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13 Major Life Lessons Dads Learned From Parenting in 2019

We asked fathers to look back on 2019 and share the lessons they learned about being dads in 2019. Here's what they said.

For dads, life lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Some are simple: don’t change a baby facing the wind. Others are more complex: Your moods effect your kids in ways you can’t underestimate. As we mark another year, we wanted to highlight some lessons parents learned in these 365 days. Now, plenty of important parenting lessons were learned in 2019. We learned that eight extraordinary kids can, in fact, be simultaneous National Spelling Bee champs. We learned that tweens and teens might be the ones who save our planet. And we learned that you’re never, ever too old to appreciate Cookie Monster.

But, for these 13 dads, 2019 was also about introspection, reverence, and feelings of outright awe, all inspired by their children. So what lessons did these dads learn? Some learned about overcoming challenges, while others learned about celebrating victories. Some gave advice, while others took it. All of them are ready to close out this year with an eye on the next, and use what they’ve learned to level up their dad game and become the best fathers they can. Fatherhood is, after all, a constant learning experience. 

How to Be Patient — And Stand My Ground

“Having a stubborn 16-year-old who also has a girlfriend is a constant lesson in patience and meditation. Every day our son challenges us and pushes the limits, and every day I have to take a moment to center myself and respond rationally. ‘I want to go to my girlfriend’s house!’ ‘You can’t, because you haven’t finished your assignments yet, and they’re due tomorrow.’ ‘I don’t care. Doing good in school is for nerds!’ Those types of interactions are pretty commonplace these days. We have to lay down the law, then he storms up the stairs telling us that no other parents treat their kids like this. He tries to push our buttons. ‘All my friends say you guys are too strict!’ It takes a ton of patience not to haul off and slug him. Or tell him his girlfriend will run off with Joe College while he’s inflating bike tires at the gas station.” – Kendall, 46, New York 

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How to Truly Show Appreciation

“Life has gone by incredibly fast and my wife and I are on our own a lot more. So, when we have the family together, it’s a really special occasion. Just having everyone under one roof for a night feels like a gift. So we are both really trying to appreciate those times when we’re all together, and also appreciate the time that the two of us have gotten back. The speed at which the last nineteen years has gone is a reminder to me that the sand runs out of the hourglass faster than you think, and you don’t get to put it back. So we try to make every second count.” – John, 44, New Jersey 

The Power of  Forgiveness

“My son screwed up a lot this year. I won’t get into specifics, but he made some really bad choices, hung out with the wrong crowd, and generally tested us at every chance he got. So, for me, it was a year of forgiveness. He’s a good kid, but he’s at that age where there’s just so much temptation to be an asshole, ya know? And I believe he’s made a lot of bad decisions in that regard. But I have seen growth. I’ve seen him take responsibility for his actions. And that’s what I try to remember when it comes time to forgive him for his mistakes.” – Jim, 41, Ohio

That I Need to Relax More

“I went to the doctor for a yearly checkup, and found out that my blood pressure was dangerously high. It’s been a stressful year, for sure, and I guess I just wasn’t dealing with it too well. I told my wife and kids what the doctor said, and they were quick to enact ‘Dad’s Relaxation Plan’, which was a list of stuff I could do each day to just slow down and relax. Some of the things were little, but some – like take a walk as a family, or sit out on the back deck at night – became parts of my day that I wouldn’t trade. My family rallied around me, and helped me learn to calm down a little, which was a very special part of my year, and a great lesson as a husband and father.” – Dan, 40, Indiana

How to Express Empathy For My Daughters

“I really tried to work on my capacity for empathy this year, especially as a father. I have two girls, and it’s safe to say I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes. I used to think I tried my best, but I’m kind of realizing there might be more I can do to show compassion for what they go through. So, I’ve tried to make it clear to them that I want to listen and learn. It certainly didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve been consistent in my efforts and now they’re beginning to share things with me on a regular basis. It’s really helped me become the best father I can be.” – Billy, 39, Florida  

How to Regain My Independence

“It might sound weird, but I think I grew sort of codependent on my children. I’m a work-from-home dad, and it happened first with our first daughter. When she went to school for the whole day the first time, I actually felt pretty devastated. Our son came along shortly after, but this year he did the same thing and decided to abandon me. (laughs) I guess I’ve just had a solid six or seven years with some degree of ‘company’ during my days. This year, I had to make peace with the fact that I’ll never have that luxury again. Of course, I know it has to be this way, and I guess that’s why I’m proud to have regained some of my independence despite being bummed out about it.” – Charles, 37, North Carolina 

How to Be More Confident

“I’m a new dad, and I guess I always thought that if you prepared for fatherhood enough ahead of time, you’d be in a good spot when it was actually your turn. I was brainwashed. Having a now three-year-old son, I’ve realized just how much of fatherhood is purely instinctive, and how much parenting can vary from one family to the next, even when those families seem similar. All of the blogs, and books, and tips from friends are fine, but so many of them end up being worthless. Because you’re not raising their kids. You’re raising your own. This year, I learned how to be a lot more confident in doing that, and trusting my gut.” – Andy, 32, Pennsylvania

How to Change a Diaper Like a Boss

“We had our first son this year, and he made me a diaper ninja. I don’t want to brag, but I think I’m a pretty elite diaper-ist. On the surface, diapering is a terrible, disgusting thing. The mess, the smell…just the whole situation is completely unsavory. But, seeing his face after I get a new diaper on makes me so happy. He looks like he feels safe, and secure. And clean! Even though I’m an adult, as a human being I can totally relate to the comfort and satisfaction of all three. So, I’ve taken pride in putting on every diaper — even the ones at 2 am — with care and love. And I’ve become a master of my craft, to both of our delights.” – Neil, 30, California

How Much My Attitude Affects My Kids

“I learned just how much my attitude can affect my kids. I think a lot of us were challenged by 2019. Especially as a parent, there was just so much bullshit in the news every single day that you almost run out of explanations. That’s what happened to me, at least. My son is 12 and my daughter is 14, so they’re both at ages where they’ve become aware and inquisitive. So, when talking with them about the garbage that’s going on in our country, I found it helpful to try and maintain a sense of positivity. Not ignorance or unawareness, but a conscious effort to seek out good, and dwell on that whenever possible. I think that mindset helped my outlook as much as it did my kids’.” – Jonah, 40, Oregon

How Hard It Is to Be a Kid Today

“One day earlier this year my daughter came home in tears because someone had said something mean to her. I asked who it was, and she said she didn’t know. Wait, what? Turned out she was upset by an anonymous comment made by someone about one of her social media photos. That’s when it hit me — I could never survive being a kid today. When I was their age, bullying was face-to-face, and usually very physical. Now kids can be bullied by other people – not even kids! – in other cities, states, and countries with ease. My daughter and I talked about the situation and, when the dust had settled, I told her how proud I was of her. And how much I respected her. It’s a tough, tough world for kids today, and she helped me learn to appreciate that.” – James, 39, Connecticut

That Showing Affection Is Essential, Even If It Embarrasses Your Kids

“This was the year that I didn’t give a shit about embarrassing my son with shows of affection. I wouldn’t say I made an effort to humiliate him, but I never missed a chance to hug him, kiss him, or tell him I loved him. I guess I just wanted those words — “I love you” — to always be the last words I said before we saw each other again, and the first words I said when we did. He’s almost a teenager, so his reactions are pretty typical. He doesn’t want to be rude, but he also doesn’t want to risk getting mocked. I get it. I hope what he’ll remember is how unafraid I’ve been when showing my affection to the people I love. That he’ll see it’s okay, and maybe learn how to do it, too, one day.” – Alex, 38, South Carolina

How Much of Parenting Is Common Sense

“This year I learned how much of parenting is common sense. If your kid is sick, take him to the doctor. If he’s sad, try to find out why and discuss it. If he’s angry, respect that. My son is 10, and I probably spent the first nine years of his life trying to do the ‘correct’ thing when it came to parenting. The problem is, there is no ‘correct’ thing. Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every family is different. So, how can you expect to apply a single parenting technique or principle across them all? It doesn’t work. That’s not to say tips aren’t helpful but, ultimately, I’ve learned to trust my common sense a lot more this year, and temper that advice with the realization that I’m a good man, and a good father, trying his best. And that’s good enough.” – Matt, 36, Texas

That My Kids Are Their Own Unique People

“Just like ‘parents’ is a very broad, sweeping term, ‘kids’ is a term that really seems to distill these truly unique, special little people down into something totally plain and boring. You hear, ‘Kids will love it!’ Or, ‘Kids will be kids!’ and, to a degree, that’s true. But, this year, I think I learned to appreciate my sons and daughter as individuals who just don’t fit into any of those molds. And that’s a great thing. I think it’s a combination of my own realization and them being able to express themselves, and their interests, more clearly. I think it’s normal to find comfort in the uniformity of certain behaviors and tendencies, especially when it comes to parenting, but I’m loving the process of learning that my kids are completely their own people, and I can’t wait to watch that grow even more.” – Brian, 39, Ohio