Not just anyone can be a dad. Well, okay, any male can in the technical sense. But just being able to co-create a child from scratch doesn’t mean you have what it takes to be a father. It’s a job that’s not for the faint-hearted. It takes equal parts grit and vulnerability, softness combined with a steely resolve. A dad has to be like a Navy SEAL—but more open to cuddling.
Think you have what it takes to be a bona fide dad? Here are 30 skills and superhuman abilities that every father must possess to truly deserve that coveted t-shirt or mug that brags “World’s No. 1 Dad!” And if you’ve got a super-dad for a father, show him how much you love him this year with the 30 Gifts for the Dad Who Has Everything.
Lie like a spy.
If you’re doing the job right, you’re going to tell some whoppers. Just off the top of my head: You need to master Santa Claus, “the dog went to live on a farm,” road trip math (“we’ll be there in, um… a few minutes”), and talent assessment (“you’re the best drawer in the world!”).
Now, a dad isn’t just required to lie but to lie convincingly. Which isn’t always easy when kids start to wise up and realize their parents aren’t unshakable pillars of truth telling. And if you’re a truly ace dad, you’re a great lie detector, as well—and rarely fall for the 40 Lies Kids Say That Parents Always Fall For.
Be able to easily lift and carry at least 58 pounds of sleeping child.
That’s the average weight of an 8 year old boy or girl, the last age (ostensibly) where they might fall asleep in a car and require being deadlifted from the back seat and carried gently into the house without waking them.
Provide reassuring monster security.
If you’re one of those non-believers who insist that monsters aren’t real, you’re of no use to a child. A real dad knows how to effectively and efficiently monster-proof any bedroom, from doing routine closet and under-mattress checks to ensuring that all linens and blankets are certified monster resistant.
Teach a kid to ride a bike.
This requires a level of patience that most mortal men don’t possess. You have to be encouraging but not too pushy, making them feel perfectly secure even as you inch a little further away every time they try defying gravity. A dad doesn’t give up no matter how many times a kid screams, “I can’t do it! I want to quit!” And then, as if by magic, they’re off and riding.
Discipline without losing your temper.
We know how easy it is to lose your cool and start screaming, “Are you freaking kidding me with that behavior?!” But a dad has to rise above such petty emotions, and keep his child on the right track without ever raising his voice or having a full-on pull-out-your-hair meltdown. And for more on fatherhood, don’t miss the 30 Things Every Guy Should Do with His Dad.
Improvise a bedtime story.
A true dad never relies solely on what’s on the bookshelf. He should be able to compose a story entirely from scratch, employing any number of suggested ideas (your audience might yell out, “Tell me a story about a wizard! And a princess! And 3000 kittens!”), that has a clear beginning, middle and end, and if possible, a moral.
Experience temporary deafness.
There will be days when your child follows you around, saying “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy” on a constant loop, till you think your brain might combust. But the dad has an internal on/off switch that allows him to temporarily stop hearing the incessant jibber jabber that would drive most men to madness.
Untie any knot and fix any stuck zipper.
When shoelaces get tangled, or a coat zipper refuses to cooperate, dad is always able to make sense of the chaos and return things to their natural order.
Tell a dad joke.
We’re not suggesting that dad is capable of telling a funny joke, just a dad joke, which is its own comedy genre. A dad joke is vaguely amusing, if only because of how much over-the-top enthusiasm the joke teller brings to every punchline. Need inspiration? We’ve got you covered with the 50 Dad Jokes So Bad They’re Actually Hilarious.
Have a game plan to replace a lost favorite toy.
There will come a time when your child misplaces or loses his or her most treasured toy. The unprepared dad is caught off guard, not sure how to make the crying stop. But the knowledgeable dad has an emergency protocol already in place. They either have a backup duplicate toy at the ready, or they know where to find one post haste.
Be strong even when you don’t necessarily feel it.
There will be times when you want to fall apart, when the stress gets too great and the responsibilities too overwhelming. Even the best of dads just want to crawl back into bed occasionally and let somebody else take care of the heavy lifting. But they always find an inner reserve of strength. There are no sick days for a dad.
Throw a ball that’s catchable, and be able to teach somebody how to throw it back.
If you don’t already know how to throw a ball with a modicum of accuracy, it’s time to start practicing. It’s not up to your child to teach you, it’s the other way around. A dad who can’t play a friendly game of catch with his son or daughter without constantly saying, “Sorry, sorry, I threw too long” needs to seriously up his game.
Prioritize family over work.
Before you had kids, the workday ended when you wanted it to. But as a dad, it’s time to realize that being with your family is more important than answering work emails till 10pm. The fortitude it requires to close your laptop and get on the floor with your kid is what separates the wanna-be dads from the real deals.
Realize when mom needs a break.
What are you, some kind of mind-reader? Well, yes, actually, you will need to be slightly intuitive when it comes to your partner. A great dad is always aware when his parenting ally is at a breaking point and needs to be tagged out. Don’t worry, when the tables are turned and you need a kid-free time-out, she’ll have your back too. And for more great relationships coverage, check out these 17 Things Men Wish Women Knew.
Master the art of the small bribe.
Kids can be stubborn, but the right negotiator will always win them over. A dad intrinsically knows when to utilize a bribe to get his way, just enough so it doesn’t become an expectation. Forking over sweets for good behavior shouldn’t be an everyday part of your playbook, but used in moderation it can be a brilliant tool.
Change a diaper.
A dad doesn’t have time to get grossed out. You change a diaper with emotionless precision, with the delicate touch of a sushi chef. With enough practice, you should be able to do it on any surface, flat or otherwise, and if need be, one-handed.
Locate the North Star.
If you can find the Big Dipper in the night sky, you can point out Polaris (aka the North Star). Just draw an imaginary line through the two stars on the front edge of the Dipper. It’ll lead you straight towards the North Star, which is also the last and brightest star in the handle of the Little Dipper.
Understand “Common Core” math.
Your kids math homework won’t look anything like you remember it from your youth. A simple math equation now involves multiple steps that might seem unnecessarily complicated to you. The trick is to remain calm and focused. Nobody needs to hear any “back in my day” speeches, certainly not when there’s homework to finish. Bone up on what you don’t understand and give your kid the tutoring help they need. For more on parenthood, see these 20 Ways Parenting is Different Than It Was 20 Years Ago.
Assemble complicated birthday/Christmas/other holiday toys.
This includes just getting them out of the darn package, which in itself can require a Herculean amount of effort.
Be an expert on dinosaurs.
It’s your responsibility as a dad to know the difference between a spinosaurus, a stegosaurus, and an ankylosaurus. A dad doesn’t need reminding that a brontosaurus is the big one with a tiny head that eats vegetables, or that a triceratops has the big shield around its head and three horns. Spouting off useless dinosaur minutiae is just what you do now.
Be a pro at pet grief counseling.
Having a pet, any pet — be it a goldfish, dog, cat, hamster, or anything in between — means that some day, probably sooner than you’d like, you’ll have to break the news to a child that their best animal buddy has passed on. It’s never easy, but you have to handle the emotional fallout with grace and tenderness.
Keep a secret.
Just like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, anything a child says that his or her dad in confidence must stay under wraps. The moment you break that sacred trust, and a child discovers that their secrets aren’t safe with dad after all, there’s no coming back.
Be able to say “I’m sorry.”
If you expect your child to take responsibility for their actions, you need to live by example. Admitting your mistakes and asking for forgiveness should be second nature to any father who’s aware that he’s always being watched by tiny eyes.
Be a good listener.
Your job as a dad isn’t always to fix things or find a solution to every problem. Sometimes — most times, in fact — it’s enough just to sit quietly and listen. Everybody wants to be heard, especially when they feel small and inconsequential.
Pack a car for a road trip.
You’ll be amazed at how much stuff your family will want to bring along for road trips. Not just suitcases but endless toys and bikes and scooters and anything else they’ll claim they can’t live without for even a weekend. Somehow you have to squeeze it all into a single car trunk, which will require defying the laws of physics and spatial relations. If you are going on a trip soon, check out The 33 Best Roadside Attractions in America.
Fix the Wifi.
When the family can’t connect to their computers or iPads, the first person they complain to is dad. Dad will fix it! Dad knows how to reboot the system, or figure out the new password, or if necessary, dig up all the cable wires and pinpoint the problem. Like it or not, you are your family’s IT guy.
Always have the right batteries.
If the directions say “this toy requires six lithium ion manganese oxide batteries and one 12-volt sealed lead acid battery available only in eastern European countries,” your first response should be “I have a case of those in the utility closet.”
Build an epic sand castle.
Ideally something with a moat, and with towering sand walls sturdy enough to protect from all intruders. If your version of a sandcastle looks like it was recently decimated in a tropical storm, you’re useless as your son or daughter’s sand empire architect.
Be a willing playtime prop.
A dad doesn’t just get on the floor and play with his kids; he is their ultimate malleable plaything. In an instant, he could be transformed into a pony, willing to carry any number of children on his back. And just as quickly, he becomes a tea party guest, dressed in a wig, bright lipstick, and oh, let’s say an eyepatch. (Props will vary depending on household.) You’re whatever they want you to be, wherever their imagination takes them.
Make a child feel safe.
This is not about monster protection. We’re talking real world problems. If they feel unsafe in their school, at the park, or even in their own backyards, it’s up to you to change that. And that doesn’t always mean identifying and isolating the bullies in their life. Safety is sometimes just a state of mind, and a dad can make his child feel secure more often with emotional support than physical. Your kid just wants to know that you have their back. When dad is by their side, a child can suddenly feel able to take on the world.
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