Like a lot of things in life, nothing teaches you about fatherhood quite like getting down in the mud and experiencing it yourself. You can read all the Amazon daddy advice books you want, but until you’re up at 3 a.m. changing diapers, you don’t really get it. Maybe this is why I want to punch twentysomethings in the face when they give me rude looks while I’m with my boys at the grocery store. Check back with me in 10 years, and we’ll see how it’s going for you, buddy. So while I can’t solve the fatherhood puzzle for you, I’ve been in the trenches long enough to pick up a few useful truths about having kids that you won’t read about in parenting books. Such as…

1. Kids Are Smarter Than You Think
Look, we’re human. Smash a finger with a hammer or watch your team give up a last-dadannoying kidmadsecond touchdown, the occasional F-bomb is gonna fly. You can get away with it with infants, but as soon as the kiddo’s words start coming, can it, unless you want your child repeating dialogue from The Wolf of Wall Street. And it goes beyond curse words, too. You and your wife may have openly dished about friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers pre-kids, but those little sponges are now soaking it all in. Save the trash talking until after bedtime, unless you want your sister to find out how needy she is from your five-year-old at Thanksgiving.

2. In Fact, Kids Will Think They Are Smarter Than You
I get it. You want your daughter to think she can be President. You want your son to think he’s the smartest, fastest, coolest kid in the world, with an ego the size of Texas. I do it, too. But all that pumping up and pep talking has a downside. The kid will think he’s Einstein by the age of three. “Dad, I’m so smart. I’m smarter than you even.” I get this reply constantly from my five-year-old. The only problem is, it’s usually after he’s told me how to spell “sun,” or that 4 + 4 = 8. Whoopty doo. Great job, Junior, but you’ve got a long way to go. So don’t forget to take them down a peg from time to time. Remember, they’re not the smart ones (yet), you are. And it’s your job to help them until they have to remind you how to spell and add one day.

When I send my son out with a rake and a wheelbarrow to go after a pile of leaves, it’s usually just a matter of time before he’s throwing rocks at the neighbor’s cat.

3. Kids Hate to Lose
There’s another drawback to boosting kids’ ego: Not only are you creating someone who thinks he’s a genius, but you’re also creating a winner. Winning is everything, right? The only problem is, kids are terrible at losing gracefully. So when you beat your daughter at Uno or Mario Kart, you can expect a whole lot of pouting, whining and crying afterward—and that’s if you even get to the end of the game before things get ugly. At kindergarten orientation this spring, our son’s soon-to-be teacher gave these parting words of advice: “Before your children come to kindergarten this fall, make sure that you play them in a game, and make sure that they lose.” It’s good advice, and I suggest repeating it until your kid gets used to it. It’s a harsh world, after all, and unearned victories will only lead to painful realities down the road. 

4. If You Had Kids for Slave Labor, You’re Going to be Waiting Awhile
Have you ever tried to assess the attention span of a three-year-old? They are about as task-oriented as a goldfish. And it doesn’t matter if they watch too much TV or not. They’re just kids—it’s how they’re wired. So if you had children dreaming that they would one day be raking your leaves, mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, well, don’t hold your breath. It’s gonna take a few years for the attention span to develop enough to actually get some chores out of them. And unless I’m doing something wrong, five isn’t old enough yet. When I send my son out with a rake and a wheelbarrow to go after a pile of leaves, it’s usually just a matter of time before he’s throwing rocks at the neighbor’s cat.

5. Kids Can Make the Safest Things Dangerous
I have a long-standing theory that if you left a toddler alone in a completely empty bedroom with nothing but a fork in the middle of the floor, the toddler would immediately pick up the fork and attempt to stick it into the nearest electrical outlet. When you have kids, this principle will apply to almost any seemingly benign thing in your life. That bookcase in the corner is an unstable wall just waiting to collapse. The kitchen counter is a treacherous cliff demanding to be scaled. Drawer full of knives? I won’t even go there. Just install a safety latch on it before your kids are even born. When I had a playground installed in my backyard for the kiddos, I don’t know why I thought the outcome would be any different. Now, I just have the world’s most expensive game of “chicken” happening on the slide every sunny afternoon. Oh well, I love the crap out of ’em anyway.

Photo by Jason Lee. See more amazing photos of his daughters at kristinandkayla.blogspot.com