How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

A Better Person

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Becoming a parent does not make you a better person. Yeah, I said it.

I know people like to talk about how becoming a dad or a mom has made them a better human being, that they’ve reformed or magically transformed over night. But that’s not the case for me and I doubt that it’s true for you all.

This Easter present gave me three black eyes. To the trash can & beyond!

It was my wedding anniversary and my wife’s birthday this week. And a big holiday weekend too, though this Atlas did not shrug. Our anniversary was good fun. All the simple pleasures were there, and although frill-less, it was very nice. My wife’s birthday was equally great. But maybe I spent too much time outside my vampire-cave home playing trains with my son because this past holiday weekend weakened my ability to endure bullshit. Did you know being outside and talking to people is hard work?

When my son was born, I was electrified and terrified all together. Let’s call it, being ‘terrectrified’ for lack of IQ points. That was followed by a tremendous calm, sometimes mistaken for acceptance or serenity. I remember telling myself, “I’m going to be a better person. I’m going to be the best father I can be.”

You quickly learn there is no harder job than being a parent. There is no human responsibility with as much possibility for greatness and potential for harm as parenting presents. And there are no experts, as much as people pretend there are. We deduce, and try then short out a fuse, and try again. It just can’t be done perfectly. But is that a bad thing?

Driving around LA, my faith in humanity is restored. Thanks Urban Artist!

If anything parenting has me more impatient. I struggle with people who bring checks at restaurants, ticket takers, car parkers — the list goes on. My health takes a back seat to providing for my family. I sleep less. I eat more. I wear myself thin. I distrust others more. I raise an eyebrow at long-winded, half-true answers after I’ve asked simple questions, like the girl this weekend who couldn’t answer why I needed to wait for a supervisor when she said she could do something herself. I look at teenagers saying and doing dumb things (that I surely did) with the sharp eye of judgment. I think about the state of the world more. Its chaos is so distracting. Having a kid doesn’t automatically make you do all these things. The only thing it might do is make you more aware but even that is up for grabs with all the sleep deprivation.

I watch my son’s impatience with himself and get impatient myself. I set expectations for his progress and realize I haven’t progressed nearly enough as a father. I see his learning process and realize it isn’t so dissimilar to my own.

The only thing that will make you a better person is just BEING A BETTER PERSON, and that will help you be a better parent. We can make endless promises to be the “right” person instead of being the “right there” person. Sorry if that sounds cheesy, but the cheese holds the f*cking bread together in a sandwich, people.

But being a father has made me WANT to be a better person and I have to work to make it a reality.

Maybe your son or daughter can teach you how. Don’t be all terrectrified about it.

How I feel when people tell me they have THE perfect parenting philosophy…

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65 Comments

65 Responses to “A Better Person”

  1. beta dad says:

    Word up. Interacting with my kids has brought out ugly traits in me that I never knew I had. But by bringing them out, they have brought them to my attention, and I’ve been working on fixing them.

  2. There are days when I feel I am the role model I’d like to be for my kids…..and then there are days when I just know my gold-stamped “got your sh*t together, full fledged responsible adult” certificate got lost in the mail. That’s why I had my kids in France. L’apéro : raising tolerance levels one cocktail at a time! Ha!

  3. simpkia says:

    It’s posts like these that make me nervous about becoming a father… While also kind of reassuring…

    • charlie says:

      Simpkia, don’t worry. That’s my point. You will do the best you can with what you have and as long as you strive to do right, and live well, that is all that can be asked. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard, but you can rest assured that you will do well if you seek to do your best.

      My ultimate point was that we need slough off this ideology about being perfect and seek to do our best. With that lack of perfectionism, I think we can attain something a bit closer to perfect, if that makes any sense.

  4. Becky T. says:

    Relax. Take a breath. It’s gonna be o.k. You are so much better than you will ever know. Just ask your kids… you are “the greatest”!! ;-)

  5. Pam says:

    All you can do is love them and admit your mistakes when you make them!

  6. Jess says:

    NOBODY IS PERFECT! I keep reminding myself that every single day and most days…it’s ok. As long as my now 1yr old son still smiles at me and still gives me lots of sloppy kisses.

  7. Emily says:

    I hear ya on that… especially the impatience and not trusting people as much. Everyone always says, parenting made me patient. ha. Whatever. I also thought I would be automatically less selfish as a parent. And, most of the time, I guess I am. Breastfeeding kind of forces that. But, there are definitely times when I’m like “I’d so much rather be sitting on my computer checking FB (or something equally lame) than being glued to a chair.” Oh kids. What the adventure.

    • charlie says:

      I love being with my son. LOVE IT. But there are things I have to do in life other than watch him. I know this. And I am ultra-sentimental. I have a tough time pulling myself away from him.

      But I also know shit has to get done. And emotions are useful to me if they help me achieve the experiences I want in my life. Emotions are great catalysts for action and movement.

      What really sucks, like you said, is that sense of being stuck. “I have so much to do but I can’t right now.” On either side of the parenting fence.

      • Moaz Ahmad says:

        A couple of days ago I was trying to get my son down for his nap while also trying to get a job application completed. My son didn’t want to sleep so we both got very frustrated. After I put him to bed and went to work on the job application my computer crashed.

        While I was waiting for the computer to reboot I could hear through the monitor that he was still awake. In fact he was out of bed and playing in the dark with his toys. I went back in and tried to get him to sleep but he refused, so I finally ended up saying “if you want to play then play. I don’t care.”

        About 10 minutes later my computer was working and I finished the application in 20 minutes … and noticed that he was already asleep.

        The sad part is that I have virtually zero chance of getting this job (teaching) because I haven’t volunteered for the school board or jumped through their hoops.

        In other words, there was really no point in getting frustrated with my son just for being himself, just because I had somehow told myself that I need to be employed in order to be important somehow.

  8. Lana says:

    I was happy to realize that just because I have a kid now, I don’t have to automatically love and be patient with everybody else’s kids too, ha!

  9. VWillO says:

    I think in some ways becoming a parent has made me a better person, I am more understanding of children, more likely to fully research my options before making decisions, less impulsive, more rational, and happier. But I am also less tolerant and more impatient with adults, less sociable, more judgemental… Luckily, one of my negative changes since having a child is that I no longer give a flip what anyone else thinks! Phew!

    • charlie says:

      I would contend that you decided to make becoming a parent help you become a better person. I know that sounds like semantics but it remains a truism. I know plenty of people who have procreated but didn’t make it an opportunity for growth. That’s what I want to underscore here.

      • VWillO says:

        I think it might actually be that I had a baby at a time where, if I hadn’t have decided to have a baby, I still would’ve calmed down and became more rational and sensible (only so much a liver can take after all). But I would have still thought everyone was a terrible parent, their kids were unruly, I was always thinking why can’t anyone control their children and keep them quiet!
        Now I’m the opposite, who wants obidient children? The easily influenced ones who do as they’re told are the ones who will give in to peer pressure at school, and I think everyone knows where peer pressure leads!

  10. Franziska says:

    Very true, Charlie. As a single mother of an 8-month old girl I am going through an endless search by trial and error to do the “right” things for my baby – how to put her to bed, what to feed and when, how much to protect her and how much to encourage her experiencing the world around her. At the end of the day I often think of my parents – I guess I was very judgemental about the way the raised me and my brother but today I am so full of respect. I have to say though that I became more patient, sort of ignorant rather in listening to other people’s suggestions about what I should or should not do. I guess there is a long way from 8 months until 2 years. BTW I love your blog, keep going! Greetings from Germany!

    • charlie says:

      The whole process is based on observation, trial and error. What I cringe at is the “this works for everyone” mentality where there is a problem if you don’t meet expectations.

      Certainly as a single mother, you have your plate full. My mother raised me and my brother. It gave her great strength, I think. But I can’t even imagine how hard it must’ve been.

      Parenting is an incredible reciprocal activity. But you have to find where the exchange is, and it may not always be where you expect it.

  11. Kevin says:

    “I set expectations for his progress …” I started doing that in the beginning “Is he crawling yet? is he walking yet? is he eating solid food yet?” but then one day I thought, Don’t wish his childhood away, he’ll do that himself.

    Since then I’ve been pretty relaxed about his progress and a lot better at enjoying the moment. We’ll see how that changes when he starts school though :)

    • charlie says:

      “Don’t wish his childhood away, he’ll do that himself.” <— this.

      I have to remind myself that his learning and failing and breaking things is a part of a process and not a symptom.

  12. MotherDuck says:

    At first I wanted to resist this idea because I have always felt that I’ve been a better person since having my kids but I see your point. I think maybe its more that becoming a parent has raised my responsibility for the others around me and therefore my sphere of influence has increased so as to somehow protect my children from possible futures. In a way that is being a better person even though I have to sometimes be a royal bitch to do it, maybe more than I should be. Despite my worse moments my kids and my husband still seem to like me so I must be doing something right. Thanks for the insight, Charlie!

    • charlie says:

      Thanks for the comment, MD.

      I have to admit my post is a little garbled. I didn’t get good sleep for the past few days.

      To underscore your point, I think experiences do shape us. And I know and admire people saying “becoming a parent made me gooder.” But I like to look at that and break it down to its simplicity because I know plenty of “parents” who SUCK ASS at being parents. They probably said the same things we both did when it happened, “I’m going to get this one thing right, whatever it takes..” When I looked at it, I realized it’s an opportunity not a ticket to sainthood. It’s a door, not the train. It could be a door to a train. Annnnnddd my metaphors go off the train (due to lack of sleep).

      Anyway, I know the statement is hard to swallow. My son has changed me forever, but I can’t discount the fact that I have continue to build and improve myself so I can be a good father. It doesn’t just happen now that I have a son.

      • MotherDuck says:

        I love this blog so much. Thanks for not holding back and resorting to the lowest common denominator and the least amount of effort. You guys are truly the real deal and I’m lucky to consider you both as my friends.

  13. Canadian Dad says:

    I am currently blogging while my 3 year old son plays MarioKart. Bad dadding I know, but sometimes daddy needs a rest too. I feel bad about it but he’s happy and in the end I know I am a good father to him and his sister so I let it slide.
    Great post buddy, nice to see the real dad come through.

    • Canadian Dad says:

      PS – I’m glad your guys packing it in was an April Fools joke. I got all teary eyed and junk.

    • charlie says:

      Gotta do what you gotta do, man.

      I think I wrote this as sort of a reaction to all the “gummy bears and rainbows” posts I’ve been reading about men and dads lately. The good moments outweigh the tough ones, but I don’t want to paint a picture that isn’t true.

      When I am with my son and we are having fun, there is no one else and nothing else on the planet.

      • Canadian Dad says:

        Couldn’t agree more about the rainbows and gummy bears stuff (please note that I love gummy bears and in no way condone the trashing of these delicious treats).

        I think it’s important to keep things in perspective from time to time. Parenting is hard and is an inexact (it’s a word, deal with it) science. There are some days where I straight up Fail at being a dad, especially in those first time situations where you panic and make the wrong decision.

        It gets easier though and you tend to screw up less things and learn to roll with it all. We may not feel like a superhero all the time but the kids see us them and that’s all that matters **paints rainbow** Thanks for the post!

        Cheers!

  14. Sam says:

    nice post….becoming a parent has made me a worse person…neurotic, obssessive(about things i never knew were even there), insomniac, and worst of all, paranoid…any stranger giving my kid as little as a smile arouses my suspicion…but then, even animals become more agressive when they have babies…we have to be worse…to better protect our children…if i remained the same polite person i always was, who would defend my child i ask

  15. Jamie says:

    My mom gave me great advice before I got married and I think it holds true for parenting: “love them where they’re at, not where you want them to be.”

    i catch myself a lot thinking “i cant wait until she can do xyz.” “life will be easier when she can do blah blah independently”. then in the next breath i am sobbing in the corner because she just correctly identified a pig and oh my god she is a grown up make it stop.

    that being said, you would think all of this would teach me to be better and to just live in the moment. but nope. if anything it just makes my head spin. so much to observe! so much to plan for! so much to enjoy but also to document as to not forget that we didnt forget to take pictures.

    and when do we nap?

  16. Gale says:

    All I can say is thanks for this. I wondered if I was the only person who felt like they became a WORSE person after becoming a parent…more peevish, more selfish, more prone to anger. On the good side it’s possibly made me less judgemental. Its humbled me for sure. I’m keenly aware that all the faults that have come to the surface now were always there, under the surface, unknown…and it just took the stress of parenting to bring them out. So it’s not so much that parenting made me a a worse person, it’s that parenting showed me that I wasn’t as good a person as I thought I was.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Then once you think you have it all down, the second or third kid you have will require a whole new method of parenting!!

  18. Timmeh says:

    This is so true, good article. I can identify with it so well. I found myself being frustrated with my toddler daughter when she requires me to spend more time looking after her than normal, but I had to come to realization that I am not frustrated at her, but rather at my lack of time in general. I agree that just being a dad doesn’t make you automatically better at this, it’s a conscious decision that you have to work on. I also agree that having a kid drives the motivation for this.

  19. Whit says:

    If I could get better than this it would have happened by now.

  20. the muskrat says:

    I became a better person when I got a dog, just like the gay couple next door told me I was (which I interpreted as meaning, “Michael, you’re a dick. Get a dog and learn to love something that can’t give you head.”)

    Having kids just made me less patient and less tolerant of clutter and messes. At least I still have the dog.

    • charlie says:

      This comment both hurts and confuses me. Well done.

      Messes suck. I loathe how messy I was as a “kid” now.

      • Moaz Ahmad says:

        My son wanted to watch a 3 min video after his bath. I let him. Then he wanted a 2nd video. I didn’t argue and figured I could put him in his diaper afterwards. By the end if the second video he said “Daddy, I’m going potty” and started peeing on the carpet. Fortunately he was next to the wastepaper basket in the room so I picked him up and pointed him in the right direction. While he was upset about what happened I was strangely calm.

  21. Christina says:

    I learned I was an adult by being a parent. I think that’s about as far as I can go. It was the day I really really would have rather been playing World of Warcraft, but dishes needed to be done and a sleeping infant needed a diaper change. I did the things that needed doing before the things that wanted doing.

    As far as being a better person, I am definitely more aware of what a crappy person I am. I never realized how horrible my temper was until I had kids…or how horribly selfish I am of my time…or how horrible I am at organization and how much of a slob I am…Really, nothing says “Mom, your a slob” than watching your 2 year old pick up your garbage and throw it in the trash can where it belongs…

  22. To follow up upon Muskrat, getting a dog prepared me to be a better parent, so it’s frightening to think how crappy I coulda been without that training. And I still kinda suck at times.

    Impressive, honest post Charlie.

  23. Chad Nikazy says:

    Charlie (and all), this is definately a thought provoking post for me. I suppose I may be one of the guilty sentimental posters looking back at the last month of my blog posts, but there’s honesty in self reflection and certainly in sharing the challenges of growing as a dad. I think being a father makes us question who we are, why we do the things we do, etc. I had a conversation with John Cave Osborne in Austin about living up to the expectations that we impose upon ourselves when we become fathers. The net result of that conversation was that our kids, within reason, don’t give a damn what we do – they love us for our presence and for the love we show them. So, did becoming a father make me a good person. Nope. I was one already. Does it make me want to be a better person. yep. Round about way of saying…I agree. good post.

  24. Thanks for saying this. Now I have the irrestible urge to drive to day care to hug my daughter and tell her I’m sorry for yelling this morning. I feel like throwing my juice too most days.

    Of course I will speed, fail to yield, and flip-off a half dozen motorists on the way there.

    Guilt and rage. Those seem to be my new fatherly inspired traits.

  25. jetts31 says:

    I think when I found out I was going to be a dad, I wanted my kids to think I was a better human being (because Lord knows it took a long time tempering this guy in to the majestic person he is today). I just do my best to hide my flaws and shortcomings as best I can around them.
    So better person? Nah. Just a good dad and hopefully good role model.

  26. blurbomat says:

    The best thing is that with each passing day, we get closer and closer to yelling at people to get off our damn lawns.

  27. Doug French says:

    That’s why I moved to Michigan. So I could have a lawn to keep kids off of.

  28. Spidy says:

    It thought I knew the perfect parenting philosophy when I was equiped with tons of literature and one daughter. Me and my wife (pedagogue), we used to be tired but sure of the way we’ve chosen. Then the second daughter was born and we were not so sure, anymore. “They are different”. Thanks God nights used to be for sleeping and days for holistic interactive multiple-choice education. Then our son was born. It’s already nine months of his alergic problems, nights without sleeping, days without any direction or itinerary. “They are different”. And now they teach us how to stay different and be happy. Greetings from Poland!

  29. Chris says:

    The hardest thing for me has been/is, is being patient with my kids. For my oldest, I get aggravated so easily over things that she isn’t doing “correctly”, or when she isn’t listening to me or my wife(which happens a lot). I have to remind myself that she is only 3 and she has a long ways to go. My 11 mo old is still not sleeping through the night, which is driving us crazy, but I need to remember not to get mad at her, she is only a baby, and eventually she will sleep. It’s constantly reminding myself to take a breath and relax, they are young, and it is my wife and I that need to teach them. Now when they are teenagers, then I can go crazy! ;)

  30. Sam says:

    Charlie,

    I am just glad to see you are as smart of a man as I am. Our wedding anniversary and my wifes bday were also this past week (april 8th and 10th). One thing you and I have done is ensured we will NEVER forget either the bday or the anniversary. Good for you and keep up the good work.

  31. Chad Nikazy says:

    Now I’m curious. How does that birthday / anniversary combo end up happening to so many of us? My wife’s birthday and our anniversary are 11 days apart as well. It’s a female conspiracy!

    • Sam says:

      I like to see the bday/anniversary as us (the husbands) out smarting the wives by making sure the two most important days of the year are that close together (insert evil laugh).

  32. tommy riles says:

    Charlie…thanks for being so real in this post. Could not have been an easy one to hit “publish” on, but probably one of them that you are most proud of.

    • charlie says:

      When I get a pit in my stomach, I know I have to hit publish. What good is this thing if I can’t push myself to share what I know? Honestly, I wasn’t very happy about this post prior to publishing, and even now to a degree, but not for the reasons you might think.

  33. Alan says:

    I DO have THE perfect parenting philosophy… for me !
    … still I’ve got a hard time trying to follow it. Theory, either based on readings or trials, is one thing – put it in practice, every day, flawlessly, is another thing.

    Being a parent is indeed the hardest job, ever. Though hopefully it has its brightest moments a person can have, besides love and such.

    I guess the only thing we can do is trust ourselves, face it together with our wife/husband, do our best, and accept that we’re not perfect, far from it. We’re just human beings, and… well… parents.

    Great blog, keep it up ! Greetings from Europe :-)

  34. I think parenting pushes me to uncomfortable places. It shows my uglier sides as well as my good sides. It forces me to make choices that aren’t always fun. I have to make choices to be better as a human being, and parenthood tests how I’m doing.
    I’ve known plenty of parents who are total assholes. They didn’t get any better. Many got worse as they had children. I very much dislike those people.
    It is easy to get jaded by The Awful we see in this world that our kids will one day have to live in without us. Many of us have to force ourselves not put walls up around us to protect our hearts and sanity, to become cold assholes, ourselves, in reaction to the stuff we now see with the perspective of a parent. Only we can make ourselves better, but doing so out of respect for our role in our kids’ lives is a very good thing.

  35. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

    I might have had an intelligible, thoughtful, pithy reply seven years ago. But sleep deprivation.

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