Like anything with a steep learning curve, fatherhood is something that is best understood by doing. A lot of my friends or casual acquaintances would give me well-intentioned advice before we had kids. Most of it either wasn’t applicable or didn’t make any sense to me, because I had no working knowledge of the subject. I found though that along the way I really leaned on my network of dad friends for advice. These conversations are invaluable to me and go a long way to helping a dad figure out the endless mental and physical challenges.
The caveat here is that everyone is different — parents and kids. So what worked for some might not work for others. I also find that it’s important to talk to people with kids around the same age. If you have a toddler, ask your friends who have kids that are a little older. The further you get from certain things the more they seem to get blocked from your memory.
I sent an email to my network of dad friends and gathered their intel for you below. There are some things you probably would never think of and some things that are obvious. Take what adds value and leave everything else. At the end of the day, do the best you can and let love carry the day.
MIS Calif makes great bags that can be your diaper bag when you need it and then a normal bag when your kids are out of diapers. Don’t feel like you need to lug around an ugly purpose-designed diaper bag when so many others will do just fine and are a better aesthetic fit.
When we had our son in April someone (there wasn’t a note so we don’t know who it was from — identify yourself if you read this) sent us a big box from The Coterie. Despite my disdain for CPG start-ups I really like this brand and the product and we have started buying from them.
Not all kids clothing is created equal. A few favorites are Lake pajamas, Mini Mioche and The Hey Gang. The indie shop Burro on Montana has really great stuff and they are awesome people who I’m sure could use the support.
This is the best technique for baby burping IMO.
I love to take the kids for hikes in this carrier. It’s as good for me as it is for them. I always bring a Bluetooth speaker and snacks.
Habbi Habbi books are amazing for teaching kids new languages. Highly recommended.
Joe Peters, Marketing Director of Vasque Footwear
Looking back we loved the Bugaboo Bee 5 and then when we had our daughter when our son was sixteen months old, we went for the Bugaboo Donkey 3 using the seat from the Bee and the bassinette for the new baby
After numerous quests, my diaper bag of choice was the Full Moon from Mystery Ranch – fits diapers, wipes, and all of the gear you need on the go with little ones.
On the topic of burping, I found that I had a bit of a ‘new dad’ uniform where I almost exclusively wore an Arc’teryx Atom LT vest, it’s *very* washable, and relatively burp-resistant!
The momentum shorts from Myles – I’ve legitimately worn these for 72+ consecutive hours both around the house, on a run, or on a grocery run. Speaking of 72-hours, this t-shirt from Proof is incredible.
Mike Wasilewski, Partner Frank Collective
YouTube has these “videos for cats” that are just a webcam feed of like a bird feeder or something outside — it works wonders in those super early sleepy mornings to post up on the couch with Maggie (16months) and snooze while she is completely fixated on the birds. Bonus the sounds are soothing so you can doze easily. Better than any Disney or Sesame Street sing-along.
The Magic Sleep Suit is awesome for post swaddling transition — worth thousands in my opinion.
Ben Bowers, Co-Founder of Gear Patrol
When you're done with baby gear or other stuff kids have grown out of, it's worth the effort to find charitable organizations to donate to vs. throwing sh/t away. Gently used kid gear can make a world of difference to families in need, and it's not that much extra work to get it to local organizations if you're trying to clear stuff out of the house.
Puffin Rock on Netflix is one of the least annoying kids shows we've come across that also feels mildly educational in terms of life lessons. The PBS kids video apps also has an impressive collection of rotating kids shows that are fresh, including the latest episodes of Sesame Street. And it's free.
Burley bike trailers. Bought one to bring our kids along on riders to farmers markets, the coffee shop, parks, etc. The company is Oregon based and an industry leader in the space. Our's came with a stroller conversion kit that quickly lets you turn it from a towable trailer to a pushable stroller. At first, I thought we'd never use it. Now it's the defacto stroller our oldest likes when we go out. The two-seater D'Lite is like a small couch that also has tons of room for other stuff. Pricey but well worth it already, and we'll use it for years to come.
Ralph Dunning, Founder of Foreign Rider
When our son was 16 and deciding what to do with college baseball ( he was a very solid player ) he came to us and told us he didn't want to play anymore. He had been playing since he was 6 and from 12 to 16 was playing at a very high level with a stupid amount of pressure. I could say to him, I think you need to grind this out and take a scholarship or I could say this is your life and your decision and you need to do what is right for you. We asked him to go and meet with his coach and tell him he no longer wanted to play. He was their best hitter in the number 4th spot, played 3rd, and could also pitch. His coach was devastated and said kids stop at this age, but they don't stop when they have this much talent and can play NCAA baseball. My son held his ground and said he was done and walked away from the game. I was devastated and had watched him every weekend for years and years plus all the days in between games and tournaments in the gym and batting cage. Other parents on the team told me I was making a mistake and that I should encourage our son to keep playing and play college baseball. At 16, you are in a grey area with kids because they are old enough to make decisions, but still immature enough to sometimes not think things through. The following months were very tough on me as I was no longer watching him play baseball and our lives had been all about his schedule. Was the baseball for him or for me? The outcome was significant because our son was incredibly respectful to his coach and to us for having the ability to make a serious decision about the game and his college scholarship. The result has been great for us as a family and particularly for my relationship with him as we play golf together 3 to 4 times a week and the bond we have formed over golf is incredible. Switching from baseball ( all pressure ) to golf ( a lot of pressure ) has been so good to watch and I am grateful for a scenario that made our relationship so much stronger than if we would have " forced" him to play college baseball. Golf is a game that forms lifelong bonds with friends and when it becomes a shared love with your son, it becomes even better.
Ted Harrington, Printer, Guy from Instagram
I will say that the best thing we did was sit down to dinner and eat as a family. It wasn’t always easy to get home on time, but I can honestly say, most nights it happened. Fortunately, my wife loves to cook!
The other thing I’m grateful I did is to share my love of music with our daughter. I’m not an expert or proficient at much, but I used to love playing my favorite bands for her. I still do. Eventually, she started sharing back. Even now, at 25, she’ll send me a text or a DM of something she wants me to hear. We’ve also attended a bunch of Dead and Company shows together.
One last thing, Dad gets away with a lot more sh/t than Mom.
Christian Hafer, Photographer
Since all dads that pick up a golf club eventually try to get their children into the sport I figured I’d help. The age-old wisdom of starting them young holds true to golf for sure. But it’s all about adapting to your child’s growth. My son started putting for a few seconds when he could stand. A year later a few minutes and fast forward eight more and he’s playing tournament golf. Our approach was never to push golf on him. My wife and I agreed that golf was an elective for him. If he asked to play we went. As soon as he said or indicated with his body language that he was done - we left. Ending on a high note of French fries or ice cream. As his interest grew we started playing games to build his tolerance of a rather boring sport for kids.
Since he was so into Pokémon cards I’d buy a few packs. I’d place one card in each hole and the first putt made got the card. This sort of reward-based approach helped encourage him to try hard but in a way he could associate with. It slowly built a keen interest in golf and a love of the game because he always had “fun”. It’s really as simple as that. Let them grow at their pace and when they start showing a greater interest slowly push them along with a loving hand and when your old and grey hopefully they’ll take you to Scotland for your 75th.
We love Fin & Vince kids clothing for our youngest. And Finger In The Nose for our long-haired surfer bro golfer.
Another majorly important component to being a dad is coffee. We buy Passenger Coffee which is local and amazing. Every few days I make a batch of cold brew.
Mark Fiore, Filmmaker & Podcaster
STUFF: Take your kid and this thing everywhere. By the time we had a second kid, we ditched the traditional high-chair and just used this at the dinner table instead. Phil & Ted’s LOBSTER
BIKES: I can't imagine being a dad without this bike seat. This is a great way to be active together, get exercise, and explore. Take your kid all over town with this thing… beach, park, grocery store, etc. Yepp seat is good for ages 1 thru 3 years. Best with a sturdy bike with well-balanced handlebars I took my kid to preschool by bike every morning for 2 years. This was the best 20 minutes of my day. We built a strong connection and it was a very intentional time. Every day we would try and go a different way to school, checking out construction sites, fire trucks, holiday decorations, etc. My son never needed training wheels when he got on his own bike. I am convinced his body was just so used to feeling the balance and speed of the bike from being on the YEPP seat that he was able to transition seamlessly into his own pedal bike. Dads... wear your helmets too!
MEDIA: Jungle Beats on Amazon Prime and Story Bots - “Super Songs” on Netflix. For kids music listening to the album GO BANANA GO is a fun way to be silly and get some energy out with your kids and a great way to introduce them to music you like.
BOOKS: There are so many good kids books out there, but don’t just read and turn the page. Better to take your time with one book than to read through 3 or 4 books just to get through them. Pause on each page and allow your kids to associates with the imagery. It helps them understand the story better and they really learn to use their brains. I ask my kids to find things on the page and it becomes a bit of a game. I love to read a sentence but let them finish the last word. We take a moment to talk about the features of an animal or how someone in the story might feel. Sometimes I translate things into Spanish the best I can.
AFFECTION: Snuggle the sh/t out of your kids... Every morning. Every day. Every night! Crawl into the crib with them or into bed with them and spoon them for 10 or 20 minutes before they go to bed. This makes them feel safe and loved, and to be honest it helps to connect with them on such a deeper and more intimate level. Dad gets a “mandatory 20-second snuggle every day” at my house. And if the kids rush it, or “don’t mean it” then the clock starts over.
KINDNESS: Kids learn kindness from their parents. This was a challenge for me every day. I made a habit early on to say “HI” or “Good Morning” to everyone we passed… on a walk, on the bike, on a hike, in the grocery store, etc. Of course, we would get lots of cheerful responses from people, so every “hello” was a teaching point and a reminder to me and my son that when we are nice to people, it makes them happy.
MISC: Let your kids be barefoot, especially outside. Kids need routine, but they also need variety and mystery. If you have a routine of going on a walk everyday… then go different streets / change it up. Preview and Recap your day with your kids. When they wake up, tell them that they are gonna eat pancakes for breakfast and then go to grandma’s house today and then do X,Y, & Z… and when they go to bed, recap the highlights of the day X,Y, & Z. This really helped my children understand who people were, and why they are important.
Jeff Halmos, Fashion Consultant
CLOTHES: we like to buy kids graphic tees whenever we travel to a new place. Not so easy to travel these days due to COVID, although we did just pick up a couple of really great 80s-airbrushed-animal-print-tie-dye-new-age graphic tees in Utah while on our recent road trip from LA to Colorado.
Funny story about watching sports. I'm a big NBA fan and always try to watch games with my two boys. We sat down to watch the first games in the bubble, which were on TNT. The boys like watching the games then going outside to our driveway hoop for "basketball practice.” We're on the same team and dribble, pass, and shoot against invisible defenses (John Tesh soundtrack coming soon). But as much as they like watching the games, they LOVE the commercials for whatever professional wrestling "league" they have on TNT. Now every time I touch the TV changer they ask if we can watch not basketball, not football, golf, or soccer, but fake-ass wrestling. They still believe it's real even though I've told them it's not!
Finally, I'd like to give a shout out to the inventor of the LEGO, the ultimate quarantine life hack. My guys will build and create stuff for hours and seem to never get bored.
Paul Underwood, Writer
KIDS AND HOBBIES: My first thought is that it's important to take a step back and think about why you love your hobbies. What values do they embody? What purpose do they serve in your life? These questions have helped me answer that question. I love baseball, but I don't really give a sh/t if either of them do, so long as they find *something* in life that encourages them to be active, to go outdoors, connect with the community, etc. I have my specific tastes in music, but more than anything I just enjoy dancing with my kids, whether it's Vampire Weekend or Frozen, you know?
My other thought on this is that, if you want to expose your kids to something specific, find a way to do so in person. (Tricky right now.) My daughter loves going to baseball games, but if I try to watch one with her on TV she'll get bored and want to watch something else. (One solution, from the Before Times, was going to a family-friendly bar or restaurant where a crowd of people might be watching, say, the World Cup, which makes it more of an event than watching at home.) Going to a sweaty Beatles cover band show (via Rock and Roll Playhouse) got her into music more than, like, throwing on a playlist. Even sitting and putting a physical vinyl record on is way more compelling to kids than pulling up something on YouTube, at least in my experience. It can actually be pretty frustrating to share certain hobbies with your kids — they're going to do everything slower, and with minimal competence — but if you get past that, and just focus on WHY you like something in the first place, you'll be a lot happier. You've probably heard this in re to food: The parent provides, the child decides. I feel like hobbies are a lot like that. Try to take your kids to as many interesting in-person experiences as you can, and/ or try to let them enjoy the tangible physical experience of your hobbies when possible. They'll either like it or they won't. And who knows, they might not like it when they're four but then they'll love it when they're six (or sixteen). I might be wrong, but I feel like if you focus on encouraging the core values that are important to you — I'm guessing curiosity, openness, energy and vigor and spirit, an eagerness to engage with the world, a certain integrity — you'll be happier with the results than if you just force the surface-level elements on your kid. And hey, they might even turn you on to one of their hobbies someday. Oh, and Octonauts is terrific.
Matt Hranek, Photographer & Editor
Babies suck. I hate babies. Give me a cranky teen who can communicate, challenge, chat, and share their playlist any day.
That being said my advice for having a baby is to let your wife take the lead from the beginning and do as she says. Let them breastfeed for eternity because this makes strong kids!
Buy miles of burp clothes and DO NOT spend a ton of cash in “cute” outfits because that sh/t is disposable. I spent $75 on a vintage Biggie Smalls t-shirt turned into a onesie. Baller Move but stupid. Save your money
Buy THE best diapers money can buy! Huggies suck! We used
Seventh Generation and I challenged my buddy to the amount of liquid that can hold without a leak and they beat Huggies ASS! We weighed these things and moister evaluated them. We were not messing around. We are dads...get it?
You get out what you put in. Raising kids is like raising dogs (dog people will understand the rest will think I’m an ass.) I would be happy to explain feel free to DM me.
Jonathan Baker, Marketing Director, Sid & Ann Mashburn
1. On hobbies, or well anything you’re interested in. I think the key is to just show genuine enthusiasm for it. Tell stories around it (past, present, and future). Show them clips of movies or moments related to said hobby or passion. And rather than putting pressure on them, just expose them to it in little ways…if you’re into golf, disguise a trip to the range or putting green with a chance to visit the snack bar. And do the snack bar first! And be okay to leave half-way through whatever you’re doing. I’ve taken Oliver to the Masters, a few Braves Games and up to Athens for a football game between the hedges…we left after like an hour-or-so each time. But it was fun to expose him to an “event” and to take part in the pageantry, and while he didn’t necessarily understand all of the game (or well, any of it), he enjoyed learning the cheers and being in a new expansive world.
Write down all the funny & sweet stuff they say. I have a digital notebook titled “Oliver Sayings” and it’s just chocked full of funny or endearing quotes. (Example -- Me: Do you like strawberries? Oliver: I don’t like the straw part; I just like the berry part.) I started it when he was probably 2… been at it for almost 3 years now. And it’s a treasure trove, and probably the thing on my computer that’s most important to me if I’m being honest.
Put your phone away (unless you’re writing down quotes, of course). Be present with children, because we’ll always have phones but we won’t always have little kids. I’m not always the best at this, and sometimes while working from home, it’s impossible, but I try.
Try to remember it’s HARD being a little person. Try and think back to your own childhood, and how hard it was to put your shoes on. Or what a chore it was to try and take your shirt off if you don’t know-how. Or just how uncomfortable some clothes were to you as a kid. It’s easy to forget this (or maybe just easy for me to forget this) – be gentle and patient.
There is no stronger example that yourself. Remind yourself that your actions, perhaps more than anything else, are shaping the little person. Do your best, to be at your best.
On being a divorced, part-time single Dad. Try and shift your mentality from being hurt, or mad, or sad or uncomfortable (however you’re feeling towards your past relationship), to simply putting yourself in your child’s shoes and doing whatever you can in your power to make them feel normal and happy. And that includes finding a way to co-parent with your former spouse and operating with as much grace as you can muster. Even though it’s hard, in the end, it will make a much bigger difference to your kid, than it will to you.
John Moore, Co-Founder & Chief Creative at Outerknown
Two great kids brands – Nico Nico & Babaa (and soon to be Outerknown kids for the second half of 2021).
GETTING KIDS TO LIKE DAD HOBBIES: Quality of life – get your kids on your routine right? Trickier than you think as neither of my kids (15 & 11) are asking me to go surfing yet. If I had it to do all over again, I would have exposed my kids to the ocean and the trails earlier on without forcing it on them. Ultimately, it’s totally up to them to let you know when they’re ready to adopt Dad’s fav pursuits, but you can certainly tip the scales in your favor by getting them away from the screens and into nature.
Skip the screens as much as possible. Get ‘em outside. Also, don’t fall into the I can’t do this anymore now that I have kids theory. You can, you just need to pack more into a day. And number one Dad tip – keep mom happy and give her as much room to breathe and support as possible. You might not be sleeping for a while.
John Peabody, Writer & Managing Producer at Hodinkee
There's no shame in the Snoo. I know some people who are embarrassed by it, which I get because it's expensive and quasi-creepy technology, but we loved it. It really helped our boy find a sleep rhythm.
I always think about this podcast with Scott Galloway and Sam Harris. The final few minutes they're talking about parenting and Sam is talking about how maybe all we really can expect, and aim to do as parents, is simply love our children and communicate that love. Listen to him say it, it makes more sense.
In the David Lynch biography The Art of Life he talks about how his dad was this stern kind of straightlaced guy but was always supportive of his creative projects. His rule was meeting him halfway on things though. So if David wanted a camera or something (I forget the actual example) he had to work to earn half of the money for it, and then his dad would meet him halfway to help him with the rest. I love that.
Ralph's comment on baseball reminded me of my own son's journey. He played soccer at a very high level, from about the same age, up through travel and then the ODP program. He was 17 and came home after a tournament and said he was done. It wasn't fun for him anymore, he didn't love the game. Same feelings, same struggle, same discussion with his coaches. Walked cleanly away from the game, posters down, tv off. Done. Cold turkey. Fast forward nearly 10 years to today. He causally mentioned that he's playing in soccer league for his department. I asked him why he started to play again and he said that he always loved the game, he just decided he didn't like the competition. He needed the time to figure out what it was that was important and he can play the game now, no consequences, no need to worry about the future, just because it gave him joy and that's what mattered to him.
Jonathan Baker I saved your points in a G Doc for when my time comes.