zen habits : breathe

The Tiny Guide to Being a Great Dad

Post written by Leo Babauta.

I am blessed with six wonderful children and a fantastic and lovely wife, and for this I am deeply grateful. But on a day like today, a lazy Sunday morning when my family is sleeping in and the soft light of the morning permeates the house, I reflect on what it’s like to be a dad.

Not just a dad … a great dad. This is a height I don’t always reach, but I believe I do inhabit that space sometimes. I’m a great dad, on my best days.

If you’re curious about my thoughts, as a dad of 19 years that has included countless sleepless nights, endless answering of questions, thousands of nursery rhymes sung and horsey rides given, hundreds of thousands of words read in children’s books, more than my share of wiping up spitup, poopie butts and much more … here is my offering to the world.

Don’t worry, it’s a fairly simple guide.

The Three Rules

There are only three things you need to do to be a great dad:

1. Be there. If you’re in their lives, you rock. If you’re there when they scrape their knee, lose their first tooth, need someone to cry to, need help with their school project, want a partner for playing house or hide-and-seek … you are already being a great dad. Be there, when they need you, and when they don’t.

2. Love them. They will know you love them, if you love them fully. It will show in your smile, in your touch, in your good-morning hugs. But also tell them on a regular basis. Infuse all your dad actions with love.

3. Be present. It’s great to be in the same room with them, but as much as you can afford to, be fully present with them. Shut off the mobile device, close the laptop, turn off the TV, and really pay attention. Listen to their long fragmented stories. Really watch when they want to show off their new wizard or ninja move.

That’s it. That’s all you need to be a great dad. Well, there are some bonus moves, but those are just extensions of the above three.

The Bonus Moves

If you want some specifics of how to do the above three rules, here are some ideas:

  1. Sing with them.
  2. Run around with them.
  3. Make believe with them.
  4. Read to them daily.
  5. Dance with them.
  6. Tell them corny jokes.
  7. Paint with them.
  8. Make videos where they are the star.
  9. Set a healthy example by being active and eating well.
  10. Show them how to be independent.
  11. Teach them critical thinking, rather than just obedience.
  12. Teach them how to teach themselves.
  13. Don’t nag.
  14. Don’t be overprotective.
  15. Show them you’re proud of them.
  16. Let them make mistakes.
  17. When they get hurt, use that moment to teach them how to deal with pain.
  18. Show interest in what they’re interested in, and don’t make it seem trivial.
  19. Show them how to work passionately.
  20. Spend some quiet cuddly time with them.
  21. Make them pancakes with faces.
  22. Have Nerf dart gun fights.
  23. Play board games.
  24. Take them on hikes.
  25. Play sports with them.
  26. Show them how to use a knife.
  27. Be honest.
  28. Honor your commitments.
  29. Love your wife, and treat her with respect.
  30. Be compassionate to others, and them.
  31. Be happy with yourself.


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