Congratulations. You clicked on this article, and in so doing have contributed to something that will be mentioned in the annals (wait [runs spell check] okay yes, that’s the word I wanted) of history. This is the first ever edition of “The Bad Dad Mailbag,” where I - a bad dad - answer real questions from other bad dads. Before we jump into today’s mailbag (figuratively, unless you have a mailbag, at which point who am I to tell you what to do with your Constitutional right to bag as you see fit?), a couple disclaimers:
DISCLAIMER 1: it’s really hard to get questions from people for an advice column that’s never existed. We tried. None of you responded. Which is understandable. So I asked myself “what would a Bad Dad do?” and arrived at the only reasonable conclusion: force the guys in my fantasy football group text thread to send me questions. Duh. Most of today’s questions come from them. I changed their names just enough that only they would know who was who, so that there could be internal public mockery. That being said, keep an eye on our Facebook page and Instagram feed for the next time we ask questions, as I’d love to hear from the Global Bad Dad Community(™). Or, you can email me anytime at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISCLAIMER 2: Much like this guy, I am in no way licensed, trained, or really qualified in any way to offer professional advice. I am but one humble bad dad, sharing my thoughts with you, another amazing bad dad. [In other words, you can’t sue me. Got it?]
Okay! Guys. This is it. We’re about to do this. You ready? Oh man, I can feel the anticipation bubbling in my tum-tum. Let’s do this.
My 8 year-old son cries at the drop of a hat. If he gets knocked down on the soccer field, if his brother steals his French fry, if someone looks at him in a mean way: he cries. I want him to be tough and to deal with it, but I also want him to know it's ok and great to cry if he needs to and protect that sweet sensitivity. I don't want to raise some toxic masculinity monster. But I'm also tired of the constant tears. Ideas?
Aaron in Knoxville
First off, it’s super cool you are leaning away from the whole 1950s stoic dad BS. As a very wise man once said, “strong men also cry.” Second, FWIW, I am a 36-year-old grown-@$$ man and if someone steals my french fry my repressed sadness will turn to Hulk Rage. Sometimes tears are the appropriate response to injustice.
But to your bigger question:
I have a pretty emotional little dude too, and trying to walk the line you’re describing, as Johnny Cash knew, is tough. I can tell you know this Aaron, but your son’s sensitivity is a gift that will serve him well later in life, but only as he learns to control it. At 8 your kiddo is old enough to get this idea. I think you frame his emotionality as a strength (maybe even a superpower unique to him), but also tell him that he’s the boss of his emotions (if he’s seen Inside Out you have a nice reference point for this). Try replaying moments with him after they happen and the dust has settled - like the french fry fiasco - and say “okay, so I know that was sad, but what’s another way we could have handled that?”
It’s also worth asking yourself if part of the reason your kid’s sensitivity bothers you is because you see some of it in yourself, and have been taught by others that’s a bad thing. Maybe this is a chance for you to hang out with your inner Bad Kid (as in, once-and-future Bad Dad you), and let him know that it’s okay to be sensitive like your 8 year old is.
How do you effectively feign interest in all of the mind numbing topics of conversation your kid brings up every day? I want a way that says "yeah that's amazing" without actually having to pay attention.
Ryan in Fullerton
Remember how Ferris Bueller rigged up that dummy to make it seem like he’s really sleeping in bed when actually he’s making out with Mia Sara? Create something like that for your kid, and then go have sexy time with your lady.
Or if that doesn’t seem feasible, listen for as long as you can and then redirect to something you know they love that will occupy their attention. This is the parental equivalent of a smoke bomb.
So I’m in a career I don't love, I’ve been at it for years, but I do it anyway because it’s a stable career and provides for my families' future. I feel "locked in" to the career because of the years you've invested. What do I do?
Rod in Lake Forest
So first off, you’re not alone. LOOOOOTS of people feel this way. Second, good on you for prioritizing providing for your family over following some financially irresponsible “dream” to ride around full time on a Harley and document it all on a podcast and get corporate sponsorship from Audible or Leesa (or, you know, whatever). Providing for your family is supremely Bad Dad and worth celebrating.
Here’s the deal though: it’s not all or nothing. If you have something else you could be interested in as a career, pursue it on the side. Is there a way you could take small steps toward different career options - auditing a class, writing in the evening, training your Iron Will an hour a day for the Iditarod (BTW, screw you Kevin Spacey for ruining that clip)? My guess is your wife doesn’t want you to be miserable (that would be a whole other mailbag question if she does), so ask for her help in carving out time to create a side gig. If it works out and become profitable, great! If not, then at least you get to do something you enjoy regularly.
How do I stay motivated, driven and focused at work when all I want to do is hang out with my baby girl? Should I be worried that I feel a deeper, more meaningful love for my baby girl than I do for my wife? Will that go away or become more balanced in time, or will it get worse without building in intentionality/pursuit of my wife? How do I navigate the guilt I feel from feeling that way?
John, somewhere in the PNW
Your vulnerability in this question is supremely Bad Dad, and I’m digging it. I could be wrong but you sound a little like how I am, actually. I feel things deeply, and then feel deeply guilty about the deep feelings I deeply feel. A couple pieces of advice:
First, just let yourself feel things and know that’s okay. I spent the first 6 months of child number 1’s life thinking “I don’t really like this kid” and beating myself up for feeling like that. When we had our second child I went a different route and thought Okay, this will really suck at first, but it’ll get better and eventually you’re going to love this kiddo just like you do your firstborn. Trying to stuff down what you’re feeling never works. Just take a step back, say “me feeling that way makes sense,” and then say “okay, but now what is the Bad Dad response to this?” It sounds to me like you’re just fighting through some pretty normal new dad emotions, and over time life will make more sense.
Second, get some time with the wifey ASAP. Find a babysitter. Hire a pack of wolves to watch the small human child you sired. Whatever. The reason you feel more connected to your kid is because she is an emotional terrorist who demands every single ounce of attention and affection you have. You have Stockholm Syndrome where you’ve learned to love your captor. So get out with the wife. Do something you both love. Try to have a conversation not about the kid. Ask about your hopes and dreams for the future. Commit gratuitous acts of PDA in a crowded restaurant.
And if you don’t hear anything else I write remember this: it’s all normal, and it’s gonna get easier, I promise. Hang in there.
Whew. That was serious. Let’s finish out with a couple fun ones.
At what age do I stop kissing my boy on the lips?
Nate in Georgia
Right around the time you start asking that question, unless you’ve won multiple NFL championships, at which point you stop around the time they’re 40.
How do I tell other moms that just because I’m now a father, that doesn’t mean you get to talk to me openly about your breastfeeding?
Zack in L.A.
Dear Zack: you don’t, dummy. Ever. They pushed a child out of their body and can talk about pretty much whatever they want around you, because - again - they expelled a live person from their womb. What have you done? Nothing, that’s what.
The good news is most Bad Dads have a hardwired gift of pretending like they’re listening, when really they’re thinking about sports, or delicious cooked meats, or beard oils, or whatever. Just do that. Search your feelings, you know this to be true.
That was fun! Can’t wait to read more of your questions. And remember, you are The Bad Dad. You got this. Now go kick parenting’s butt.