Dad 101

My wife, Jenny, and I are expecting our first child this fall, and if you’ve done nothing more than look at the name of this site, you can guess I might be in over my head. Fortunately, my good friend Tom, who made it through living with me back in college, already has two kids of his own and generously offered to share some of his wisdom with me. Inspired by the Bill Simmons/Malcolm Gladwell exchanges on Grantland, we decided to do this over e-mail. What you have below is a transcript of those messages, sent back and forth over the course of a week, with some visual/video aids added for clarity.

I still don’t know if I’m prepared to be a dad, but I do feel better now.

Ted

Buckner the Dog

Buckner the dog. I’m pretty good with things on leashes.

So it’s 6:21 on Saturday morning and I’m up to feed Buckner the dog breakfast—as I have been pretty much every other day for the last two years. This seems like it would be good preparation for fatherhood. Er go (Am I using that right? It’s really early), the only possible conclusion is that I’m completely prepared for this baby to get here, yeah?

Can you tell I’ve been watching Orphan Black on BBC America?

Anyway, this is all a tremendous relief. I’m going to back to bed.

Tom

First, I want to say I am honored you are allowing me to be a sherpa through this experience. You are already exhibiting fantastic decision making skills that will serve you well as a parent. I mean, who could give better advice than the guy who left his 8-month pregnant wife and two year old terror at home for a road trip to New Orleans? You are already a front-runner for dad of the year.

Please note, though, I cannot tell you everything about your pending membership to the “Dad’s Club.” To be honest, part of what keeps current members sane is the knowledge that we get to laugh at the pledges as they go through the hazing rituals. We all know more than we tell you, but if you don’t believe me, check out the sly grin and twinkle in the eye as you hear “Oh, It’s a wonderful time.” We are sadistic.

That being said, you do have a good start on this whole parenting thing. Baby steps, though (HA! Pun INTENDED). If you want to truly be prepared you can add the following to your morning routine:

  1. Do the whole spinning around with your nose on a baseball bat routine before taking the dog outside. This could simulate the complete disorientation from lack of sleep when the child arrives.
  2. Set up a military style obstacle course made up entirely of all the crap you will buy/receive from Babies “R” Us (Hint: wear steel toed shoes at all times, or be prepared for broken toes)
  3. Carry around an 8 lb bag of potatoes through items 1 and 2.
  4. If your breakfast caffeine is coffee, make sure it is cold before you drink it. If soda, make sure it is warm.
  5. Try watching your favorite shows with background noise. I suggest finding something similar to “Casino at 2 am.” This is the closest thing to all the crazy sounds that kids allegedly find soothing.

Ted

Cold coffee, you say? That is disturbing.

Ted on Bourbon Street

This is me on Bourbon Street the same weekend my wife found out she was pregnant. Obvious “Dad of the Year” material.

I mean, things could be worse than “Casino at 2 a.m.” Because as you’ll recall, I was the one who asked you to go to New Orleans when your wife was 8 months pregnant with your second child—notice I’m not calling the 2-year-old a “terror”; dads of the year don’t do that—where we spent a fair amount of time at Harrah’s. And we were just playing video poker. I have since added “lose money at the craps tables” to my repertoire, so I find myself right at home in a casino.

May be a problem for the college fund, though.

Also, I convinced Jenny that we needed to register for something called the Lil’ Luxuries Whirlpool, Bubbling Spa & Shower at Babies “R” Us. I figure if I don’t have a hot tub, that doesn’t mean my son can’t, right? (By the way, have I told you it’s a boy? It’s a boy. The royal family would love me.) So if I start busting my feet up on all his toys, it’s going to be pressed into double-duty as dad’s foot bath real quick.

But cold coffee? What are we, animals? This is going to linger.

Tom

I am glad you found out the gender. I never understood the rationale behind being surprised, and, frankly, found it quite pretentious. In my mind, these are the same people who say things like, “oh, the book was so much better” and look down at us for eating at chain restaurants. It’s also decidely un-American, as having the surprise goes against everything G.I. Joe taught us as kids. Don’t they understand “knowing is half the battle”? And this is a battle where you want as much intel as possible. For example, you now know that you need to focus more on your diaper changing speed. Male equipment is a dangerous weapon that can fire at any time in any direction.

I have also linked gambling to my children’s college funds. Unfortunately, the gaming is now limited to Fantasy Football, as casinos still frown on having your baby at a slot machine. It’s like their milk money isn’t good. Luckily, having a son means you only have to save for college, and not a wedding to boot, so you have time to turn your gambling fortunes around. Just keep upping the bets, eventually you will win big.

Ted

You’re the second person to warn me about this indiscriminate male baby urinating. Did we do this when we were infants? I find that hard to believe.

Oh, and by the way, I don’t know what casinos you’ve been going to (besides the New Orleans Harrah’s, of course), but from what I’ve seen, milk money would be legal tender for all debts public and private.

Tom

I hate to break it to you, but yes, we too went all over the place like the Biebs at a night club. Even worse, I guarantee your parents laughed, even if you happened to get yourself in the crossfire. It is one of the many stories your parents wouldn’t tell you until you joined the club. But now you are a provisional member, well, your relationship with your parents and in-laws is about to get a whole lot more real. Be prepared for many stories about your bathroom habits as a child. You too will pass on stories when you are about to be a grandparent. And the cycle continues. It’s the real Circle of Life. Cue Elton John.

Even worse, be prepared for stories about children bathroom misadventures to take a prominent position in your future social gatherings. I was at a cocktail event a couple weekends ago, with allegedly professional individuals, when stories were being swapped such as “my daughter was in her crib and somehow decided to use the contents of her diaper to make cave drawings on the wall.” I am not sure if I was more disturbed that the parents thought this was appropriate conversation, or that I almost spit my drink out through my nose while laughing. To make matters worse, if I did that, I would be the gross one. I had barely conquered normal social expectations, I was not prepared for the different parent code. Just thought you should know.

Ted

I hear that’s how Monet got his start.

But can we back up to Bieber for a minute? Are you as concerned about him as I am? I feel like he’s totally on the path to being the Britney Spears to Selena Gomez’s Justin Timberlake. When Brit and JT broke up, she was the mega star, and he was, to some extent, famous for dating her. Sure, he was the heart and soul of N’Sync, but how much staying power was that going to give him, really? But now, a decade or so later, he’s a legitimate musical artist AND actor, and she’s still making the same auto-tune bullshit she did 10 years ago and hosting the X-Factor.

I think Biebs and Selena are going to go the same way. He’s the bigger star right now, but she has way more upside—like EGOT upside. All he’s going to have left in a few years is those tattoos, his leopard-print car, and a pile of regret.

It would seem my paternal instinct is kicking in.

Tom

zombie family decal on a car's back window

The back window of an emotionally disturbed minivan.

I agree with your assessment for the most part, although I couldn’t be quite as eloquent. I would just say the dude’s a d-bag. However, my perspective is a little different since I have a daughter. Instead of focusing on the train wreck that is Bieber, I tend to focus on the “Beliebers” and have nightmares of taking my daughter and her friends to a concert (in a minivan, of course), worrying the whole time about whether her decisions about men will continue to be driven by terrible music and douchey behavior.

For the other side of your argument, just a word of warning that you should be careful when comparing Selena to JT. That will get people as fired up as you do when someone says LeBron is on the same level as Jordan. Just too soon, she hasn’t accomplished enough.

The one area where you went over the line, and I disagree wholeheartedly, was when you insinuated boy bands have no future. What are you talking about? New Kids on the Block are still touring, as are the Backstreet Boys. Hell, they even toured together, and, yes, I went. Danny Reagan himself came down from the NYPD to sing “Cover Girl.” (That is a Blue Bloods reference. When you are a parent you are home on Friday nights to watch.) But, back to the concert, it was awesome, and I am unapologetic for it.

I don’t care if such unapologetic behavior would cause some, if not all, to question whether the miracle of birth, in my children’s case, was surpassed by the miracle of conception (translation: how did this dude ever get laid?) Don’t care, still unapologetic about my boy bands.

Ranting aside, I am somewhat comforted by your focus on Justin Bieber, as it shows progress. You seem to be focusing on the later years in life when you have to point out cautionary tales, or at the very least you are worrying about the crap music your kid will listen to when he is aware of his existence. Does this mean you have gotten past the inevitable threshold question of “How in the hell will someone survive under my care?”

Ted

The only thing you should be embarrassed about is that Timberlake and Jordan are occupying the same tier in your analogy. Dude. It’s Michael JORDAN.

To your question: Of course I haven’t gotten past the “How in the hell will someone survive under my care?” threshold. I held a baby for the first time IN MY LIFE a month ago, and I looked like I was trying to harness the wind with my arms. I had made her laugh a lot before that, so everyone at the dinner table thought I was ready to take the next step. Apparently they forgot that humor is just kind of what I do. My site is “Ted Fox is Awesome,” not “Ted Fox is Daddy.”

That change would probably make it the destination for some interesting Google searches.

And look at my morning today: After I send this, I’m going to call the Milwaukee Brewers to see if they’ll let me hit a golf ball from home plate into the stands at Miller Park. Sure, it’s for a book I’m working on—reducing its randomness to the level of, say, you liking Blue Bloods—but is a person who thinks of something like that ready to be a child’s primary caregiver?

Don’t answer that.

Tom

Give yourself some credit. You are closer to fatherhood than you think, as finding creative ways to leave the house is very much a new dad thing to do. Just don’t ask a fellow member of the club about this when the wife is around. I am jealous of you, though, as being a humor author gives you an advantage over the rest of us. It gives almost any excuse viability. Case in point, trying to go hit a golf ball out of a MLB park. You have the equivalent of the dad chore “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

That settled, I want to ease your fear about being prepared to care for a child. Trust me, it is almost impossible for you not to be an above average parent. Let’s break down the math.

First, you HAVE to be better than at least 25% of the population, give or take a few percent, based purely on the fact that you aren’t a Kardashian, dance mom (or dad), Real Housewife cast member, or SEC football fan. Agreed? Moving on.

If you take out that 25%, it means you only have to beat out another 26% to be an above average parent, or 1 out of every remaining 3. As a good friend of mine said calmly before we walked in to take the bar exam* (where 2/3 of the takers passed), “I have never been in a room where I was in the dumbest 1/3 of the population, so there’s no way that starts now.” If you apply that philosophy to your level of preparedness for any life event, you will clearly beat out another 25% in any room of parents you enter. This gets your total of parents more inept than you to 50% before we even get to the merits of your dadness. You just have to find one additional father more traumatized than you to be above average. Boom.

See, don’t you feel better? I hope so, because my head hurts.

*#humblebrag

Ted

Wouldn’t there be a self-selection bias with regard to who is actually taking the bar? Because presumably, everyone in that room is pretty smart to begin with, so even if you had never previously been part of the dumbest 1/3 of the population, you very easily could be in that instance. Or am I giving lawyers too much credit?

See what I did there? I set it up so you, the lawyer, almost have to be the one to make a lawyer joke now. I would’ve been a great trial attorney. YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

Nevertheless, even if it does involve some arithmetic chicanery, your words are encouraging and have inspired me to think that “Yes, I CAN be in the 51st percentile of dads.” I imagine it would have been this same kind of ambitious thinking that would have gotten me through law school.

(I couldn’t be sure you’d go through with the lawyer joke, so I had to craft a backup plan. You understand.)

But say I want to soar above and beyond those 51 out of 100 dads and start flirting with the Top 25. What do I need to do?

Tom

Well played, sir. But to answer your first question, you are indeed giving attorneys WAAAAY too much credit. Take the guy representing my brother’s ex-wife. This guy thinks it is a good idea to have his profile photo in a blue jean shirt. Yes, you read that right. Nothing says, “Have confidence in me to represent you in a professional setting” like a healthy dose of denim. And this guy is nowhere near the worst, as he destroyed my brother’s choice of counsel, earning the nickname “The Blue Jean Bandit.” You can add to that my law school classmate who just got arrested, IN THE COURTROOM, for impersonating a retired attorney because he couldn’t pass the bar himself. And we haven’t even broached the topic of the billboard attorneys and those who have commercials with magical growing checks. Let’s just say the standard for law school is not nearly as high as you may imagine.

Moving on, I believe we may need a reintroduction as you have forgotten who I am. While your aspirations of being top quartile dad material are great, asking me how to be such an overachiever is clearly misguided. Instead, what I can do is offer some tips, based off of purely hypothetical situations of course, about areas that could possibly prevent you from meeting your objective.

  1. Don’t call the time when you are home alone with your child “babysitting.” Not sure why, I just know this pisses people off.
  2. Don’t use your kid as a wingman. No, I’m not talking about picking up other women, as that is wrong on all accounts. But say your wife catches you watching the Playboy Channel, your response should not be, “I was just letting him watch his version of the Food Network.”
  3. bottle of Oban Scotch

    Fortunately, unlike Tom, I don’t need to worry about getting caught at the fridge; I like my Scotch neat.

    Try to stay sober. It is a fine line, as kids will drive you to drink, but apparently you have to also pay attention to them. Say you were alone with your child, definitely not babysitting, when your wife comes back to a screaming baby with you at the fridge. Your response should never be, “He’s fine. I’m the one who needed another beverage.”

  4. Not so much a parenting thing, but pretty closely related to being a good dad, is that when your wife comes back from her six-week checkup you SHOULD NOT welcome her wearing nothing but a tie* and a smile, even if you are holding a bottle of her favorite wine to tastefully cover up. HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING, I hear this doesn’t end well.

These are just a few thoughts, I could probably think of more, but that would require effort and be contrary to what I have already stated about myself.

*By tie, I clearly mean full tie, not bow tie. Only Steve Sanders and his Chippendale buddies can pull off the bow tie.

Ted

I appreciate this list of “don’ts” and assure you that a mental image of you in nothing but a tie is uncomfortably seared into my brain, but you buried potentially one of the five greatest stories I’ve ever heard in my life in that first paragraph. Ahem:

A LAWYER YOU KNOW GOT ARRESTED IN THE F$#!ING COURTROOM FOR IMPERSONATING ANOTHER F&@*ING LAWYER?

Please tell me this story is as Franklin & Bash as it sounds.

Tom

Franklin & Bash
Stars: Zack Morris and that dude from Road Trip
HIGHEST Rating: 3.57*

Blue Bloods
Stars: Tom Brady’s Baby Mama and American Television Icon, Tom Selleck’s Moustache
LOWEST Rating: 9.77*

I believe you owe me, and the stache, a thoughtful and heartfelt apology for you calling it random to like this phenomenal show.

*From Wikipedia, so you know it’s right.

Ted

Did you write those Wikipedia entries yourself? Because there’s this little site called IMDb whose sole purpose in life is cataloging movies and television shows, and it has Franklin & Bash at 7.1/10, Blue Bloods at 6.9/10.

I apologize to no mustache—not even Magnum P.I.’s.

But you’re stalling. I need to know more about the not-so Talented Mr. Ripley.

Tom

Like every high school girl, I am not worried about depth or quality. GIVE ME POPULARITY! That is why I used the Nielsen ratings to show which show had 3 times as many viewers, even at its lowest point. I take that to mean there is no way in hell my being with all the cool kids watching Mr. Baseball lead the NYPD can be called random. So give me my damn apology.

As for the lawyer story, you will have to buy me a couple rounds to get the full background. Off the record, of course. Let’s just say it was not a surprise. Had we voted on “Most Likely to Get Arrested For Posing as a Recently Retired Attorney,” we had our winner.


Zack Morris: Most Likely to Get Arrested For Posing as a Recently Retired Attorney

Ted

OK, I’ll concede that those Nielsens are pretty damning to my case; I had no idea that’s what you were citing since you only referenced WIKIPEDIA. So here’s your apology: I’m sorry that in the first line of your last e-mail, you constructed a sentence that one could reasonably take to imply that you are a high school girl.

Can you tell I’m mad I’m not getting the lawyer story? And I’m guessing this attitude isn’t buying me any more good will for help with the dad stuff.

Tom

Quite the contrary, your little tantrum is a great lead in to another fantastic lesson about children. Basically, you should strive to be more like me, a kind, gentle, helpful soul despite getting next to nothing in return. It doesn’t matter if my child, or someone acting like a child, is ungrateful for my efforts, or is even being A COMPLETE JERK, I still give unconditionally. If you keep low expectations of return, and give just to give, you can’t be disappointed. Not saying I am an angel, but, well, if the halo fits…

Ted

I don’t know if you can technically say you’re giving “unconditionally” when you won’t give me that lawyer story. And if my son’s version of throwing a tantrum is to snarkily comment on others’ TV watching habits, I think he and I are going to get along just fine. But your point is well-taken, and I will do my best to start following your lead, which, as near as I can tell, is a sort of more worldly Barney the dinosaur approach.

I mean that as a compliment.

Tom

Oh, to be back in those blissfully ignorant days where all you had to keep your kid from watching was that damn purple dinosaur. Unfortunately, cable panders to the attention span of your child by offering a ridiculous amount of television variety that, while different, is all equally demented at the core. You have that 6 year old Dora whose parents somehow let her wander all over God’s green earth without supervision and a monkey wearing boots. And for a girl who is supposed to be helping foster creativity, shouldn’t she have come up for a better name for this pal than Boots? And don’t get me started on her cousin Diego, this kid’s parents let him go play in the Arctic with seals. What the hell. What are we teaching kids these days? You can also look forward to Team Umizoomi, Bubble Guppies, The Wiggles, and whatever other sick creations oozed from the minds of producers who can’t possibly have children, otherwise they would not have come up with this inherently evil form of torture.


OK, now I’m scared.

Apologize for the rant, but Saturday mornings are now overtaken with my daughter cycling through these toons, only stopping to tell me to pick the next one. At this point Admiral Ackbar screams in my head “It’s a trap!” because in the history of me “picking,” her only response has been “I don’t want that one.” Yet another happy byproduct of so many choices. Back in our day, you were lucky if you got one cartoon.

Can’t get away from the rants, but to try and get back on track, I wanted to give my Jerry Springer final thoughts to give you one more bit of comfort about impending parenthood.

You will screw up. Actually, you will screw up a lot. Being a parent is a lot like baseball, if you get it right 40% of the time, those are hall of fame numbers. But that is why God made kids like a blacked out drunk. Sure they are both emotional, crying for no reason, and there is the whole vomit thing. But what I am actually referring to is the complete memory shut down where you have no idea about the terrible things that happened. Our kids have no idea how bad we screw up! Isn’t that refreshing?

The only real judgement, then, is from other parents. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is no easy thing to face. These guys would judge Mary, saying “Well, I would never lose sight of my kid and have to go find him in the temple.” Hell, I have judged cartoon parents in this email alone. Cartoons! But we have clear guidance to help get by this. Take comfort that if you find yourself in the situation where, oh let’s say your kid burps really loud in a Costco and laughs instead of saying excuse me, or, God forbid, you get French fries instead of apples with the happy meal and other parents are looking at you, you can channel your inner Pac. Rip your shirt off, throw a couple digits in the air, and scream, “ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME!” I would just make sure you have paid first, otherwise this could get awkward.

I’m out.

Ted

That I only need to shoot for a 40 percent success rate to achieve hall of fame status, coupled with the fact you’re still quoting 2Pac in line at McDonald’s, gives me more hope than any parenting book ever could. And really, this is very fitting, as Pac summed up why I—and if I know you like I think I do, you—wanted to become a dad in the first place:

“Lately I been wanting babies, so I could see part of me that wasn’t always shady.”

Thanks for your help, my friend. Now, just picture me rolling.

With a baby bjorn.

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