Hey Mark, congrats on the birth of your daughter Max. Welcome to the wonderful world of fatherhood. And pretty cool that you are taking a real paternity leave and launching your new initiative. Don’t worry about all the haters; all that matters is what you actually do with all that money. Most people in your position just buy bigger planes and private islands.
I thought I would take a few minutes out of my very busy day to give you some sage advice on what it’s really like to be a dad. I have two boys, ages 5 and 2, so I’ve been around the block a few more times than you.
You don’t know this, but we actually have a lot in common. First off, we both live in Silicon Valley. We have mutual friends, although we have never met. We’re both Jewish and from New York (even though I’m not sure Dobbs Ferry counts). We both have smart, accomplished wives who pound-for-pound are likely much better people than we are (I know mine is). The path to our first child wasn’t so smooth either. We both have our own LLCs. The major differences that I can think of besides age (I’ve got a few years on you) is that I graduated college, and you, on the other hand, are worth $45 billion. Oh, and I have 5+ years of parenting experience on you. That makes me an expert.
No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you might be, no amount of advice from Sheryl or your parents or the books that you’re likely reading can prepare you for being a dad for the first time. But I can.
Here are a few tips:
- Let’s start with an easy one that you probably already know. When Max goes #2 remember to wipe down. I have boys so it doesn’t really matter, but for a girl, you need to be extra clean and thoughtful about her girl parts.
- Change lots of diapers. Don’t do the “it’s your turn” garbage. That’s weak. And frankly, you’ll laugh about how you hate changing diapers when you start toilet training. Diapers are nothing, dude.
- Give your wife lots of breaks. She’s tired, maybe even more so if she’s breastfeeding (and it’s cool if she’s not, your daughter won’t grow up with two heads) and her body is going through all sorts of changes. She’s going to say “don’t worry, I got it” but don’t listen. It takes about a year to fully recover and for your wife to feel like herself again. Not just physically, but emotionally and everything else. You have the money, and it’s ok to get lots of help. In fact, I’m a big believer that the first 6-8 months is exactly when you should get as much help as you can since the baby doesn’t remember anyway. Get a night nurse, even, so you both can sleep (or respond to emails).
- It’s ok to do a date night. Even more frequently than you think. The biggest change when you have kids could be the change to your marriage. You need time to yourselves even if all you do is talk about your baby.
- Let’s talk business. First, when you come back from paternity leave, tell everyone the truth about your leave. Don’t just say it was great. You owe us more than posting cute photos of Max on Facebook. You’ve made your leave public so now you owe it to people to share how and why being a parent is hard. Tell them about the time your daughter spit up over your Board presentation. Pretending it’s going perfect doesn’t help anyone. Don’t be like everyone else on Facebook. Parenting is messy. And tell people how much you really worked. It’s ok that you answer emails and dial into conference calls while on paternity leave. Hate to tell you but the first few months are the easiest in terms of getting work done.
- And, most importantly, be a dad when you’re at work. Make being a parent part of how you lead. Tell people you can’t do late afternoon meetings because you need to get home. Travel less. You set the tone. Everyone at your company is watching and listening. Be transparent about how hard it is to balance work and being a parent.
- You have years before it matters, but don’t define success by academic or financial achievement. Success as a parent is whether Max is a good person. Teach her compassion, empathy, honesty and integrity. Teach her how to “break things” (see what I did there?). The rest of it doesn’t really matter. Teach her the ways of the Force. Take her to see the Caltrains. She’s already going to feel so much pressure, and you live in the pressure-cooker capital of the world. Let her write on the walls.
- In fact, let her decide what she likes. Maybe she’ll think coding is boring. I started out hoping my older son would love baseball as much as I do. He likes snakes and birds…and it’s awesome. Maybe he’ll start to like baseball, maybe he won’t, and it won’t matter as long as he has interests that make him happy.
- If I could do anything over again, I would focus on being consistent. It’s just like managing employees. Kids, like employees (and dogs for that matter) respond well to consistency. Decide the things you care about and then stay true to what you believe. And then watch yourself fail at it like the rest of us as soon as Max says “But daddy, please can I have jellybeans for breakfast…please, just this once…?”
- Let her have jellybeans for breakfast. Not every day of course. Our boys absolutely love on weekends when they each get whipped cream on top of their yogurt. They like it even more when we squirt it on the dog’s nose.
- Take time to take Max to the park on a weekday morning. Any dad can do it on the weekends. And don’t worry about people coming up to you in the park. It’s all moms and nannies during the week and take it from this stay-at-home dad, most moms aren’t going to talk to you at the park or anywhere.
- Speaking of parks, there are lots of them around where we live. Magical Bridge is great when your daughter gets older but go early, because it gets really crowded after 11am. Try Edith Johnson too — it’s kind of a hidden gem and has good baby swings. The park on Middle Avenue in Menlo is also good, but go to the playground attached to the preschool behind the main park. It’s great for little ones. Also, you may meet some guys with good ideas for start-ups you can acquire. Everyone is working on the next Facebook by the way (you just smiled to yourself, didn’t you?). If you want to get away from people, I can’t recommend Barkley Park enough. It’s a Redwood City secret, located on Farm Hill Road just off 280. The parents always seem to be the nicest there. Go in the evenings when it’s light out. And you can bring your dog (technically not allowed but you can afford the fine).
And if you ever find yourself at one of those parks, feel free to let me know. My boys would be glad to protect your daughter from all the mean kids and they will probably share their jellybeans.
Photo courtesy of Flickr, Andrew Feinberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewfeinberg