One of the unspoken qualifications of fatherhood goes something like this: Must be able to question everything you do, every decision you make, and every choice related to your child’s upbringing on a daily basis. But, instead of a “no experience required” caveat at the end of the job description, it reads: “experience will be your only real teacher.”
Unfortunately, we don’t have the tech to travel back in time and whisper wisdom to our younger, less confident, selves about being a parent. But, as we grow as men and fathers, we learn that shaping our own personal philosophies about parenting (and life, in general) is a process through which we can learn from others’ mistakes and triumphs. And it’s important to share that been-there-learned-that wisdom with others
To that end, we asked 13 dads of all ages and from across the world What would you tell your younger self about being a dad? Some shared regrets, others shared joys and realizations they could only understand in hindsight. All of their words contain potent truths for parents of all ages.
1. Make the effort
“When my son was younger, I would spend a lot of time outside the house with my friends to destress from work. My wife would always tell me to spend my time the same way I spend my money — carefully and mindfully. But, I dismissed her. When my son grew older, I noticed that he was hesitant to tell me personal details about his life, while he wouldn’t hesitate to share them with my wife. That was completely my fault. I realized that my son didn’t feel as safe with me because I didn’t make the time and effort to form a strong bond with him when he was younger. It’s been one of the greatest regrets of my life.” – Matt, 32, Australia
2. Get Into Shape
“Staying fit and in shape is a lot easier than starting from scratch. I would tell my younger self not to wait to try and get back into shape. It may seem like kids don’t move around much at first. But once they start moving, they never stop. You don’t want to be the dad that can’t keep up with them at the park or miss out because you’re tired.” — Scott, 36, Washington
3. It only gets better
“When you’re young you think about partying and late nights. They’re the most important things in life until you become a father. I wasn’t ready for my prior life to end until I held my baby on the first day, and it only got better. There’s a place for having fun while you’re young, but don’t think that’s meant to be it. Life really starts to get good when you feel your children enjoying your presence and loving every minute they spend with you. Whether your jokes are good or not, you always have a fan and it’s precious.” – Robert, 39, Vancouver
4. Allow your kids to make mistakes.
“I would tell myself that being impulsive and emotional doesn’t work out when nurturing a child. A child does so many things that will irritate you, but you need to look at the situation from a child’s perspective. Sometimes you need to bend down to their irrational demands or nod your head to their illogical questions. A rational adult is a byproduct of the mistakes made in their childhood, so allowing your child to make mistakes is one of the responsibilities of a good father.” – Isaac, 35, Indiana
5. Apologize when you screw up.
“My dad never apologized to anyone. So that’s how I was raised — thinking he was always right, even if I knew he wasn’t. When I became a father, that was all I knew how to do. I never wanted to admit mistakes. Not to my wife, not to my kids, and not to myself. As my kids got older, the tension grew and I realized that I was wrong for having that mindset. The first time I apologized to my daughter — like a genuine apology, for making an incorrect assumption when she was a teenager — it was revelatory. That vulnerability started building trust, and improved my relationship with my whole family. I wish I would’ve done it a lot sooner.” – John, 55, South Carolina
6. Remember that your children are different from each other
“For parents who have more than one kid, there’s this subconscious expectation that they can’t be that different since they came from the same parents. Wrong. They can and will be very different even if they’re both girls or boys. Don’t compare one to another, especially if you happen to prefer the one child’s character or attitude. Not only will you subconsciously build in them the need to compete, but you’ll also cause one to be ashamed of something that they shouldn’t be ashamed of.” – Ian, 38, California
7. Stop comparing yourself
“I’m a father of five, and one thing I would tell my younger self is not to worry about what everyone else is doing. Don’t compare yourself to other dads out there. Instead, ask yourself: Are you having a better day today than you were yesterday? If the answer is ‘no’, then you need to figure out why, and work on it. If the answer is ‘yes’, that’s reason to celebrate while still knowing you can always improve. Never compete with your parenting. Just work on being a better you every chance you get.” – Greg, 45, Kentucky
8. The most important thing your children need is wisdom.
“I always thought I would be fine if I committed to bringing in the money, and supporting my family that way. It was only after my divorce that I realized what a huge mistake that was. As a single parent, I started sharing with them stories of my experiences and lessons I learned the hard way. These were lessons about responsibility, about life getting tough, and about teaching myself to see challenges as opportunities. Those talks brought us closer, and my kids began telling me about the significant events in their lives while asking for advice. None of that would have happened if the only thing they had gotten from me was money.” – Elliott, 56, Toronto