This is not a top ten list on how to be a good father

I get annoyed with lists. Top ten tips for a greener household, top five exercises to get in shape, top twelve best foods, top ten things great fathers do. Come on. The top five, ten, or whatever the number of things that help you become a great father are worthless but I know they are ideal social media fodder and perfectly suitable to our era of convenience and quick fixes. The truth is, if someone were to ask me what makes a great father, I would just say, “Spend time with your kids.” End of story.

I was scared at the prospect of becoming a father. I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it, and thought how weird it was that I spent much of my formative years learning about useless things like Pythagoras’ theorem, compound interest, the types of flora in the arctic and how to conjugate verbs in tenses I would never, ever use, yet no one ever told me how to be a good parent.

The second-hand smoke isn’t so nice, but thanks for being there.

I didn’t have a father long enough to learn from him. He passed away when I was three, so my memories of the two of us can be counted on one hand (well, two fingers). My mother regularly reminded me that she was both my my mother and father and always did what she thought was best. Through that I figured out, much later in life, that I should go ahead and try to be as much like her as possible. That meant being there for my kids.

Over the past twelve years I’ve done more kid things than I ever did in my childhood. I’ve drawn innumerable pictures of SpongeBob and Batman, and played with Lego, toys cars, and action figures. I didn’t think it possible to watch the entire series of The Suite Life on Deck and Wizards of Waverly Place but I have. I’ve played in sandboxes and swung on swings that strained to support my weight. I’ve played tag in the pool and whizzed around on a scooter. But I’ve also cleaned up plenty of barf and poop and pee, zipped up coats and tied shoelaces and tried in vain to convince my children to comb their hair. I’ve tried to feed them healthy foods but have given in to Kraft macaroni and cheese far too often. I’ve listened to them tell me stories they made up in their heads and adventures they lived on the playground.

I’ve tried to hug them as much as possible, I’ve said “It’ll be okay” after they’d fall and “Je t’aime” every night before going to sleep. I’d sit on the floor in the hallway waiting for them to fall asleep, trying to be as comfortable as possible and failing miserably because it hurt every time I would sit like that at the end of the day. I’ve screamed at them and felt horrible after. The louder I screamed the more I would think to myself, shamefully, My mother never spoke to me like that. I’ve said I’m sorry and hugged some more. And I’ve been lucky enough to have a wife who tells me I’m good when I’m good and lousy when I’m not.

I’m not perfect, but I’m there. I want to be there when my children need someone to talk to, I want to be there when they need a hug and won’t admit as much, I want to show them how to shave and how to badly tie a tie. I want to say to them, after each one asks me a few years from now to borrow the keys to the car, “Over my dead body” because that’s the answer I got growing up. The mundane moments of parenthood might not be very memorable, but taken as a whole they irrevocably strengthen a love that no child and no parent should live without. There are no top ten things you should do as a father, there are millions of things, starting with being there.

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