Not-so-humble brag alert: The other day, while we were grabbing a few drinks at a bar, a good, single friend of mine said, “You are probably the coolest dad that I know.” He seemed fascinated by my ability to maintain a fun social calendar while being a father to three kids.
I started thinking about that remark, and it pains me to say this, but I understand completely what he means. The reality is that many guys stop having any sort of fun once children come along. Hanging with friends and having a few drinks are a thing of the past, replaced with a night on the couch watching television (and I’m not talking Netflix and Chill, if you know what I mean).
Being a cool dad takes effort but I asked a few other kindred spirits, and here are five things that can make all difference.
The prevailing notion is that all social life ceases to exist when you have kids because there’s just no way that you can take your children anywhere, anytime. This common misconception is a major reason some dads end up in purgatory for the next 20 years of their lives.
1. Start With a Cool Wife
To be a cool dad, you need to have a cool wife. I know this is kind of tricky, but if you can find a wife who understands you and is willing to put up with all of your shenanigans and in some cases be a part of them, your chances of being a cool dad go up exponentially. For example, on the opening Saturday of college football, I hosted a big party in suburban New Jersey. My wife, knowing my love of college football and a good old backyard tailgate, went right along with it. By late afternoon, there were about 15 kids running around my yard laughing and screaming while the parents ate, drank, and watched football on the patio. The whole thing could not have happened without my awesome wife playing along.
2. Take Your Kids Out Early and Often
The prevailing notion is that all social life ceases to exist when you have kids because there’s just no way that you can take your children anywhere, anytime. Kids cry, scream and make a scene, and who wants to deal with that? This common misconception is a major reason some dads end up in purgatory for the next 20 years of their lives. Seriously, I have friends that I haven’t seen since they had their first kid… 10 years ago. The key to keeping your social calendar when babies arrive is to continue to have one. Don’t be afraid to go out and take the children with you. Doing so will help them learn how to behave in public. Just be sure to make it fun for them too. Bring crayons and coloring books and definitely go to places that are enjoyable for all. My girls love going to a local German Biergarten. It’s a wide open feisthall, with plenty of space to dance around and be loud without drawing the evil eye from others. It also doesn’t seem to hurt when I order them a pretzel that is two times the size their heads.
3. Get on Board With Babysitters
Being a cool dad is not just about going out as a family but also about you and your wife being able to unwind together away from the kids. This requires a babysitter and some people are just not willing to use one. A friend recently told me he and his wife don’t go out because they are uncomfortable using babysitters… even their parents. I found this shocking because my wife and I definitely need to refresh ourselves with a few hours away from the kids (usually when they are sleeping so they don’t miss us too much). I can understand not wanting to pay for one (the price combined with a night out can be steep) or even not wanting to trust someone you don’t fully know, but your parents? They raised you, didn’t they? If they are willing and able, go for it.
4. Remember That Kids Can Have Fun Almost Anywhere
Being a father is the biggest challenge that I face in life, so why make it harder by taking the children to places that others wouldn’t dream of? For shock and awe… duh. Seriously, go to places that your wife would never even consider. You will blow her mind and be surprised at how many compliments you get from others you come across along the way. I recall the time when, away on a ski trip with friends who also have kids, the fathers and mothers agreed to split the weekend into two and each watch the kids for a day. When it was the mothers’ turn, they stayed at the house while the kids played and they put together a jigsaw puzzle. The fathers? Well, we decided to load the kids up in the four-wheel drive sleigh and head over to a brewery. Our wives couldn’t believe it (or maybe they could) and we had a blast.
5. Do Stuff the Whole Family Can Enjoy
It all boils down to being part of your kids’ lives and having them be part of yours. There are plenty of activities the whole family can enjoy, it just takes a little work to find them. One such example is the Hops in the Hills festival that my wife and I took our kids to this summer at Okemo Mountain in Vermont. (That’s me and my three girls, with my buddy John and his two daughters, at the top of this page.) This amazing event featured upwards of 80 breweries, cideries and wineries… perfect for the adults. It also had food trucks and vendors and swag (my girls loved their free beach balls), a band the kids could dance to and the Adventure Zone, Okemo’s very kid-friendly amusement area. All those things added up to a great day, and one that solidified my standing, at least in the eyes of my girls, as a cool dad.