Book Proposal: The Art of Being A Dad
by Mark Wagner

Tips, Tools, Tricks of the Trade


130 Tips, Tools, Tricks of the Trade

1. Whole Start. Before you conceive or soon afterwards, get out into nature by yourself. Spend some time alone, take a road trip, a walk. Imagine that you are taking care of business and connecting with something deeper, wider, and greater than yourself. Ask the powers that be to have healthy kids, ask to be a great dad, ask for help because you will definitely need it later.

2. Celebrate becoming a dad. Do something special for yourself to celebrate becoming a dad. Use the time when baby is inside mom in a significant way. It may appear that all the work is happening inside mom while she is pregnant, but there is a great deal happening inside of you too.

3. Feel connected. Do something to help you feel connected to your baby while they are still in mom’s belly. I lit a candle and kept one burning the entire time of our pregnancy as a way for me to symbolically hold the light for my baby and feel connected.

4. Be the ground at the birth. Both mom and baby need you to be fully present during the birth. Breathe slowly, feel your feet on the floor, keep your eyes open, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

5. Don’t take it personally. You may feel ignored or not needed during the intensity of labor. Trust that everyone is doing what they need to do and your job is to support and do what your partner needs you to do.

6. Who are they? If you pay attention as your child is born you may be able to get a sense of who they are. And any good stories you gather you will be able to tell to your kids the rest of their lives.

7. Not about you. Helpful hint: The next few years are NOT going to be about you. Most of the core bonding happens with mom and baby. Your time will come later when it’s you that they want and need.

8. Show up for yourself. At times, there won’t be anyone to hold you and ask you what you want or need. These times are wonderful opportunities to show up powerfully for yourself.

9. Everyone needs you, now more than ever. It's selfless work and only you will ever know how much you do.

10. Jump right in. Don’t wait to be asked, volunteer often, take care and be with your baby whenever you can. Every moment counts.

11. A happy mom is a happy world. Need I say more?

12. Say it’s so. Tell mom she looks great and that you love her just the way she is – even though she hasn’t been out of her P.J.’s in days and she has puke and dried milk all over herself. She will know you are lying but she will think you’re dear for saying it.

13. Foot massages. Give them to everyone; your baby, your partner, yourself. Massaging your kids helps them to become aware of their bodies. If you are unsure take a class, get someone to show you what to do, rent a video. Touch is a great connection to make.

14. Tell your baby secrets. Tell them things that you haven’t told anyone else. Tell them your hopes and fears. Talk to them while they are asleep.

15. Be creative. Since you don’t have breasts you are going to have to come up with your own way of putting your baby to sleep, getting food in them, and helping them to feel safe and loved.

16. Get to know your kids. Watch them closely, notice their patterns, notice what they are interested in, be curious about who they are.

17. Rubbing eyes means sleep is soon to be had, which means you will soon be off duty.

18. Chick Magnets. Babies are great chick magnets at the coffee shop. Go ahead, it’s OK to show off your creation, women are especially connected to babies. Meeting other dads is also cool.

19. Learn how to meditate and rest while someone is in your lap totally freaking out and crying their eyes out.

20. Just let them cry sometimes – it releases good energy and everyone will sleep better.

21. Football. Look forward to the possibility of watching the next Super bowl with a baby asleep on your lap.

22. Connect to other men. There is a wealth of experience and information in the men’s community. Who else better to go to for inspiration and support than other dads.

23. Know your cries. Know what kind of cries need your immediate attention and which cries don’t. Some cries will have you running, other cries will have you waiting until they find you if they need to.

24. Get help. If you and your partner get into relationship trouble seek professional help. Get some communication tools that you can use the rest of your life. It will be the best investment you will ever make.

25. Take your partner away for the night. Get your partner out of the house, away from the kids, from their work, the chores, and the constant time and energy they put into being a parent. It might take them an entire day to return to the person they remember themselves to be, so give yourselves some time and you both will find a way to reconnect and rest.

26. Help create good childcare. Find people who you trust and who are dependable and use them.

27. Acknowledge your partner often. Moms do more than you will ever know. You can never say thank you enough.

28. Animals are excellent companions. Animals teach your kids things you will never be able to, like what it means to be in relationship with other living things than just your human family. And for you, a dog can be a steadfast friend who doesn’t speak or sing songs that drive you nuts. A dog is like a kid, they are always happy to see you too.

29. Mom call home. When it’s time for mom to take a break and hand the little ones over to you. Kids will often cry and freak out because let’s face it, mom is the bomb. Nothing personal, but when mom enters the room your little one will want her way more than they want you and things will quickly get messy especially for mom whose solo time is extremely precious and needed. If mom has escaped to another room and she needs something, tell her to call you on the phone and you can bring it to her.

30. Learn how to distract them. Kids are totally present, if you are good at diverting their attention you’ll have a better chance to move them easily out of difficult times.

31. Make things disappear. The plastic toys, the gift someone gave your kids that you don’t want them to have, the book that is inappropriate. It’s magic how you can make these things disappear. Feel the power and responsibility. They are your kids, you know best, trust your intuition and you can’t go wrong.

32. Be with your kids on their terms.
Watch them play, see how they interact, get down on their level. It’s actually really interesting and you get to know who they are. Ask them what they want to do and then do that.

33. Be present. Don’t always be spaced out or tired when you’re with your kids. Don’t rip everyone off including yourself.

34. Do the best you can. You are their role model, for better or worse.

35. Exercise with them. Workout, do yoga, let them crawl on you while you stretch. Pay them a nickel to walk on your back. Stay physically strong. You’ll need it because you’ll be carrying them for a long time and you don’t want your back going out.

36. Show them the world. Get them out of the house. Every new thing they encounter builds connections in their brain. This way they will grow up to be curious people and be interested in many things in this amazing world. You don’t have to go far, the salamander under the rock is just right in your front yard. Explore your office, the attic, the garage. They are easily entertained and what they really want is to be with you.

37. Make things for them to play in. Several large cardboard boxes will keep them going for hours, then give them markers to draw and decorate it.

38. Good influence. Influence your kids. The culture will influence them anyway so you might as well do it, and do it well.

39. Let them have their feelings. Don’t make your kid’s anger and frustration yours. Let them have their own feelings and upsets. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and get triggered. Remember you are the adult, just let them be themselves and have their own feelings.

40. Mirror them. If they are sad, tell them you know that they are sad. Help them identify their feelings. You don’t have to solve things for them; you can just listen to them so they feel heard.

41. They want the dirt.
Little kids are really only interested in things that they can get close to, things that they can get their hands on. So when you go camping remember they aren’t interested in the big vista and the beautiful sunset, they want that dirt at your feet.

42. Be a dad to other kids. If you see a kid doing something inappropriate or unsafe, speak up. Acknowledge, praise, show other kids that you are here, that you see them. If you hear a kid saying a “put down,” say something to them. Many kids do not have dads who are involved in their lives. There is more than enough of you to go around. You may know some of these other kids for the rest of your life, and they may know you too.

43. Practice firm fair boundaries. Hold your ground, be your word, follow through with consequences, but be able to bend when need be.

44. Be quiet with your kids. Teach them how to be quiet by turning off the music, T.V., and the computer and just being quiet with them.

45. Daddy’s being quiet. Cultivate your own peace and quiet by not feeling that you always have to answer each and every question your child asks. Don’t ignore them, tell them you are having your own quiet time.

46. Enough is enough. Teach your kids how to be okay with what they already have. Teach them that they don’t need to buy or have anything else to feel better. This way you are helping the environment and the future by teaching your kids they don’t always have to consume.

47. Life is not always fair. Teach your kids that life is not always fair, but it can still be good and fun.

48. Watch T.V. with your kids. It’s a way to spend physical time with them and you can influence how and what they are seeing. Turn the commercials on mute. Talk to them about the show, tell they what you think, answer their questions. When they are older, stop a movie and discuss the scene.

49. Calendar in T.V., computer games, and treats. Rotate daily. When they ask you if they can watch T.V., ask them what day it is. Create a large, beautiful calendar and decorate it and then stick to it. Watch how they can play by themselves and with each other.

50. Have your own room. Have a room of your own where you can close the door and not be a dad and be by yourself. Teach your kids to respect this time and space. Don’t use it as a way to stay away from them. Mom should also have her own room – with a lock on the inside.

51. Work around your kids. Figure out how to work while your kids are with you so you can still stay on purpose, get some of your work done, and at the same time be connected to them.

52. Look at me. “Daddy, daddy, look at me, look what I did.” At some point they will say this all the time. Learn how to say, “I’m not looking now, daddy is working. But I’d love to look – later.” And then make sure you do!

53. Intimacy with your partner. Know you will be intimate again. Give your partner their time and space. Be of service and also don’t let too much time go by without connecting, it’s important for everyone. It's part of the glue to help keeps you and your family happy.

54. Make music with your kids. You don’t have to know anything about music to make it; use pots and pans, explore, let go, listen, and have fun.

55. Teach your kids how to use tools. Show them how to use hammers and screwdrivers. Notice that when you’re working around the house with your tools the kids will show up and ask if they can help. Give them something to do even if it seems like a distraction.

56. Express your anger in appropriate ways. You will feel angry, you will feel enraged. How do you express your anger ? Try yelling at the ceiling and not at them, go into another room and hit a pillow, never hit them. Give yourself a time out, go for a drive and scream really loud, go to the gym or for a run. It may seem silly, but it’s powerful. You need to move the energy so that you don’t get clogged and are hurtful to everyone. Show kids how to move their anger so they can grow up and know how to express it in appropriate ways.

57. Imagine dying tomorrow. Have you given your kids what you wanted to give them? Do they know that they are loved by you?

58. Begin a journal. Start a diary of your thoughts for your kids. Tell them things about their life that only you can write. Write in it over the years and give it to them when it’s time. Imagine what it will mean to them to know that you cared that much about them to write to them even when they were babies. (I was running with my kid on a deserted beach and saw how much joy she was experiencing. In her journal I said, “if you ever don’t feel good about yourself or life, go this beach and run as fast as you can. I drew her a map of how to get there.)

59. Breathe and take the focus off them. When you are driving and the kids are making you nuts with their silly songs and bickering, breathe… take the focus off them and bring it back onto yourself, bring attention to your eyes and keep looking around at the wonderful world in front of you. If need be, turn your car stereo speakers to all front and put on your favorite tunes.

60. Encourage your kids. Encourage your kids when they are afraid that they won’t be good enough and they want to quit. Tell them it’s OK to be afraid at times, it’s even important, but don’t let it keep them away from doing the things they like, even if it’s scary and they might not do it right.

61. Teach them how to practice. Riding a bike, drawing, reading, playing an instrument. Teach them that everything is practice, and it’s not always fun, but to be good at anything you need to practice it.

62. No one is perfect. It’s okay to not always be sure what you are doing as a dad. It’s okay to feel like a failure. Feel it, let it go, and get back on the horse – you are doing a great job.

63. Discipline and Being the adult. Co-create house rules and reinforce them. Be the adult because kids need firm and fair boundaries to feel safe. They need to know that you, the adult, are in control.

64. Be the bad guy sometimes. Don’t let them always do what they want, which might be to watch T.V. and eat candy all day. It’s okay for them to not always like you, you can still love them. Sometimes you are dad and not their friend.

65. Put healthy food snacks in front of them. Then when they snack you know they are eating well.

66. Treat them. Every once in awhile have desert first.

67. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Follow your intuition in the moment. Sometimes things change fast and it’s okay to say yes after you’ve just said no. Explain why you changed your mind.

68. Be aware when you say NO. Sometimes you say no just because they asked, not because you meant it.

69. Important things. Continue to talk to your kids about the really important things in your life. Talk to them about the things you believe in, the things you love, the things that have meant the most to you in your life. Tell them stories about you growing up, it will help them understand where they have come from.

70. Talk about the Earth and Nature. Talk about things that they will grow up to have an on-going relationship with.

71. Love yourself. Keep coming back to a place of loving yourself no matter what.

72. Play with them. If you don’t play with them they will play by themselves, missing your guidance, input, and joy.

73. Get up early. Get up early a few times a week to have some alone time before the kids wake.

74. Stay up late. Stay up late a few times a week to have some quiet time after the kids go to sleep.

75. Check ins. Check in with your partner daily to find out how they’re doing and what you two have going on in your life. Stay connected, it’s one of the best things you can do for your family.

76. Learn how to negotiate. “After you pick up the books you can watch a movie.”

77. Cleaning up. Teach them how to clean up after themselves. Over the years this will pay off big time.

78. Community support. Create supportive relationship with other parents so that you both can trade off giving everyone time for a date night.

79. Physical contact. Create appropriate physical contact with your kids. Lying in the hammock, watching a movie, falling asleep together. There is something special that happens when your cells are beside each other.

80. Call other dads. Just to say hi and ask how they are doing

81. Great and small adventures. Take your kids to places that only you can – up on the roof, the abandoned building, or into the cornfield to play hide and seek.

82. Be aware of put-downs. Be aware of the subtle ways you put your kids down and correct your behavior. Praise them and see the difference that it makes.

83. Tell them you are sorry. Tell them you are sorry for anything you did that you regret. Apologize and ask them to forgive you, even if it happened days ago. They will understand and appreciate you for this. Live and teach by example.

84. Love and dad. Tell your kids that love and dad are the same words.

85. Be their dad. Be a stand to really be their dad in a way only you can, with all your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be helping them later on in life when you won’t be around. If you have girls, you will be teaching them how to be in successful relationships with men, and if you have boys, you will be teaching them how to respect and honor women, and about being a man.

86. Empower them. Have your kids do lots of things by themselves, unless they can’t or it’s unsafe.

87. Do things for them. Surprise them, do things for them just to be nice and helpful, like empty the dishwasher now and again when it's their chore.

88. Movies. Go to a double feature by yourself.

89. House rules. When a house rule is broken there are no negotiations. Going outside the front gate without an adult, or purposely hurting your sister is an instant time out.

90. Art supplies. Have a set of kid’s markers or watercolor crayons nearby. Travel with them, take them to the restaurant, they are much better than the cheap ones you’ll find there. Kids always want to make art and they can really focus in, giving you a little bit of peace and quiet and time to talk to your partner.

91. Quiet time. Create an hour of quiet time each day for your kids. It’s a great time for them to connect with themselves and settle down instead of always having to be entertained. Read, write, draw, rest, nothing physical.

92. Cleaning up with your play date.
Kids sure can get messy when they have their friends over. Suggest that its much more fun to clean up with their friends than your kid having to do it all by themselves.

93. Ask and you shall receive.
Ask your kids to tell you that you’re a great dad.

94. Out of time. Kids (and artists) don’t care much about time; they only exist in the now. Time is an adult construction, so let them be your teachers; let go of time and you’ll feel free and alive.

95. Turn it into a race. If they get tired and are threatening to stop walking home when you need them to keep walking, turn it into a race.

96. Small failures. Let your kids have small failures; it helps them learn about the world and who they are and helps them to make good decisions as they grow up.

97. Take the kids away. Take the kids away for the weekend and leave mom home alone. This is good medicine for everyone.

98. Be generous and positive. This way you will already be ahead of most dads.

99. Tree climbing 101. If you got up there by yourself, you get down by yourself.

100. Document your life. Keep a camera nearby, shoot in unusual ways, hold the camera up over your head, hold it at waist level and just shoot. Let your kids take pictures.

101. Somedays you will not want to be a dad. You are not the first dad to have this thought, do something special for yourself, especially forgive yourself.

102. Run them hard. Take your kids to a large parking lot. Bring bikes, roller skates, scooters, the dog, music, and water. Run them good and hard and they’ll all sleep beautifully that night.

103. Vacations. On vacations bring along special projects to do with your kids; a science project, an art project. Make time to be with them and teach them something new instead of just disappearing into a beach chair and letting them play by themselves. Be a proactive dad.

104. Draw on your kids. Most kids love being draw on, use watercolor markers and then let them draw on you, it’s really easy after you start.

105. Draw pictures of the family together. Kids love to make art that depicts your family and they love to see you draw those pictures too. You don’t need to know how to draw, your kids won’t judge you.

106. Make art for someone else. Make art for the grandparents, for mom, and the Aunt who always sends holiday cards. Kids love to make art for something special. Make birthday cards, thank you cards, make large messes on paper and later cut these up to make cards out of.

107. Talk about death. Show them that everything that lives also dies. Help them understand death is natural and not to be feared. Make up a story about death being a friend so they won’t grow up being afraid of dying alone.

108. Grocery shopping 101. Kids want just about everything in the grocery store, so to get past the frustrating tape loop of “Can I get this? Can we get that?” simply say, “Kids, you can each get one thing, but it can’t be junk food, and I have final say if you can have it or not.”

109. Be proud to be a dad. Live your life in a way that you are proud of who you really are. Live in as much integrity as possible.

110. Carry them on your shoulders while you still can.

111. Leave notes. Leave your kids notes when you have to leave home before they wake up.

112. What kind of dad do you want to be? Notice what kind of dad you are by looking at other dads. Are you someone who sits on the bench at the park while your kids play or are you playing with them? Who is having more fun? You can get some exercise running around and climbing on the play structures and you’ll be an inspiration to the other dads still sitting on the bench.

113. Healthy expressing of anger. Try, “I feel angry,” and not “You make me angry…”

114. Feeling safe. One of your jobs is to make your kids feel safe with you, in the house, in their bodies, in their minds, and in the world.

115. Nurture trust.
Be the dad that they will come directly to when wanting and needing to know the truth about something. Nurture trust so that your kids will trust you and trust themselves.

116. Alone time. Spend quality time alone with yourself doing the things that bring you fully alive. Calendar a solo day with each kid. Kids love spending one on one time with their parent, especially if there’s another sibling in the family. It’s a great way to bond.

117. Without you always telling them. Let them do things without you always telling them how to do it. Constantly controlling them will crush their spirit and self esteem.

118. Shopping to fix feelings. When kids are feeling sad or mad don’t immediately suggest getting an ice cream or stop at the toy store. This only makes an association between buying things and feeling better and isn’t a good set up for them or the world. Don’t buy them things to make them feel better. Honor their feelings.

119. Don’t use food as a reward. This sets up an unhealthy relationship between food and success.

120. Letting go. Let go of who you are and who you think you are and connect with your kids from this place.

121. Take a deep breath. If you want your kids to relax, take a deep breath yourself and exhale so that they can hear it. (I learned this from my dog).

122. You’re not a couch.
When you don’t want your kids climbing on you or touching you, create personal boundaries. Ask them to ask you first if they can sit on you, or request hands be kept to themselves.

123. Thank you. Want to keep your partner happy? Acknowledge how much they do around the house and with the kids. A little goes a long way.

124. Freedom. Let your kids do something you normally might not do and may be inconvenient, like splash in puddles and get really muddy, or have a pile of shaving cream in the shower

125. Be an Artist. Decorate a blank journal with your kids and give it to a new dad so that he can write notes in it to his kid.

126. Ask your kids to draw a picture of you.
You can’t go wrong with this one.

127. You can do it. Give your kids choices that empower them. “Choose what you are having for breakfast or I will choose for you.”

128. Getting lost. If your kids get lost tell them to find a policeman or a mom with kids. Photograph and fingerprint your kids at the police station.

129. Safety. Talk to them (when they are old enough) about bad things in the world and set down clear rules for their safety.

130. Practice unconditional love.


Copyright © 2008 Mark Wagner. All rights reserved.