Why I try to be the cool dad, but cool in a way my kids find cool

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

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I want to be the cool dad for my daughters.

Or, more specifically, I want to engage with them at the age they are right now in a way that will nurture similar engagement with them when they are older.

But that sounds like something I might read in an academic textbook. So I stick to the idea that “I want to be the cool dad for my daughters.”

This idea is problematic to some. Maybe not being a cool parent specifically, but what happens when you try to follow through on that commitment. I’ve seen the stories over and over again that we can’t be our child’s “best friend.” There are plenty of good reasons for this. Like: “You need to discipline them!” Or, “you need to make sure they know that you are there to teach and them to learn.” And definitely “you can’t let them get away with things a best friend would.”

I see your points, I study your points, I swish your points around my mind over and over again. I try to get them to settle into the part of my brain where cohesive thoughts settle. But this thought won’t find purchase in my mind. Because I am dead set on spending my life trying to prove the opposite.

And so I try to be the cool dad

The idea that we can’t be best friends is built on the basic principle that parents know more than kids. There is no measure I can find that makes this untrue, not at the age my kids are. Even I can’t deny that. But, it doesn’t mean that those who know more can’t still learn from those who know less. Or that knowing more means you can’t try to have a cool parent relationship.

If I am not learning from my kid, then I am doing a bad job at parenting.

I watch my daughters grow up every day. Really, we all know it happens as quick as this. I have to beat back thoughts that soon they won’t want to jump on my back and be carried around like superheroes any more. My waking nightmares are of times when my daughters don’t want to come to me at 7:30 at night to talk about Star Wars. I worry about the days that I will be invisible to them.

Often, I look at this as an inevitability because this is almost universally what you hear from other parents, often said in jest. “They’re around you all the time right now, but just wait, one day they won’t want anyone to even know you’re there.”

Two things: I definitely do need times when my kids are not around me. I dread those days where the balance shifts and they are not around me more than they are.

And so I try to be the cool dad

It is all in defining what being the cool parent is.

We recently got matching haircuts because I am always on the lookout for us to do fun things that don’t fit the typical dad and daughter outing mould. Part of this was getting a Wonder Woman logo shaved onto the backs of our heads. Her design idea, my turn to follow her lead. It seemed like a great idea at the time and it is something I would do it again.

But I also realized some things through this dad and daughter bonding time: I felt different when I was walking around with her than when I was walking around on my own with this design shaved into my hair. It wasn’t automatic that people in the workplace would see 37-year-old me and think “obviously he has a young daughter who also has that haircut.”

I had some people asking me if I lost a bet. I had others asking if I had passed out at a party (little do they know I go to bed at 8 p.m. every night and have no idea what a “party” looks like any more). Each time, I would let them know that it was something I did together with my daughter. To this, people would say “that’s so neat,” or something resembling that.

I realized over time, that it wasn’t just walking together with these haircuts that helped forge our bond, but that I got to the point where I didn’t care what other people thought of it when she wasn’t around because it was still fun to do together.

That is how I define being the cool parent. Being comfortable doing things that bring your kids joy, no matter what others may think.

And so I try and be the cool dad

Do fun things together because you enjoy them. Then walk around with that fun every day whether they are with you or not.

These things are what I think of as “cool.” Not just getting haircut, but bringing her to a tattoo shop to get one her drawings tattooed on my arm. Letting her watch her art be turned into someone else’s art on my body. Writing stories together and getting them printed into books we read at bedtime. Making protest signs and marching as a family as often as we can.

These are all things I can call up in my mind when I start to dread my daughters moving away from me. I like to imagine these are things they think of too. That in the middle of a spelling test, they’ll remember the feel of their head being shaved and the smile on my face.

Look, there is no magic potion to make your kids want to hang out with you when they are 20. There is no proof that me thinking I can still be good friends with my kids while still being a parent who teaches them lessons in life will work out for us.

Doing fun things right now may not change the relationship we have in 20 years. It might. But doing those things today means when you look back on your life, you will have done them.

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