Look, nobody is expecting you to suddenly transform into Mike Brady or Danny Tanner—or even “Jim’s Dad”—the second you become a patriarch. Not even the mother of your child, despite how it might seem sometimes. That said, there are critical pieces of advice that do need to be shared on life’s long, winding road, from father to son. Here are some of the biggies.
1. Make Eye Contact
As trivial as it will sound the first time you hear it or say it or even just read it somewhere, there might be no knowledge more valuable than the importance of eye contact. It’s not always the easiest thing to do. But the darting eyes, the ones planted to the floor or up at the ceiling, just lead to too many unfavorable conclusions. Meantime, a steady gaze suggests you’re just that: steady. Focused, confident and unwavering. Even if you’re really not.
2. Give a Firm Handshake
While you’re delivering that fierce eye contact, double down with a solid handshake. We’re not talking crushed knuckles, and we’re definitely not talking holding on too long. This ain’t a grudge match, it’s a handshake. But guys are judged by them often. The flimsy or sweaty or “just the fingertips” one is nothing compared to the warm, sturdy one.
3. Hold the Door
I know it might sound crazy these days. But we’re not just talking about women here. We’re talking about holding the door for anyone and everyone. Definitely any seniors, male or female, and those pushing a stroller—again, male or female—and yes, women too. Chivalry is only truly dead when the chivalrous among us allow it to be.
4. Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated
Sure, your kid’s kindergarten teacher is going to have you covered here, and many teachers afterwards, but it’s a truism, is it not? And a father telling his son to adopt this mantra must also come with a spelling out exactly who those “others” are: friends, teammates, girls/women, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, siblings and so on and so forth. There are some exceptions, but not many. Not many at all.
5. Respect Your Elders
Your football coach might scream at you, embarrass you, bite your head off, etc., all in an effort “to get the best out of you.” Yeah, right. Sometimes that motivation spin is just that: spin. A bad coach having a bad day. Ya still gotta respect your elder. Same with, say, the crotchety neighbor who scowls at you every time you walk past his house. You don’t have to be anyone’s whipping boy, but at least initially respecting the guy 25 to 50 years older than you is a must.
6. Lend Your Muscle
Nothing is more appreciated—and, sadly, more surprising—than a total stranger offering to help you heave that couch into your truck, or get that end table out of the trunk and onto your front porch. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder. Just pitch in when people are struggling to move something. That helping hand pushing a car with tires spinning in the snow goes a long way where I grew up in New England.
7. Don’t Start the Fight, But Finish It
No, this doesn’t mean lay some guy out. Far from it. What it does mean, however, is that you can only tolerate someone picking on you for so long. And if they ultimately lay a hand on you, you have every right to see to it that they don’t anymore. That can come from standing your ground and conveying verbally why you won’t allow it, or from letting others in on what’s happening, having your bother tell his brother to cool it or, yeah, laying the punk out. This notion even applies to someone else being bullied, especially if you’ve got the size or skills to really help.
8. Man Up and Say You’re Sorry
Every father needs to let his son know that apologizing is not a sign of weakness, a way out of an argument (i.e. saying you’re sorry but not even meaning it), or something “no tough guy would ever do.” Sorry does not equal surrender. It means you’re acknowledging that what you did was wrong, you know it, and you’ll try to be better in the future. Because ultimately that’s what saying, “I’m sorry” truly is: letting someone know you care enough to change.
9. Pick and Choose Your F Bombs
Cursing is going to come easy to many first-time fathers out there who are certain that they’ll just never slip up. You will. Trust me. You’ll be surprised how much of a handle a very young boy can get on cursing and the how and the why and the when that it is wrong. And, most of all, the “to whom.” But they must also learn the lesson that the properly placed F word—later in life, of course—can be used to great, damn near irreplaceable effect.