First produce viable semen. It can be through passion or from duty or because you do it in a lab for money or whatever. This is usually the first step.
It means nothing.
Then, read all the books your wife tells you she thinks you should be reading. At least seriously consider it. If you don’t do it, she will probably remind you.
There will be a lot of waiting.
Rule Two: Show up. Show up. Show up.
This is the longest rule and has many subparts. This is most important.
1. Show up during pregnancy. Maintain patience when the smell of garlic makes her vomit. Bring her ice water.
2. In the delivery room. Don’t slip out to the store for milk for your coffee just as she’s crowning. She will never forgive you.
But really she will.
All mistakes of the first time father will be forgiven when you hold your hand up as an offering for her to crush your soul from your fingers. Yes, sometimes cliches come true. When you say what she needs to hear, do what she needs done, before she even realizes she wants it.
There is nothing in this universe that prepares you to be exactly who she needs you at the moment she gives birth. If you manage this anyway, you are golden.
2a. Remember the moment your baby is born the rules entirely change. You begin again at the starting gate.
2b. Let go of everything that used to be as you take your bundle home. Release the need to control. Erase that awful sneaking feeling that someone is trying control you. You were probably never really in control anyway.
Remember, you are not alone in being secretly terrified that you have no idea what you’re doing.
3. Show up at home.
I read in the Washington Post that dads should do their own laundry. But it’s so much more than laundry. Dads should cook, clean, take care of kids and other things around the house.
Parenting in the 21st century — is that where we are now? — is a house in order.
Parenting together is a well oiled machine where the interlocking parts fit together, move away, seamlessly as each parent takes on a little bit here and a little bit there. Each person does his or her share.
1. Insert another Metaphor for Orderly Things if it makes you feel better. Then refer to Rule 1.2b and again let go of control.
2. Accept that sleep is not the thing it used to be. Stay up late to with crying babies. Lose sleep worrying over any variety of things that probably won’t matter a year later. Spend nights gut clenched over things that do very much matter.
Wait until 3am to paint and draw because there is no other time in the day to be alone. Rise early to take care of the baby every morning while your partner writes.
This is, of course, not autobiographical at all. These are universal truths.
3. Practice saying “Put on you shoes.” Put that away. Where’s your jacket? Go to bed. Where did we put those shoes? These are only examples. Your life will vary.
Repeat these things daily for added effect.
3a. Never forget that children are entirely irrational beings. It is your job to put order to this chaos.
3b. Wake up in the morning. Make the coffee. Add the milk until it’s that perfect color and bring it to her in her office while she’s on the phone. Sleep late with the baby on weekends while your wife makes pancakes. This simulates pre-family sleeping late and then going out for brunch.
4. Did you know sex less than once a month is considered a sexless relationship? Do not do that.
4a. Be patient but don’t hide your impatience. This is a tricky balance called communication. A two way street is a happier street.
Rule three. Final rule.
Why do you do all this?
You do this because you are needed, yes, but not only that. Your existence extends roots in all directions. The tiny tendrils water the joy of your babies laughing. You soak up the sunshine of your day to day that yes, sometimes brings unbearable tedium. You will probably lose yourself at least once. You will lose balance, repeatedly, over many years if you are doing this right.
You wonder what happened to yourself? This wasn’t what you expected? You fleetingly imagine packing a bag and disappearing into the night? It’s ok. Your partner probably harbors similar feelings.
There is no reasoned reason why you are with your family. You can tell yourself it’s biology. Or perhaps a wild grasp toward the future to erase oblivion. But make no mistake, love and family are not rational human responses. Love has no rules and never will.
We humans have an enduring, overpowering need to be accepted and cherished. We create home, that intangible place where we belong more than anywhere else. Do that for yourself and your family and you are a success.
This is how to be a good father.