What I Learned From Being a First-Time Father

No two ways around it: being a dad is hard work. But with some foresight, there are ways to make it smoother.

My daughter, Izzy, is the smartest person I know. Maybe I’m biased because I’m her dad, but trust me: this kid is sharp. She may only be two years old, but she knows how to push my buttons, make me laugh hysterically, and melt me when she says, “Luh you, daddy.”

We’ve had an interesting two years, to say the least - ear infections, rocky nap schedules, my becoming single – and yeah, it’s been a rough go at times. But Izzy and I are a team, and like any good team, we’ve been learning from each other since day one. If you’re new to the dad game or about to join (congrats!), here are a few lessons I’ve absorbed along the way. Maybe they can help you out, too.

The Dad Bag Is Essential

I’ve carried a leather pack since college, but there was no way I was going to fit my stuff and Izzy’s stuff in one bag. Do yourself a favor and pick up a separate bag for your dad needs. I like leather bags because they age well and have an understated refinement, but canvas or nylon are suitable, too, if you want something more utilitarian. Here’s what you should pack inside at all times:

  • At least three diapers.

  • Baby wipes. Get a small to-go pack at any grocery store.

  • A burp cloth.

  • A serving of whatever your kid is currently eating (a bottle with formula or milk, a jar of baby food, or a pouch).

  • Small plastic bags for soiled diapers.

  • A toy. Could be a rattle, a teether, a toy phone, a stuffed puppy… seriously, anything.

  • If it's summer, baby-friendly sunscreen.

  • Hand sanitizer. Because after you change that diaper, you may need it.

  • A camera. I know your cell phone has one, but this is your kid. Get a real camera.

If there’s still room in the bag, pack a snack for yourself. You’ll be amazed at how often you forget to eat. Which leads to my next point...

Take Care of Yourself

If you’re an engaged dad, you’re going to be tired. And while those three a.m. feedings will probably cut into your nine-to-five alertness, it’s intimate time with your kid that you’ll never get back. Don't take it for granted.

That being said, it’s vital that you continue taking care of yourself. Before Izzy was born, I worked out almost daily. After she was born, I was lucky to get to the gym once, maybe twice a week – but it was enough to keep me feeling satisfied. Don’t forget to keep your grooming game on point, too. It’s ok to pick up a new hair product for yourself or spring for a premium shaving cream. Part of being a good dad starts with feeling good about yourself.

Buy Tickets, Not Toys

Take my word for it: once you have a kid, the gifts (endless toys and clothes) will come rolling in from friends and family, and you’ll be happy to have the help. Even still, I remember feeling like Izzy’s most important gifts had to come from her mom and me, so I went a little overboard with shopping. Guess what – that stuff has all been either donated or put into storage because she’s not an infant anymore.

So don’t buy toys, buy tickets. Buy tickets to the zoo, the aquarium, the pony rides at the local fair. Believe me, your kid will have enough “stuff,” and it will all be scattered in time. Go and do things with your kid.

I have a leather journal in which I write Izzy a letter once a month. I tell her about our shared experiences and the memories we’re making together. Some day when she’s old enough, I’ll give her the journal as a gift, and it’ll mean more than another stuffed animal.

Embrace the Mess

There’s a certain home aesthetic that I like to maintain: clean, intentional style combined with warm comfort. But then Izzy came along. Suddenly the dishes took longer to get done, the vacuuming didn’t happen as often, and keeping up with the laundry was nearly impossible. And now that Izzy is two, keeping things tidy is a constant struggle.

But I’ve learned to welcome the mess, because the time I spend with Izzy is more valuable than the time I spend at the sink washing dishes. We clean up her toys together after play time, and when she goes to bed, I get one chore done per night. Laundry, dishes, cleaning – it'll all get done in time. For now, just have fun playing with your kid.

Ask for Help

Being the knight in shining armor is a young man’s game. A wise dad knows that he doesn’t need to be a hero; he needs to be humble.

Your kid will refuse to nap, and you’ll need to walk away for ten minutes while they cry in the crib because your patience is wearing. You’re going to be so sleep deprived that you literally count the minutes after work until you can hit the sack. There are still days when I’m so tired that I’m not sure whether to cry or punch through the wall. It’s ok. You’re not Superman – you’re just a guy.

When you need help, ask for it. Tell your wife, your partner, your mom, whoever that you need an hour to clear your head and for a run or grab a quick nap.

People say you’re never ready to become a parent, and in a way, that’s true. But it can’t hurt to prepare, to know what you’re getting into. So go grab yourself a dad bag and order some tickets to the zoo. Trust me: this adventure is a laborious one, but it’s also the best one you’ll ever take. You can do it, dad.

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