The Advice 5 American Dads Would Give Their Pre-Dad Selves

From mastering the ‘Dad Look’ to owning a good corkscrew

By Walker Loetscher

The Advice 5 American Dads Would Give Their Pre-Dad Selves
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29 June 2018

This is the final installment of The Dad Diaries, a three-part series in which we grill five American men from unique familial situations on the greatest undertaking of their lives: fatherhood. Be sure to check out Part One (on rules and discipline) and Part Two (on the impacts fatherhood makes on a man himself) if you missed them.


‘Use babysitters, friends and relatives like mules.’

That’s sage parenting advice directly from the source: a 64-year-old father of two.

It’s but one nugget of wisdom you’ll find in the final installment of the Dad Diaries, in which we ask five dads about the advice they would give their pre-dad selves.

When (if at all) should you start saving? How do you make a teenager listen? And is it possible to sleep with a baby in the room?

From mastering the ‘Dad Look’ to the importance of owning a good corkscrew, here’s what they told us.


Chip H., 36
Los Angeles

Profession: Music Supervisor
Kids: One boy, 2 years old
Marital status: Divorced
Dual income? No

If you could give your pre-parental self one piece of advice about raising a kid, what would it be? Do NOT take the task so seriously. Be serious in terms of your child’s protection and well-being, but don’t be afraid to get silly with him as well. Also start saving.  

How and when did you/will you start to prepare financially for your kids to go to college? I imagine it will still be a couple years before I am financially in a place to start saving for college.

Do you have any significant financial regrets? Absolutely I have regrets. I have had a couple windfalls of financial luck throughout the years, but they came far too early in life, before I knew how to properly manage them. Inheritances or large bonuses from work. I squandered it all before too long. This was well before becoming a parent. I’d like to think I would treat it differently today.

Do you have any tips/tricks for staying sane or buying yourself some alone time with young kids? If you are claiming you don’t have time for yourself, you’re just being lazy. You can always make time. Otherwise, you are just using your kids as an excuse to not treat yourself well, and this kind of thinking will get you in the long run, if not by affecting your physical health surely it will hurt your mental health. Lean on the people in your life who want to support you. They are there. You have to be willing to ask for the help. There is no room for pride in being a good parent.

What is one thing you’ve copied from how your parents raised you? I will insist on my son finishing college. That was the model my parents taught me, even when I wanted to leave school at times. I am grateful for their dedication to my education, and without a doubt will emulate that in my own parenting.

What about an example of something you’ve purposefully done differently? I constantly reinforce to my son that he is already perfect just the way he is. Even though he is only two, I believe he receives this message when I relay it to him. I assure him that it’s OK if he messes up. I have a terrible time managing my emotions when I mess something up, and I believe that I can break that cycle with my son by relaying to him early that he is perfectly imperfect.

Any advice for steering kids away from potentially troubling friendships? Stay involved in their lives. Ask questions. Know who they are spending time with. Don’t smother, but be interested and reassure them that they can always come to you with questions in life.

When your child has a conflict with a peer or friend in your presence, do you tend to step in or let them handle it? My son is only two, so I have yet to deal with this on a larger level. The closest I have experienced is small conflicts over sharing with kids at the park, in which case I prefer to take a step back and observe how my child handles the situation. I can learn a lot more about my child by approaching it this way. He doesn’t always need me to intervene. I prefer to let him develop his own interpersonal skills this way.

Do you have a go-to dad joke? How do you make a tissue dance? Put a little boogie in it.

If you could give new dads/future dads a single piece of advice, what would it be? Stay open minded, and don’t have expectations over how your child is going to behave. Especially when they are young. Let them be. It’s their life to live. You are there for support, to offer structure and provide security. The rest is up to them.

What was/is the one ...

Item you couldn’t live without in the first year of your kid’s life? A really good diaper bag. Treat this like an investment, because you will live out of it.
Song or movie your kid was obsessed with that drove you nuts? Just Google “Baby Shark Song.” I apologize in advance.
Piece of media or pop culture your kid has introduced you to that you genuinely love? He grabbed my Amazon Echo one day and prompted Alexa to play “Top Pop” and Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF” came on. I would have glossed over that song had he not done that.
Tactic that always made your kids quiet down and/or listen to you? Making your voice match your intention. If you are yelling at your kids to “Stop yelling!”, it sends a mixed signal.
Indispensable piece of dad tech? My iPhone
Book or resource on parenting that helped you most? Besides his Grandma? I am grateful to have found the book Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime. It educated me on how to approach raising a child in divorce.


Nicholas L., 64
Vail, Colorado

Profession: Retired high-school English teacher
Kids: One daughter (34), one son (30)
Marital status: Married 38 years
Dual income? Yes

If you could give your pre-parental self one piece of advice about raising a kid, what would it be? I am impatient and my wife is stubborn, so try to be more patient and less stubborn. The kids will figure this out anyway.

How and when did you start to prepare financially for your kids to go to college? We had jack for savings; fortunately, there are loans and scholarships.

Do you have any significant financial regrets? I never think about money. Life is too valuable for that.

Did you/do you have any tips/tricks for staying sane or buying yourself some alone time with young kids? Use babysitters, friends and relatives like mules.

Is there anything you and your partner have done to maintain a strong relationship throughout your life as parents? I love my wife dramatically and I’ve always wanted her to know that, and I wanted the kids to know that, too.

What is one thing you’ve copied from how your parents raised you? My mom taught me how to swim and my dad taught me how to cut up a chicken. Everyone should know how.

What about an example of something you’ve purposefully done differently? The whole Catholic thing has kind of fallen by the wayside. So now we’re all fallen, which the Church informed us of anyway.  

Any advice for steering kids away from potentially troubling friendships? I watched my kids experience the happiness and bitterness of friendship, and now they have real good friends. They had to figure this out for themselves, but I think I always tried to show them how to be friendly.

When your child had a conflict with a peer or friend in your presence, did you tend to step in or let them handle it? The sooner they learn it’s their handle, the better.

Do you have a go-to dad joke? What’s brown and sounds like a bell? Dung. Kids should know about wordplay and scatology from an early age. That’s what puns and sh*t are for. Raise a kid with a good sense of humor, or you’ll be sorry.

If you could give new dads/future dads a single piece of advice, what would it be? Again, the most important thing you can do for them is love their mother.

What was/is the one ...

Item you couldn’t live without in the first year of your kid’s life: A swingy thing to put them to sleep.
Song or movie your kid was obsessed with that drove you nuts: Anything by Raffi.
Piece of media or pop culture your kid has introduced you to that you genuinely love? This Boom carryaround speaker I got for Father’s Day is pretty cool.
Tactic that always made your kids quiet down and/or listen to you? You’ve got to get in their face and look them right in the eye when it means business.
Indispensable piece of dad tech? You’re asking the wrong guy.
Book or resource on parenting that helped you most? All the great books are the best books. They will teach you more about being human than any cheap substitute. Read all the really good stuff, and encourage them to do the same.


Gavin L., 42
New York City

Profession: Designer, actor, writer and entrepreneur
Kids: Two — ages 5 and 6
Marital status: Partnered
Dual income? If you can call the inconsistencies of a C-rate acting career and fostering a nascent fashion startup “salaried,” then yes — we are dual-income. My partner’s a conductor. He’s more stably paid than I am.

If you could give your pre-parental self one piece of advice about raising a kid, what would it be? Parenting is torture sprinkled with bouts of extreme boredom and smatterings of extreme joy. No matter the white-washed sheen of everyone else’s Facebook postings, everyone else is just trying to get by, too. We’re all just winging it. So … you’re not alone. Give yourself a break and just keep the kids alive and fed.

How and when did you/will you start to prepare financially for your kids to go to college? Within a few months of the first kid’s birth, we wrote our wills and set up life insurance that included financial planning for college savings plans that made automatic deposits. And now we have to eat rice and beans.

Do you have any significant financial regrets? We didn’t need to buy so much stuff. You need diapers, clothes and a stroller. Until the kid’s two-and-a-half, they don’t need any toys. They’re just as happy with a wooden spoon and a few Tupperware containers. All the stuff is overwhelming and unnecessary.

Did you/do you have any tips/tricks for staying sane or buying yourself some alone time with young kids? I’m still searching for such relief. But TV is the best, cheapest babysitter. Use it sparingly, so when you really need it, you have some relief.

Is there anything you and your partner have consciously done to maintain a strong relationship throughout your life as parents? The weekly date nights that we constantly say we need to do, but with which we rarely follow through.

What is one thing you’ve copied or plan to copy from how your parents raised you? My mom inspired me with her whimsical, impulsive approach to traveling. She put me in the car alongside her and just drove. She never let my age, cultural awareness or education level stop her from exploring the world. She just took me along and I dealt with it. (I usually complained about it all, but I remember a shocking amount, too.)

What about an example of something you’ve purposefully done/will do differently? My mom was preoccupied with the cleanliness of the house. Everything had to be immaculate before she’d entertain. I hope my kids will always feel comfortable making their house a gathering place and I won’t get caught up in cleanliness as a limiting factor.

Any advice for steering kids away from potentially troubling friendships? Keep your mouth shut. The more you bad-mouth a peer to steer your child away, the more they’re drawn, like a moth to a fire. Listen intently when the kids might mention the bad aspects of troubling friends, and foster the conversation and their own thoughts. But keep your opinion to yourself.

When your child has/had a conflict with a peer or friend in your presence, do you tend to step in or let them handle it? Keep my mouth shut and hope we can debrief afterward.

If you could give new dads/future dads a single piece of advice, what would it be? Let your kids get bored and don’t cater to their temper tantrums, ever. When you say No, you have to mean it, and dragging your kid out of that first restaurant/movie/store for bad behavior means you’ll never have to do it again.

What was/is the one ...

Item you couldn’t live without in the first year of your kid’s life? My iPhone — to surreptitiously scroll as I pretended to play Thomas the Train.
Song or movie your kid was obsessed with that drove you nuts? Thomas the Train
Piece of media or pop culture your kid has introduced you to that you genuinely love? In retrospect, Thomas the Train. I desperately miss the simple, sweet Island of Sodor now that we are moving into snide “mean girl” behavior in Disney shows.
Tactic that always made your kids quiet down and/or listen to you? Um … yelling? I’m still trying to figure that out.
Indispensable piece of dad tech? A corkscrew
Book or resource on parenting that helped you most? Bringing Up Bebe, an indispensable study of an entire culture that generally avoids raising assholes by using techniques that are centuries old (as opposed to obsessing over the latest parenting trends). It’s the only parenting guide anyone needs.


Barney R., 47
New Jersey

Profession: Consultant
Kids: Two boys, 15 and 12
Marital status: Married
Dual income? Sort of

If you could give your pre-parental self one piece of advice about raising a kid, what would it be? Make a solid financial plan.

Do you have any significant financial regrets? Nothing significant, just small things that were probably unnecessary. Some years, Christmas time was overboard, especially between ages 5 and 9.

Did you have any tips/tricks for staying sane or buying yourself some alone time when your kids were little? Currently, I love the commute to/from work. I get on the train and I’m all alone. It’s great!

Is there anything you and your partner have consciously done to maintain a strong relationship throughout your life as parents? We try and have a date night at least once a month and we attend concerts whenever a favorite band is in town. If we can get away to Philly or somewhere close for an overnight, we do.

What is one thing you’ve copied from how your parents raised you? I have a brother who is three years older than me and we both played soccer and spent our summers at the beach. I have the exact same situation with my younglings. It’s how I grew up and it’s how they are growing up and I love it.

What about an example of something you’ve purposefully done differently? I am much more transparent with my children than my parents were with me.

Any advice for steering kids away from potentially troubling friendships? Just be open and don’t beat around the bush. If, as a parent, you get a bad feeling about a friend, then probe. If you see behavior that you do not approve of, tell your child and be specific. Ultimately, it is their choice who they choose to befriend and spend time with. If it is a bad choice, there will be natural consequences that will become apparent, and I would hope our child would want to avoid that in the future.

When your child has a conflict with a peer or friend in your presence, do you tend to step in or let them handle it? I let them handle it.

Do you have a go-to dad joke? At the moment, it is about how I rack up wins in Fortnite.

If you could give new dads/future dads a single piece of advice, what would it be? Let your kids make their own decisions and openly discuss those decisions. Provide advice, especially advice that can be backed up by actual experience, and then let them decide on their own.

What was/is the one ...

Item you couldn’t live without in the first year of your kid’s life? The Bob stroller
Song or movie your kid was obsessed with that drove you nuts? TV show: Caillou
Piece of media or pop culture your kid has introduced you to that you genuinely love? Kendrick Lamar
Tactic that always made your kids quiet down and/or listen to you? Something I got from my father: The Dad Look.
Indispensable piece of dad tech? The iPhone does it all
Book or resource on parenting that helped you most? Family and friends


Reese G., 37
Brea, Orange County, CA

Profession: Stay-at-home dad
Kids: One boy, 29 months old
Marital status: Married
Dual-income: Not currently. When an opportunity presents itself, I occasionally engage in business projects.

If you could give your pre-parental self one piece of advice about raising a kid, what would it be? Two things: One, parenting is complicated. In the end it’s about doing the best you can every single time. And two, get an itemized bill from the hospital where you have your kid and check it carefully line by line.

How and when did you start to prepare financially for your kids to go to college? We started with a tax-free 529 Account within days of his birth. We make the maximum contribution every year.

Do you have any significant financial regrets? Not really. We got pretty lucky and were pretty solid financially. Maybe I would have bought Google stock or a bunch of bitcoin when they were super new and cheap ... ha!

Do you have any tips/tricks for staying sane or buying yourself some alone time with young kids? I stay up late, after the rest of the family is in bed and my responsibilities for the day are ended. It’s my uninterrupted free time.

Is there anything you and your partner have consciously done to maintain a strong relationship throughout your life as parents? Talk through everything. We still get upset with each other sometimes, but we make the effort to work out any problems and not let them sit or stagnate. Waiting to fix problems only makes them worse.

What is one thing you’ve copied or plan to copy from how your parents raised you? We read to our son a lot, many times a day, every day, in two languages — 10+ different books per day, several of them two or three times, is not unusual.

What about an example of something you’ve purposefully done/will do differently? Both my wife’s and my own parents used spanking as a form of punishment. We don’t do spanking.

If you could give new/future dads a single piece of advice, what would it be? For those of you who move to formula early like we did: you can feed a young baby without waking them up. They will suckle at a nipple instinctively, so when you’ve got their nighttime feeding schedule down, feed them 10 minutes before they wake up to eat. They will finish feeding and continue sleeping through the night. It will save you countless hours of sleep. It turns what can be a two-hour job into a comparatively painless 15 minutes. My wife’s brother taught us this trick and it worked beautifully.

What was/is the one ...

Item you couldn’t live without in the first year of your kid’s life? There are a million devices that make life easier during that first year. More valuable than all of them is your sense of humor.
Song or movie your kid was obsessed with that drove you nuts? Currently it’s the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. What a dumb book.
Tactic that always makes your kid quiet down? Distraction and redirection. Small kids have a short attention span. Strategically changing the subject of their focus will solve many of your small problems.
Indispensable piece of dad tech? The camera on my mobile phone. Take lots of photos!
Book or resource on parenting that helped you most? Outside of your own parents, other people with kids are a great resource. Don’t be afraid to discuss your challenges with people who have done it before. That single mom from work probably knows more about the difficulties of raising kids than any book you can buy, and will appreciate that someone wants to hear her hard-earned wisdom.

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