NIAGARA VOICES: Welcome to New Dad University
I am currently enrolled in a very prestigious school, the most important one I’ve ever attended. The students are sleep deprived and hooked on caffeine, but not from studying for finals.
Located in communities all over the world, it’s called NDU (New Dad University).
There are no convocation speeches, because we never graduate. However, if I were speaking to a gathering of the next generation of dads, it might go something like this:
It is an honour to be here with you today, Dad Class of 2017! Let me start by saying I expected it to be the other way around — that my role was to teach my daughter all about the ways of the world. But it turns out babies have a number of important lessons for us too, if we dare to pay close enough attention. You wouldn’t hire a baby as your life coach, but observing the way they act can help you in today’s fast-paced world.
My beautiful baby girl has already taught me the following:
• The meaning of unconditional love. Babies have little to talk about. They sleep or cry most of the time. Yet we help and care for them 24/7, not expecting anything in return. We may not realize it, but they are in fact returning the favour. They are teaching us about the purest, most selfless kind of love.
• Don’t take yourself too seriously. For the first time in years you will find yourself making silly faces and singing ridiculous songs out loud, in public, in front of strangers. (On a side note, has anyone ever seen a llama wearing pyjamas? Who writes these lyrics?) So make the face, sing the song, and do whatever it takes to make your baby stop crying. It’s actually nice having an excuse to act like a kid again.
• Focus on the fundamentals. Babies don’t care if you drive a fancy car, or the size of your house. They don’t pay attention to your job status or how much money you make. However they do care about the fundamentals — like cuddles, kindness and being with people who are nice to them. Deep down, perhaps we all know this, but we need babies to remind us of what’s really important.
• Stop and smell the roses. Babies will renew your appreciation for daily life, because they are fascinated by seemingly minor things. A robin perched at the window. Morning sunlight. A daffodil in full bloom. These moments often fade to the background as adults — and unfairly so. Renoir, Proust and Tolstoy all knew how to spark our enthusiasm for simple things. Babies are not so different, and they deserve a little of the respect we give to great artists.
• Don’t be afraid of messy situations. From spaghetti sauce all over their faces to finger painting the walls –— babies accept the fact that messiness happens, and that’s OK. It’s how they learn. When we grow up though, we are taught that order is good, while disorder is bad and should be avoided. The truth is that struggling and getting your hands dirty now and then are essential to growth and development as adults too.
• Move your body more often. An active baby is a happy baby, and adults could learn from that. When they’re not sleeping, babies are either wiggling their arms or kicking their legs. Once they start crawling and walking, parents can feel completely wiped out after just a few hours of chasing them around the house! Many of us sit far too much, so follow your baby’s lead and get moving.
• Practice living in the moment. Babies are not worried about tomorrow’s diaper change or yesterday’s meal – all they care about is what’s going on right now. Adults get too preoccupied with worries about what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future. This gets in the way of appreciating today. We should all practice being more present and mindful. Babies start each day fresh, and so should we.
• Smile every day. Infants usually start smiling in response to other people by two months and laughing by four months. Once they start, they smile many times during a typical day. Most times they don’t even need a good reason, they just smile. This is a powerful tool for adults too. Sometimes called ‘mouth yoga,’ smiling to improve your mood is simple, easy and available to everyone in every moment.
With Father’s Day almost here, my daughter has given me the greatest gift - her time. My only hope is for us to have more time together, so we can continue learning from each other for years to come.
In closing, NDU classmates, I wish you health, happiness, a fun-filled summer with your sons and daughters, and maybe some sleep. Now let’s go refill our coffees!
Marty Mako is a health promoter with Niagara Region Public Health, and volunteers locally with United Way’s Gennext cabinet, YMCA of Niagara, Out of the Cold, Lincoln County Humane Society and the City of St. Catharines heritage advisory committee. He’s also a proud dad. Marty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.