number one factor is listening. Sometimes it's hard to do too. You may have had a long day at work. You may have been yelling at a guy who wouldn't turn on his signal on the highway just seconds before you got home to your family. Your boss might've embarrassed you in front of your coworkers today. Whatever it was that put you in a state may have discreetly stolen your ability to listen to your kid. So just like an ancient Apache warrior chasing away a bear near his family's camp, so you must chase away whatever fleshy beast has found it's way in between you and your ability to listen to your kid. If you're any kind of real man, you'll find a way to hunt down this metaphorical monster and dispatch it with whatever steely weapon you made that will do the job. You have your whole life to be irritated with your boss or bad drivers. You only have about 18-20 years or less to listen to your child and get to know them in their youth. Listen well! Keep your big mouth shut for part of the time, then ask a question or two about whatever they're telling you, not to feign sincerity! But to understand better what it is they are trying to share with you! This is the good stuff! Don't be a buckethead and let it all slip away into the "who cares" shed in your brain, bump these details of your child's life up to the "living room" in your mind! Maybe your son finally got a B- on his Math test, let him know that improvement is great! Maybe your daughter had an argument with some old friends, empathize with her, let her know you've been there too! It's not a big deal for you to open your mouth and say so, but it is a big deal for your kid to hear you say so.
This brings me to another constant of being a "Cool Dad". Be careful with advice, it's hot stuff. What's more, it will stain your cred with your kid for a long time if you screw it up. You can sit there all day and say, do this and you will succeed! Say this at this time and this person will like you, etc. etc. ad nauseam. The problem with giving advice too much, is that it's bound to backfire. Even the best advice doesn't work in every given situation. So when you tell your kid this will work and it doesn't, they start to lose faith in your ability to govern decisions. Really be honest with yourself when you're thinking of giving advice to your kid, are you positively sure it's good advice? Would you sincerely use that advice for yourself? Or is it something that just sounds good, or you heard someone say once and you figured hypothetically, that's a good idea. Why make your child the guinea pig for your idealisms? You know what I think about people that put their children through those hoops? They are self-aggrandizing jerk balls that need to learn to take their own medicine first before they go prescribing their bizarre ideas on there inexperienced children, there I said it.
Here's the real deal when it comes to teaching your child: it doesn't matter what you say so much. You're just not that good, sorry Charlie, no one is. No body judges anybody by just what they say, it is, you guessed it, what you do that counts. I'm going to repeat this here because so many people that I've met in life don't get the concept. What you do teaches your kid, not so much what you say. If you tell your kid that "you have to save lots of money to be a somebody" and then you frivolously spend money on every googaw and doodad you see and don't put a penny away, your kid will see through your preaching and learn from your results, even if they are your mistakes. I've lived through this fact, from people I love to people who love and respect me. It's nothing to be embarrassed about! But go ahead, I am! We're only human for crying out loud! Which brings me to my last bit of advice (there I go again) on being a "Cool Dad".
The last direction I can offer you, aspiring Cool Dad, is this: be active with your child and that means participate in something with them, something that involves using your body, mind and spirit. For me, the number one thing for a dude who likes fresh air, is going for a hike. When we used to live in the city, we "hiked" around the block, or to the grocery store, or in between street people sleeping in the park. I like hiking because all that exercise mixed with fresh air generates some interesting dialogue. Once we hiked into the Loop in Chicago along the railroad tracks. I knew a dozen ways to get downtown from my secret free parking spot, but I wanted to take my daughter along the Metra rail, because I knew their was a place we could safely walk through where there was a homeless person cardboard house camp. This was a chance for my daughter to see where some people in life have ended up. This experience that I shared with my daughter wasn't meant to be a chance to necessarily feel better about the little material wealth we had, although I think effectively it did that. Seeing those people living like that was a chance to talk about it, to brainstorm about it. To show that these people were human beings too. How did they end up here? What problems did they have in their history that they were unable to overcome? What were the odds that some of them "chose" this life? What were somethings that could be done to help those in this situation to get out of it? This particular "hike" sticks out in my mind of course because of that conversation and because I was trying to show my daughter something sad, but something that didn't have to be. That was a few years ago now. Currently we live near a restored nature trail, that ironically enough was a former railroad. Now my daughter's getting older, we hike on this trail and talk about edible wild plants, we spy cranes in tilled fields, we call out shapes we see in clouds. It's not a trip to Aruba for scuba diving, but it is beautiful all the same.
I was hesitant to write this article in someways because I feel as though it leaves me vulnerable to looking holier than thou, and trust me I am not. Worse still, I figure, just like bell bottom pants, trendy and cool some years, square and awkward others, I worry that my advice and declarations may turn moldy or fall into a trend and lose its' potency. But the reason I decided to share is to show my daughter that sometimes in life you just have to put yourself out there and hope for the best. There's not much better in this world than being able to help someone else "just because", in so doing you incidentally help yourself in ways that luckily are immeasurable. So though I know I risk losing my "Cool Dad" badge by writing this, I'm willing to look effusive if it means some Dad somewhere might learn from my mistakes and have some more fun and get a little closer to their own kids. I know I'm going to reveal my big softy side by saying this, but the coolest Dads are the warmest ones.
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