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The best advice for dads (according to dads)

Close to 500 responded, with tips on how to get through the difficult early days of infanthood, bond with kids as they get older and protect them even as you prepare to let them go.
Last Updated : 15 June 2024, 17:33 IST

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For Father’s Day, The New York Times asked readers to share the best pieces of parenting advice for dads they’ve learned along the way. Close to 500 responded, with tips on how to get through the difficult early days of infanthood, bond with kids as they get older and protect them even as you prepare to let them go.

Read some of our favorite submissions below, which have been edited for clarity.

Find Delight

Especially in the first few months, find the fun. The early months and years are repetitive and tiring. If that’s what you focus on, you’re not going to get the most out of being a parent.

Instead, look for the fun. Example: I was changing my daughter’s diaper around 6 weeks. I lifted up her legs to wipe and suddenly she had a bowel movement that shot out at me, onto my pants, the bed and our carpet. I thought it was hilarious. I was impressed. It was her world record. It also involved lots of cleaning. But it was also a world record.

We have to do the hard stuff, the repetitive stuff. It comes with being a parent. But choosing to see the fun, delight and wonder at every step of the way gave me a far richer experience. Saatvik Ahluwalia, 34, Natick, Massachusetts

Panic in Shifts

The best advice I offer new parents is something I learned while having a son who spent the first four weeks of life in the hospital: Only one parent is allowed to panic at a time. From an emotional standpoint, if both parents are a mess, then it’s hard to hold each other up. This doesn’t mean to dismiss your feelings. Just remember that sometimes you will need to be the support on the outside — and your time will come to lean on someone else. Dan Sheets-Poling, 34, Eagle, Wisconsin

Do It Your Way

Take the time early on to develop your own style of parenting. Early in my fatherhood journey, I realized that I had been running on parental autopilot and parroting everything (good and bad) my father used to say and do when I was a child.

I realized that there is no one “right” way to parent because parents and children are all individuals with different needs and preferences. I started doing things my own way, based on my children’s individual personalities, and we are all much happier for it. James O’Brien, 40, Stillwater, Oklahoma

Adjust Your Expectations

I am a father of four children. My oldest is 18 and my youngest is 11. I was a stay-at-home dad for a little over 13 years. Through all the changes that children and parents go through, I found that the best thing for me to do is to have realistic expectations. I try to wake up every day and ask myself: “What is realistic to expect from both myself and each of my kids today?” Anthony Laudon, 48, Minneapolis

Be Generous With Praise

Don’t pass up on an opportunity to tell your kids that you are proud of them. I can remember a moment from decades ago that a father figure went out of his way to tell me the same, and I’ve never forgotten it. Craig Crabtree, 38, Kaiserslautern, Germany

Prioritize the Little Moments

“It goes fast.” This is something that I was told over and over and over again before the birth of my first child. The implication was to be present, authentic and “there” for my kids as much as possible and as long as possible because one day — and most likely not on a day of my choosing — my time with them would be over. As a result, I have prioritized them even in the “little moments” ever since. Taking them on vacation solo when my partner couldn’t get away due to work obligations, volunteering at their schools, investing time with them in their hobbies (no matter how silly they may seem!), and just being silly or still with them as they need. James Boehm, 43, London

Consider Dad Saturdays

Here’s a tip from personal experience: If you put your child up on your shoulders, and then you hear a rapid thud-thud-thud-thud, that’s because there is an operational ceiling fan directly above you. (He’s fine.)

A more serious note: Find a group of dads in similar stages and orchestrate regular Saturday outings together with the kids. It doesn’t have to be expensive or creative. In addition to the obvious benefit of time with your child, you will combat the epidemic of adult male loneliness, increase your confidence and capability in caring for little ones, and give your partner, if you have one, the greatest gift of all: silence. Stephen Hoey, 35, Sewickly, Pennsylvania

Get Kids Talking

If you want to know what your kid did at school that day, asking “How was school?” will never, ever work. Instead, I play a game called “Best Day Ever” where I make my kids compete to convince me they had the best day and they end up telling me everything that happened at school. Doug Scanlon, 42, South Hadley, Massachusetts

Carry a Nail Clipper

Always. Only when you are out in the world with your children will you notice how long their nails are. Jonathan Ready, 48, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Teach Decision-Making

On the day they leave for college, you will ask yourself: Have I taught them how to make good decisions? This was shared by a close friend a few years ahead of me in the parenting journey, and I think of it almost daily. Liam Bossi, 44, Portland, Oregon

Make Messing Up OK

The hardest part of fatherhood is standing back and watching your child make their own mistakes. It is also one of the most important. Jim Handley, 70, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Let Them Rage

Love and happiness are not the only emotions children should be able to express. They should be allowed to feel anger and sadness too. Your job is to teach them to understand these feelings, embrace them, control them and — most importantly — how and “when” to process them. Don’t forget to make them feel safe while doing so. Matt Headley, 40, Little Rock, Arkansas

Protect Your Sanctuary

If your kids are 7 or under, lock the bathroom door while you’re on the toilet. It’s the only sanctuary in the house. Brendyn Dobbeck, 33, Düsseldorf, Germany

Savor Joy

Early childhood is filled with daily magical fleeting moments of joy: Train yourself to pause and savor them for just one extra moment, a few precious seconds, every time. And as your kids get older, there will be fewer spontaneously joyous moments, but you’ll be practiced at recognizing and appreciating them when they occur. Tom Ruppert, 60, Minneapolis

Be the Harbor

You provide a safe place for your kids when the storm hits, but harbors are meant to be sailed from. Let them leave the harbor, but always be there for them when they need it. Peter Maree, 57, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Smile and Laugh ...

... as much as you can. A joke is not a Dad joke until it becomes apparent. Mike Lyon, 70, Boonton, New Jersey

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Published 15 June 2024, 17:33 IST

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