How to Be a Great Dad
I was honestly raised by one of the worlds best fathers. He’s the man that rocked me to sleep in his arms, made a quilt square for my school project when I refused to sew and tirelessly went Bat Mitzvah dress shopping with me as if it was also his mission to find the perfect dress. He spent 20 years as a creative director at an ad agency (think a nerdier Don Draper), author of several novels (think a Jewier Philip Roth) and has narrated hundreds of audio books with his lovely voice (think white James Earl Jones). And for Father’s Day, I interviewed him to find out if he knows the secret to his success. Future parents, especially fathers, take notes!
Emily: What’s your favorite part about being a dad?
Melvin: My favorite part is watching my children’s successes – walking for the first time, first words, riding a bike, winning awards…
Emily: I didn’t win any.
Melvin: … graduating high school. It’s seeing the sense of accomplishment in their eyes that makes me feel that I’m doing my job right — guiding them in the right direction and then stepping back to let them forge ahead.
Emily: Can you recall a time feeling very embarrassed as a father?
Melvin: Well, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is watching Sex and the City with my 20-year-old daughter!!
Emily: We watched a whole season together. Why did you sit through that show with me?!
Melvin: I think it was the year you lived with us after you graduated. You were an adult. I enjoyed hanging out with you. And I probably only watched two or three episodes with you. It stopped after the episode when the sexy woman complained of the taste of her lover’s semen. I had to leave the room on that one.
Emily: I believe you are referring to ‘Funky spunk.’
Emily: Were there times growing up when you watched me make a mistake that you wished you could stop?
Melvin: As a father, you always are stopping yourself. (Hmm, sometimes not succeeding at that, to be honest.) You watch your child attempt something and you know that if you placed your hand on hers and guided her, the result would be a hundred times better. But if you do that, then your child isn’t really learning. Making mistakes is a big part of learning, and the dilemma of a father is whether or not to allow his kids to make the mistakes. It sometimes breaks your heart to watch them make the mistakes — even though you know it’s better in the end.
Emily: Can you think of a something specific? Like, maybe something I did?
Melvin: No, I can’t think of a specific example right now.
Emily: So, maybe I was perfect?
Emily: What is the advice you would give to new fathers?
Melvin: Dig right in. Share the burden – change diapers, get up in the middle of the night and take your turn, do a load of laundry. Be there as often as you possibly can. Those first years are exhausting, incredibly exhausting. You walk around craving a 20 minute nap more than anything else in life. But blink twice and that tireless child is moving out of the house to go to college. Every moment in those early years is more precious than you can possibly know. When you are in your 40s and your child is fully grown, you will become one of those boring, “knowing” fathers like me who have lived this truth. You will try to share it with young fathers and they smile and nod and know that it will be different for them. It won’t.
Emily: What are the moments that stand out to you as feeling most proud to be a father?
Melvin: I really think the moments that made me the proudest are those that took place once my children became adults. They turned out to be extraordinary people. All along the way you watched them grow, mature, you knew they were going in the right direction, but there are so many opportunities along the way to make a wrong turn (and they did occasionally) to make bad choices (and they did occasionally), to get hurt, to get disillusioned. But one day you step back and take a look at these incredible adults and your heart just fills with pride and joy. You hug your wife, take a deep breath and say, “We did it. We actually did it.”
Emily: Thanks for doing it. Hahah! Ewww. No really.
Emily: What would you say to fathers who have daughters?
Melvin: I would say this — especially if you have had a son. You are proud of your son in ways that only other fathers can understand. You observe some minor step forward — hitting the ball of the tee stand — and your heart swells with pride. He takes his first steps and your heart swells with pride.
With a daughter, you have a completely different emotional response. You become that stereotypical love struck, goo-goo-eyed guy. She steals your heart, not with first steps or other accomplishments, but with a certain look, or when she simply reaches out and pats your hand for no reason. So for fathers of girls, I would recommend they place a sign somewhere on their desk that reads: CAUTION: HEART-MELTING AHEAD.
Emily: And my heart just melted. Thanks, Dad.