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The Knowledge

10 Lessons For New Fathers

From long-haul flights to Facebook faux pas – and you thought being a good dad was just like riding a bike

Little boys tend not to play with baby dolls. Fatherhood might be a man’s destiny, but it is only rarely his dream. It comes upon us, transforms us, and makes us somebody else. Like baldness. Or hemorrhoids. But better. Usually.

This is why Father’s Day is a day worth making a fuss about. Mother’s Day is conservative: unabashed worship of a traditional gender role. Father’s Day, though, is a celebration of a leap in the dark. So much you have learnt. Such as…

01. Facebook is where parental dignity goes to die

Never, you swore to yourself, would you bombard social media with photographs of your bloody kids. Lord knows, you couldn’t give a toss about anybody else’s. And yet, suddenly he’s in a field, he’s running, there’s a red ball and a bright blue sky. Come on, who wouldn’t want to see that? Sure, you only got three hours sleep last night and you spend quite a lot of time crying or shouting, but 15 “likes” means you must be doing a good job. Right?

02. Germs are relative

When the first one is a baby, you’re neurotic. Sterilize this; wipe that. It becomes your role, because your breasts are good for nothing. Yet somehow, by the time they’re 18 months old, you’re happily dropping the dummy on the street, and shrugging, and blowing on it, and shoving it back in. The more kids you have, indeed, the more happily gross you’ll get. I know a guy who recently had his fourth. The kid licks the dog quite a lot. Nobody cares.

03. All food is beige

You’re sure they used to eat green stuff. You visited some friends, didn’t you, back when your kids were really small, and one of them said, “Daddy, could I have more broccoli?” and everybody else said “Wow”, and you thought, “Pah! All these neurotic mums just need to learn a bit of discipline!” Then, suddenly, they would only eat chips or cheese. Or chips and cheese. You still serve it up with broccoli, sure, but you eat that yourself, and then lie to your wife. And you’re pretty sure that’s what she does, too.

04. Your children must think that you are the strongest person in the world

You’re probably stronger than their mother, and if granddad is putting up a fight, you can wear the old bugger out by making him walk up a hill. As kids get heavier, though, the disappointment sets in. “But Sophie is on her daddy’s shoulders,” they will point out in the park, as you make excuses, again, because you think you might die. I started lifting weights when my oldest hit four, solely to maintain this fiction. She’s seven now. I can’t keep up. It’s literally an arms race.

05. All music becomes their music

“My kid will like Mudhoney,” you told yourself, “and really difficult French electro.” Only, it didn’t work like that, did it? Your stereo has become a device used solely for playing Ms Taylor Swift, One Direction, Ms Katy Perry and the soundtrack from Frozen. Sometimes, around the middle eight of “Let It Go”, you find yourself actively looking forward to the day they start taking drugs.

06. You’re adrift with technology

You started off with rules. An hour of TV a day, tops. Only then you grew uncertain. Does an iPad count as telly? What if the app is “educational”? What if, damn it, you’re just really, really tired? You were worried the first time you saw your eldest wander up to a flatscreen TV, and tap and swipe it, confidently. Then he did the same thing with a glossy magazine. That was when it dawned on you that this was a fight you were going to lose.

07. You will fret about what TV is teaching them

Excuse my French, but just what the raging fuck is up with Igglepiggle? Is he dying? Is he starving to death, on a sailboat, with the entirety of The Night Garden as some crazed, morbid trip? Is that why he falls over at the end? What’s that red blanket all about? Did he eat a crewmate? Is it his skin? Before you had kids, it was hilarious how weird this stuff was. Now, it’s terrifying.

08. Being a good dad on an aeroplane means looking like a bad one

I remember a flight back from LA. I had my two-year-old on my knee, in the middle of an aisle of strangers. Shortly after take-off, she was sick. Up, apologies, toilet, change. Then it happened again. Then again, and again and again. By the time the lights went down, I’d given up. Every half hour, she’d do a sad little vomit into my chest. I stayed put, soaking it up. Seven hours. Everybody hated us. Proper dad skills.

09. Gap years loom, as a horror

You went to Asia, didn’t you? Or somewhere in South America with spiders the size of labradors. You rode a moped and nearly died, and bungee-jumped off bridges, and phoned home about once a month. And, while it’s a few years until your own kids will want to do the same, the terror of it still wakes you up at night. Could you give them a GPS chip, like a dog? Or, maybe you could encourage them to get into loads of student debt, so travel is out of the question. Anything to keep them safe. Anything to stop them, ever, from behaving like you.

10. You don’t actually know how to ride a bike

You can cycle, certainly. Your four-year-old has a bike now, though, and despite it being covered in pictures of dancing fairies with gossamer wings, it inexplicably weighs 50kg. She can’t ride it, and it turns out you have literally no idea what to say to change that. And then, suddenly, after four hours of tears (hers and yours), it clicks. Off she goes, helter-skelter down a hill, and your heart nearly bursts with joy. At which point you realise you haven’t taught her how to brake.