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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

On Being A Dad

Robert Manni - Thursday, June 15, 2017


I thought the task of being an older dad would be easy. More life experience, more patience, more self-acceptance. I was wrong. Being a dad is not an easy task, but the job has become more and more fascinating with each passing year.

Since I only got married seven years ago and never pictured myself as a father, when my wife got pregnant I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to expect. Regardless of all the books I’d read on the subject (none) or the classes I took (none) to help me face the mysteries of fatherhood, I knew I’d be in for lots of surprises and priceless life lessons.

I consider my wife the smartest person I know, so thankfully I’d have someone who knew what they were doing at the wheel at least during infancy. I thought I would step up once the kid was ready for little league. That was selfish and dumb, and it didn’t turn out that way. I’ve been totally immersed in fatherhood since the moment I caught my son in the delivery room four years ago. I thought I’d learn about being a dad along the way, and as a result I made my share of miscalculations and blunders. Yet my wife tells me that overall, I’m a good dad. Here’s a snap shot of how the first few years have played out and the key takeaways I’ve been gifted since my son was born.

Year one was all about eating, sleeping, pooping, and crying. Mom and son really bonding here, folks. Sure, I wiped his butt, changed diapers, etc., and did my best in taking a load off my wife, but a powerful connection was forged between mother and child during this critical first year. Year two was less intense and highlighted by movement and awakenings. First he crawled, then he pulled himself up, and finally he stumbled a few steps. He still ate, slept and pooped a lot, but so do I, and now he was mobile and demonstrating his distinctive personality traits.

I was under the assumption that half of his personality would be like me and the other half like my wife. Wrong. Although he shares our strong personalities, he is, and has been, his own little person from the get go. He began showing more of his willful personality during year two. I noticed how focused he was and how he never let go of something once he got locked in. He was developing his likes and dislikes. During this time, he walked, even ran a bit, and smiled a lot.

My wife and I are big readers, so we read books to him and like magic, he connected with the stories we picked out. And like most kids, he wanted us to read him the same books over and over again. I don’t know what it is about Goodnight Moon that hits the spot with kids, but they love that book. At two, my son also loved The Giving Tree along with the many Dr Seuss books. There are so many great kids books that stimulate a child’s imagination and I highly recommend devoting ample time to reading to your child. It makes a difference in how they develop their imagination and process language. We only allow gentle videos, like old school Disney films as a reward for taking his nap and having a good day at school. By the time my little guy turned three, he began waking and getting out of bed on his own, and slipping out to the living room where he could be found each morning flipping through stacks of books on the couch.

Socialization can be tricky for toddlers. My son has always been super upbeat and friendly, so he has no anxiety and makes friends easily. During years two and three he evolved from being the victim to occasionally being the perpetrator, or the one who pushes at the playground. But that was a short segment that most kids go through. Over a short time, he developed a natural empathy for others and learned how to quickly make connections with the other kids. Now he talks to adults, kids, neighbors, strangers, and animals. I’ve never seen a kid so comfortable in his on skin. This outgoing and friendly behavior will serve him well in life. During his threes, he also developed a penchant for art, drawing pictures, and playing cards and board games. Unfortunately, due random circumstances, he was forced to attend three separate Pre K 3 schools in one year. But it’s worked out and he has his sights on moving to Pre K 4 at a bigger school in the fall.

Overall, year three was about transitions. I’m proud to say that he handled all the changes like a champ. And like a true New Yorker he has friends of all races, creeds and cultures. New York City has its drawbacks for raising kids, but it also has the parks and activities that provide a wonderful environment for opening young minds. Now, our little guy is four. He knows what he likes and does not hold back on letting anyone know. He picks out his clothes. He tells us what playground he wants to hang in, and he knows that if he doesn’t take a nap he’s not getting a cookie or a video.

Parents are the first mirror for a child, but teaching works both ways. With the help of my wife, I am learning what approaches work best while I attempt to elicit the desired response from my child. That means getting him to listen up and do what I need him to do when I ask him. Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I’m a get-it-done, task-oriented person. I do my thing and allow others to do theirs. All I ask is for people to pay attention, be present and do their job. Kind of like Bill Belechik. Unfortunately, that’s football and business, and not how things work with kids, especially with sensitive souls like my son.

When I ask him to do something-- like follow me to the bathroom so I can brush his teeth before we head for school-- he often ignores me. This type of situation is commonplace and can become tedious. Being an unschooled dad, I used to get upset in these situations, and it backfired. My son picks up on my energy, so if I don’t project the proper tone in my voice, he would run away. What’s the answer? Watch what my wife did. And she uses blackmail. So, now if he ignores me when I call to him and he does not respond, I tell him there will be no cookies or videos in the near future. And it works. Now he listens and, at least usually, comes running by the time I count to two. I’m also reprioritizing my schedule and making sure that I am more present when I am with my son. I fight the urge now (and usually win) when it comes to not taking out my phone on the bus or subway. I realize how lucky I am to have the time to spend with my little boy. When I was a kid my father traveled constantly, so I’m making up for those absences of quality father-son time while I have it.

So, what is fatherhood all about if not teaching your child about the world while learning more about yourself and life at the same time? Sounds about right to me. I highly recommend becoming a father to any guy who is ready when that special opportunity comes their way.

This week’s GUY’S GUY OF THE WEEK is my dad, Serge Manni. He recently turned ninety-two and has lived an amazing, full life. I can only hope I’ll do the same and also be a shining example of how to be a man for my son…even if I’m still learning.

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