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I’d been a dad for about five months when I first took charge of my daughter for the week while my wife went out to work. I met up with some of her mummy friends who were all very nice, but months later my wife told me how some of them had said they were worried that day that my daughter had been a little chilly. In mid-June, during a spell of exceptionally warm weather. I don’t know why, but this grated on me enormously. It was as if they were suggesting I hadn’t known what I was doing. Far as I can remember, my daughter had been perfectly happy on that occasion and hadn’t shivered once. Stuff your mothers’ instincts.
The bottom line is that most blokes don’t really like being told what to do, especially where our own child is concerned, and we approach any guides on how to be a dad with caution, like getting stuck with some random guy in a pub who thinks he knows it all, but doesn’t. New dads gather any information they require from their other halves, or by having a sneaky peek at their guides on motherhood. Or, mostly, by simple trial and error once the baby comes along.
Dad guides really need a good hook that is both entertaining and useful. At home the only book I have only ever consulted over the years offers advice on keeping your kids amused with cool dad tricks like making a ten-storey house of cards and a decent paper plane that actually flies. More recently the dad commando has put an imaginative spin on a well-trodden topic.
The unique selling point of Stuff Every Dad Should Know by Brett Cohen is, I guess, the way it takes you from a new baby to when they’ve grown and met someone they wish to marry in the space of 142 pages. Whether 20 or so years down the line you will remember to consult these pages to prompt you into asking for a photo of your child’s betrothed beforehand to ‘help you avoid an awkward initial reaction’ is another matter.
Cohen’s advice ranges from seeking a financial advisor’s help on how to grow your child’s college fund to coping with the death of a pet. The more helpful sections include a 15-point guide to childproofing your house, amusingly ending with the suggestion that you pay someone to do it for extra peace of mind, and a detailed method for building a sandcastle. There are good tips on getting your child to eat and dealing with sibling rivalry. But mostly we get a rundown of the obvious – do we really need to be told how to check the size of baby clothes and that it is better to dress them in layers – or terrible jokes that are simply not funny and suggestions for songs to sing to entertain your little ones which are cringingly unimaginative.
But easily the worst offence of this latest dad guide is its brazen laziness. The publishers wish to launch this American version in the UK, yet they haven’t bothered to anglicise it at all. So we get ‘diapers’ instead of ‘nappies’ and ‘backyard’ instead of ‘garden’, to name just two. And what on earth is ‘junior high?’ I’ve barely got to grips with the Reception-Year 6 system in primary school. Don’t give me any of your ‘junior high’ nonsense, thank you very much.
Suddenly those mummy friends who once questioned my ability to dress my daughter properly in the height of summer don’t seem quite so irritating.
*Stuff every dad should know is published by Quirk, price £6.99.