11/14/2012 12:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

25 Things I've Learned From Being A Dad

1. Fatherly love is complete in a way that nothing else is. I can be strict when I need to be, but each of my children knows that our bond is unconditional. There is nothing they could do to make me stop loving them.

2. I always thought fatherhood was something that you learned. I actually think now, having raised three children, it’s something that we as men already know. It’s the external judgment about how to do it that we have to un-learn.

3. Even as babies, boys are obsessed with their penises. That being said, you have to pay attention during diaper changes or you’ll get shot in the eye.

4. Kids look to you to know how to respond to stress. If they fall down and you stay calm, they stay calm. If you freak, they freak.

5. The feeling of your child falling off to sleep in your arms is as close to heaven as I have been on this earth.

6. Each human being, even your own child, has a personality uniquely their own. Trying to force something different on to them is like trying to swim up a waterfall. Better to embrace what it is that makes them who they are.

7. A watched pot never boils. By that I mean we put so many damn expectations on our kids these days that they have no way to find their own voice.

8. Passion is the answer to all problems. If your child is passionate about something, anything, they are going to be just fine.

9. Whoever said, “As a parent you are only as happy as your least happy child” is correct.

10. It’s good to use a forearm when diapering to prevent the roll.

11. You cannot save your children from harm. You can educate them and love them and use reasonable judgment as a dad, but they have to soar on their own into a world that is not always safe or friendly or nice.

12. If you believe in God, it’s good to remember that God is looking out not just for you, but for your children. Often the path as a dad is to pray and get out of the way.

13. There are transcendent moments as a dad -- when your child walks for the first time or takes the stage and gives a performance that is so absolutely breathtaking you cannot believe she is yours -- that makes life worth living. These moments are the stuff we were put on this planet to experience.

14. Being a dad is a daily battle. Between transcendent moments there is laundry and fights and impossible schedules. Transcendence is a result of showing up, day after day after day.

15. Fathering gives structure and purpose to life in a way that is a relief, in a world where there are few easy answers. When you love your kids, being a good dad comes first -- before work, before friends, before anything but perhaps your marriage. There it’s often a tie.

16. Being a single dad is a particular type of boot camp that has its own challenges and rewards. For six years I was on my own for long stretches of time with two toddlers. No safety net. I would not trade those days for anything.

17. When a kid has a hard time sleeping, get their head in the crook of your neck and sway side-to-side. This works from age zero to about 8. Beyond that you actually have to talk to them.

18. Bringing your child to college is an out-of-body experience, kind of like walking on the moon. That goes double if they are moving into the same freshman dorm you lived in 28 years before.

19. Don’t get too involved in your kids’ sports career. If they really love a sport they will lead and you can follow, but the surest way to crush their spirit is to make them do too much too soon.

20. If you can, travel with your kids. Regardless of whether you go -- to the nearest big city or half way around the world, there’s something magical about seeing something really cool through a child’s eyes.

21. In the old days, I hear, dads didn’t hug their kids. Let’s just put a permanent end to that right here. Hug your kids every chance you get. Squeeze them until they can’t help but notice how much you love them.

22. Quite by accident I have created times and spaces where my kids would talk about whatever was on their minds. Sometimes it was while we were staring out a window late at night, sometimes it was lying in bed. But listening is a crucial part of fatherhood. I’ve been amazed by the things my kids have been willing to share with me if I just listened.

23. Laughter is a key part of making it through. My kids have done some pretty stupid things. All kids do. It’s best to take the downs with a sense of humor when no one is looking, and when possible, joke around with your kids.

24. Sleep is your friend. At every stage, I have found that I need extra sleep to keep up the pace of fathering. So when given the opportunity for a cat nap or a good night of sleep, I take it.

25. Even when my kids are not with me, I try to carry their faces in my heart. When I am in a challenging situation, I keep them in mind to do the very best thing I am capable of. In the end, being a dad has taught me to a better guy than I ever thought I could be.

tom matlack 3