Best Advice For New Dad – Don’t Ask For Advice

November 2, 2010 in Fatherhood Insights  

Best Advice For New Dad – Don’t Ask For Advice

When I was getting ready to be a dad, I was freaked out. You may be too…at least a little. However suave, and un-phase-able, and competent a guy you know yourself to be, however many new and unusual life-changing circumstances you’ve come through with your cool still intact – there is something about the transition into fatherhood that is enough to send you off begging for advice from every dad you know.

“How do I do it? Come on, man, I need some advice!”

That’s what I did. And wow, guys really like being looked at as experts, to be asked for advice. You always get something. Unfortunately, what you mostly get is one lame cliche after another:

“Get your sleep now.”
“Get that golf out of your system now.”
“Nice knowing you.”

Then the pat on the back, a laugh, and they were on their way. Not very helpful. So, while your wife is surrounded by women – throwing baby showers, and long conversations that add up to deep, and beautiful, and supportive counsel and companionship along her way to becoming a mom, you are basically alone. You do your best to absorb some of the parenting and baby books that are piling up in your house. But if you are anything like me, these end up adding to the overwhelm and general anxiety more than they help.

MADE TO STICK

Thankfully, at some point along my way to becoming a dad, I came across Made to Stick. Written by two brothers – Chip and Dan Heath – it’s not a book on parenting at all. But it held the one and only piece of dad-to-be advice I actually needed.

Made to Stick is about what makes some ideas stick, while others (like my growing collection of dad “advice” and our library of parenting how-to books) are made to be forgotten. How many of us have sat through lectures or presentations where heads are all nodding in apparent agreement and understanding – but then ten minutes after it’s over we can’t remember a thing? The Heath brothers talk about how to avoid this – whenever we are the ones giving those lectures or presentations, or whatever, where we actually want our ideas, our argument, our point to stick.

STORIES THAT STICK

One of the tools they talk about is stories, which are stickier than any set of advice or tips or step-by-step instructions – no matter how neatly, or cutely packaged (“the four S’s” to successful whatever, “the three T’s,” or pick your mnemonic flavor of the month). This is why, after a day of fighting fires, many fire fighters will assemble to talk about the fires they encountered that day – what they were like, what they did, what happened as a result. No advice or training manuals or lectures, just stories.

Stories are like “mental flight simulators.” As you listen, you actually place yourself in the story, in the circumstances. You think, “Wow, I would definitely do that,” or, “Woah! What a stupid move!” Stories help you build your own mental repertoire even for situations you’ve never faced yourself. They help you sharpen instincts you never even knew you had.

I STOPPED ASKING FOR ADVICE

So, when we were waiting for our oldest to be born, I stopped asking for advice. It was the best thing I did to get ready to be a dad. Instead, I made a big pot of chili, bought a case of beer, and I invited a bunch of dads over to my place. As they filled their bellies, I asked them to fill me with their stories – the ones that began, “My wife’s water broke and then…” or “I knew the game had changed in my marriage when…” or “The first time I really blew it as a dad was…”

It was awesome. No canned advice. No cliches. No pats on the back. No stupid laughs. Just stories. Listening to them, my anxieties melted away. I finally felt ready. I realized all these guys had started out about as clueless and freaked out as I felt. But now, they were dads who were experienced, who knew what they were doing. They had figured it out – and they were still figuring it out. And if they could, I knew I could too.

This post was adapted from The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being Dad by Stefan Lanfer. Stefan is a Boston-based dad of two, a playwright, and he works on strategy and communications for a private foundation making grants to public education, arts, and environment nonprofits – mostly in Boston. Stefan blogs about “the big mysteries revealed in the small moments” of fatherhood at www.dadtoday.com.

Please Comment & Add Your Voice!

Adam B November 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Stories are a great way of communicating simple truths. Men need to stop engaging in cliches and begin engaging with one another in order to provide that supportive network that women so easily develop.

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stefan November 2, 2010 at 2:28 pm

couldn’t agree more, adam. doesn’t need to be a man hug or cry. just a good story.

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Namfon February 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm

It’s woduerfnl to live long enough to see my son share the fiercely divine and beautiful love you feel for your own child. You can never fully share that with expectant parents, male or female. Thank God it’s a love that comes around full circle again when you look in the eyes of your grandchild.

Chase November 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

@adam & @stefan, Absolutely!

Great post, Stefan! Thanks so much for sharing it!

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Samuel November 3, 2010 at 3:39 pm

My wife got a great piece of unsolicited advice when she was pregnant with our first kid. She got hit by morning (and afternoon, and evening, and night) sickness like a freight train and it didn’t stop until halfway through the second trimester. Everyone had some kind of miracle cure to offer.

A dad friend approached us at a show and we were talking baby stuff. Taylor mentioned her nausea, and this guy said “You know what works for that?”

We steeled ourselves for another piece of bad advice. Instead, he said, “nothing.”

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Chase November 4, 2010 at 10:15 am

love it!

Will November 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

WOW, This is awesome. Our baby is on the way and is due May 2nd. I am so glad I stumbled across this post early on. Stories are a powerful thing that we all can learn from no matter if we are experienced or newbies.

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