Not long ago, I became a father for the first time. And since then, I’ve become a better man. Not “a better man” in some hokey, Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets way, but a better man, practically speaking.
Besides all the joyful, deeply personal ways fatherhood is a hell of a thing, it has also accorded me some real-world advantages to boot. It’s as if my baby girl has been my own personal Sun Tzu. Here’s how you, too, can use the lessons of fatherhood to master everything else in life. And for more great relationship advice, don’t miss the 30 Ways to Be a (Much) Better Husband. (And, for that matter, a better wife.)
I Talk Less and Listen More
My daughter, Kate, is amazing. Have you seen her point at things? Like an Einstein she points. She can also walk and smile. She is clearly destined for an awards ceremony in Stockholm. There is one sticking point, however: She can’t talk. My daughter is 14 months old. A typical day with her is like the first half hour of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
All this silent time has an adult payoff: I’m a more active, expressive listener. You know that personal quality, usually ascribed to Bill Clinton, in which someone can make you feel as if you’re the only person in the room? Well, apply the rules of dad-kid communication (empathy, laser-like focus, enthusiasm) to adults and you can have them eating out of your hand. Recently, I was interviewing for a new job. You’d be amazed how smoothly an interview can go if you just pretend that your future CEO is a 14-month-old girl. Oh, and speaking of job interviews—if you have one, know these 15 Answers That Will Tank Any Job Interview.
I Keep My Cool
When you’re at work, it’s not unheard of for someone to describe a lousy situation as a crap-storm. Well, I’m here to tell you that managing said storm can be a lot easier if you’ve been in a real one. It’s no metaphor, friend. It’s an actual pedioclimatological event. We’ve all worked with babies, people who live on drama. When facing an obstacle, they just lose it. It’s no reflection of the actual level of peril.
Oh, did the server go down? Take it easy, my hyperkinetic IT director. We’ll get the server back up. In minutes, probably. There, there.
Since Kate’s birth, I categorize all things in life into two categories: Things That Can Kill the Baby and Things That Cannot Kill the Baby. Open jug of bleach? Category one. Angry boss? Category two. By dealing with ultimate peril, you are much more calm and collected about all the other nonsense. And if you’re indeed super-stressed, know the 20 Mistakes That Will Only Compound It.
I Know My Strength
My daughter, while being the sweetest future MacArthur Fellow you’ll ever meet, has about as much common sense as a bag of hammers. So, soon after fatherhood takes hold, you start to consider all the angles. If you don’t have a child, you don’t think much about the act of opening a car trunk. When I have Kate in one arm while unlocking the trunk with the other, I’m thinking about where my hand should be, which foot I should put my weight on. My childless friend calls it “dad strength,” something that, he says, comes to all new fathers. It’s true, but it’s not about muscle. I’m just more methodical and more conscious of my movements. I’m like a ninja of incredibly lame things.
I Stick to My Guns
Something happens when you become a dad: You take less crap. Some ticket agent is giving you back talk about your seat assignment? Please. You made a human being! Just hand over the boarding pass.
You also second-guess yourself less. You make a decision and you do it. Not in some foolhardy, Rumsfeldian way, but when you commit, you commit. Things need to be done, and they need to be done now. That’s true on the playground and on the trading floor. Dads are the ultimate CEOs.
I Share the Spotlight
Caring for an infant is kind of like being a member of Mariah Carey’s entourage or an aide to Kim Jong-Un: You are responsible for anticipating the needs of an irrational person who is completely divorced from reality. You’ll do anything to keep her happy, and so you remove ego from the equation.
Sure, I used to be able to go to the movies whenever I wanted, but after a certain point, you have to ask yourself, Is all this me-ness going to make me a better person? Doubtful. For that, you need someone to put you in your place. Zen Buddhism has this concept of mu, or “emptiness,” which often manifests itself in the context of “no self” or “no ego.” I don’t know much else about Zen Buddhism, but I do know this: Whoever came up with mu clearly had some strained peas thrown in his face at some point.
Ed Note: This story originally ran in the November 2008 issue of Best Life.