What 13 Dads Wish They Knew About Themselves Before Having Kids

Knowing thyself goes a long way to being a good parent.

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Parenthood comes with a lot of questions. From the ones you ask your partner (Why isn’t the baby sleeping? What if our parents were right?) to the ones you ask your kids directly (What is that in your mouth? Who wants ice cream!?). Of course, most of the questions are those you’ll ask yourself along the way: Will I be a good parent? Do I know what I’m doing? Do the kids know I’m learning as I go?

Looking back, a lot of dads wish they asked themselves a few more pressing questions before they became fathers — questions that, they say, would’ve helped them understand themselves a bit better. That’s why we asked a handful of men to look back and tell us what they wish they knew about themselves before they became parents. Self-interrogation, we realized, is crucial to understanding what trouble areas might arise and how parents can best account for them. Parent or not, understanding a bit more about yourself is always helpful.

How Much Fun I’d Have

“Everybody seems to hate on ‘today’s kids’, or whatever, and wish for the simpler days when you had to go outside to have fun, and kids knew the value of playing with their friends, and blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I call bullshit. That’s just parents being jealous that today’s kids’ toys, games and movies are so awesome. I grew up in the 90s and 2000s, so I was happy with all of my stuff. It was cool. But, kids today get to play with everything from virtual reality to robot coding. How can you hate on that? I’m glad I’m not one of those parents who refuses to let their kids play with what interests them, just because it’s a toy or a video game. I would’ve had kids a lot sooner if I’d known I’d get to play with all this awesome stuff, too.” – Jim, 34, Ohio

How Grossed Out I Would Be

“I was always the guy in college who would eat or drink anything on a dare. I just didn’t get grossed out – at least not to the point of physically gagging – very easily. But the first time I had to clean up my son’s mess, I puked in the toilet. I think it was shock more than anything. My wife confirmed that it was an unusually substantial amount of poop, so I was a rookie boxer fighting Mike Tyson in my first match. But, it definitely shook me. Obviously, I had to adapt – changing diapers was going to be my life for a while – and I did. But that first bombshell definitely made me realize everything I thought I knew about myself would be challenged raising a kid.” – Kirk, 32, Oregon

How Much More My Job Would Mean to Me

“I work in an industry where there are a lot of layoffs, and a lot of turnover. So, I’d been let go from jobs plenty of times before. I’d gotten good at rolling with the punches and bouncing back strong, but my attitude changed dramatically when I lost my job after having our first child. It was my confidence. Suddenly, the weight of the world wasn’t just mine — it was my entire family’s. I was shaken to the core, because I thought that the stakes were so high and I’d never recover. So much pressure – mostly from myself. Having a kid reframes your self-confidence in a way that makes every accomplishment or failure so much more meaningful. So, even in the exact same situation of losing a job, I felt completely different and more helpless.” – Matt, 38, Ohio

That I’d Think Teenagers Were Pretty Cool (Mostly)

“My son is 14 now, and he’s by far the coolest person I know. I was terrified that he’d become a typical teenager, and I’d have to deal with constant mouthing off, and getting into trouble, and all the standard stuff you’re told to worry about once your kids hit ‘that age’. But – and maybe I got lucky – my son has become a wonderful young man, and I feel like waving him in the face of everyone who told me I should fear him becoming a teenager. It’s not just him, either. His friends are all incredibly polite and kind, respectful, and genuine. They have fun. They cause mischief. But they’re not the cast of Dangerous Minds I was told they’d be.” – Brandon, 45, North Carolina

How Guilty I’d Feel About Hating Parenting

“Before I had kids, people – mainly my parents – told me to ‘enjoy every moment, because you’ll blink and it’ll all be over.’ It made me feel so guilty on those nights I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry because I wasn’t enjoying being a parent. Full disclosure: I don’t think there’s anything glamorous or enjoyable about the actual parenting part of having kids. What’s fun – those moments that you’ll blink and miss – come as a result from all the grueling, hard work you put in on those nights you just want to wave the white flag. No one told me that. So, it really messed with my psyche when I’d start to resent my kid for shitting his diaper three times in two hours instead of taking a fond mental picture and storing it away in my heart.” – Jason, 36, West Virginia

That I’m a Pushover

“I didn’t realize how much of a softie I am until I had kids. It’s very easy to get me to say, ‘Yes’ to everything, because I’m just not one for confrontation. Especially if I like you. So, when my kids learned to take advantage of that, I had to regroup and realize that I wasn’t doing them any favors by giving in all the time. It wasn’t even the actual ‘stuff’ they’d ask for, like extra video game time, or unnecessary new clothes, or whatever. It was the concept of whining until you get what you want. That’s not a lesson I want to teach them. That’s not how the world works. Or, at least, it’s not how I want the world to work for them, ya know? So, I had to take responsibility. And it sucked. I cringed the first time I said, ‘It’s for your own good.’ Ugh.” – Paul, 39, Florida

How Powerless Parenting Could Make You Feel

“Plans and schedules are nice, in theory. But, in practice, all they do is make you feel like you have no control. It’s like Jurassic Park, where they try to get the dinosaurs to show up on the tour – you can’t expect a young child to stick to your routine. He or she is going to eat when he or she is hungry, sleep when he or she is tired, and do everything else when he or she feels like it. And it just makes you feel so impotent. Like you try to start off right by feeding your kid healthy. But he or she won’t eat. Just won’t eat. Then he or she starts losing weight. So the doctor says that any calories are important at this point and, before you know it, your plan to raise a vegan baby is ruined. I have three kids now, so I’ve learned that adaptation and flexibility are my best friends. You’re not incompetent or a bad parent – you’re just not as in control as you’d like to be.” – Aaron, 39, Toronto

How Judgmental I Could Be

“Before I had kids, I used to sneer and snicker every time I’d see an unruly child in public. I’d get annoyed and think, ‘My kid would never act like that.’ Of course not, right? I was going to be the perfect parent, and raise the perfect child. A child incapable of ever acting up. I was such a judgy asshole, and I want to sincerely apologize to any struggling parent I ever looked up-and-down. Before having kids, I didn’t know any better. I figured kids would do what you told them to if you were a good parent. I forgot that they’re living, breathing creatures with the capacity to just go crazy at a moment’s notice. Obviously, I had a lot to learn.” – K.J., 39, Colorado

That I Was Capable of So Much Love

“It’s probably a corny answer, but it’s very true. The love for your children completely dwarfs the love for anyone else in your life. Your spouse, your family, your friends – you love all these people dearly. But the love you feel for your children is just on a completely different level. And, when you first experience it, it scares the shit out of you because you think back to all of the other times that, for whatever reason, love has made you hurt. It’s a risk you have to assume, and it’s awesome and terrifying at the same time. It’s awesome because literally every little thing this tiny, new person does charges your heart with energy, and terrifying because you know there’s a chance he or she might get sick, hurt, or sad. It’s a rush that hasn’t let up since my first daughter was born, honestly.” – Jordan, 35, Florida

I’m Not As Patient As I Thought

“I’ve always kept a pretty cool head about most things. I can get into arguments with people and stay calm, and talk and act rationally. If I’m stuck in traffic, it’s no big deal. I used to think those were signs of impressive patience, until we had our son. As he grew up, I learned what real patience meant. It has nothing to do with talking about politics or navigating rush hour. Real patience keeps you from breaking down in the middle of the night when you haven’t slept for two days. And it lets you be a good husband when you’ve had a bad week, but your wife is about to lose her mind. It’s easy to be patient when you’re not worried about the life and welfare of another human being. So my scope of patience has definitely been challenged since becoming a dad.” – Will, 33, Indiana

That I’m Skeptical of Everyone.

“Babysitters. Teachers. Companies. Everyone is out to harm my child. (laughs) I know that’s not true, but it’s how I first felt after becoming a parent. I was so protective that I became skeptical of everyone and everything that had a chance to impact my son’s health and safety. As he grew up, and as we interacted with more people and products who would play roles in his life, I lightened up. But I never would’ve pegged myself for, really, an infant conspiracy theorist during those first few years. My wife says I’ve been like that about everything. Guess I never realized?” – Jay, 39, New York

How Much I Love Personal Space

“And now, with a three-year-old, it doesn’t exist. I miss it. And I never, ever appreciated it. I used to have time and space to myself when I would get home from work, and I could just chill and relax before easing in to the evening. But now, it’s like nothing is sacred. Not my chair. Not our bed. Nothing. I sound like an asshole, I know. And it’s totally a case of not knowing what you have until it’s gone. I actually cherish my desk at work, because with toys and stuff everywhere at home, personal space is a thing of the past.” – Robert, 37, Connecticut

That I Should’ve Been in Better Shape

“I didn’t know that my physical well-being would have such an impact on my role as a parent. Even when our daughter wasn’t super active, I was struggling to stay awake, and to sleep, and to keep up with the hectic schedule of caring for her. It was physically demanding, and much more exhausting than it should have been. You have to be in shape to have a kid. It’s a lot of work. Like a lot of work. And the physical part is the easy part. That’s the part that you can control most directly, by not becoming a slob. If you let that go, it gives way to mental instability, emotional instability, and all sorts of other problems. The day you find out you’re pregnant, start doing some squats or Zumba or something. It’ll help come crunch time.” – Jeff, 38, New Jersey

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