5 lessons I've learned from seeing my childhood friends become dads.
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Fathers Everywhere

I'm not a dad — not yet, anyway. But if all goes according to plan, I'll probably become one sooner than later.

My wife assures me that I'm going to be the Objectively Greatest Dad in Dad History; she says it's half the reason she married me. But now that I'm facing down the potential of a fatherly future, it's also a little terrifying.

However, I'm fortunate to have some friends who are in the throes of fatherhood themselves. And as I've watched them all dadding in their unique ways, I've learned a few lessons that I hope to carry with me when I embark on that same journey.


Me and my dad in matching ugly sweaters, circa ... 1990? He did a pretty good job of teaching me the ropes, too.

1. To Anik, for warning me that my priorities and perspectives are going to change — and that's OK.

Even though you wanted to be a dad, you said your wife would always be your #1 priority. But then Ronan was born and, well, I think you'll both admit that he's taken that top spot (which is totally understandable).

Now when we go out and talk politics, you're no longer interested in abstract ideas about making the world better for the future. Now the policies you care about are so precise because they're things that make a difference for Ronan.

Also, I kind of love that every time I tell you about a play or short story I'm working on, you start suggesting ways that I could make it accessible for RoRo.

All photos courtesy of their respective dads, used with permission.

2. To Dave, for letting me know that dads can still have fun and be responsible (even if that does mean carting children to a brewery).

You've taught me that a balance exists between parenting and leisure and that I don't have to fill some boring, stuffy dad stereotype.

Sometimes when I see you, it's a quick hello to trade some cans of microbrew; sometimes we're drinking those cans on your back porch while your parents look after your little girl inside. You've found a way to keep yourself happy and sane with the music, painting, and brewing that you love so much, but in ways that still let you look after your new #1 priority: your daughter.

I hope I can do that, too. I also hope you're able to buy that dream house you've been looking for soon, where she can safely play in the yard and neighborhood while you keep an eye on her from wherever your drums are set up.

3. To Nick, for teaching me that there's nothing wrong with staying home — because dads need self-care, too.

When Elliot came into the world just as your graduate program was ending, with your post-graduation plans still up in the air, I was understandably concerned.

But then, when your wife went back to work, you rose to the challenge by staying home and being a dad. I still tried inviting you to concerts, movies, and games, sometimes goading and negotiating because I thought it'd be good for you to get out of the house, and I felt like a lousy friend when you couldn't come along. But now I realize that you were doing what you had to do for your wallet, your family, and your mental health.

And it all paid off, because when you go back to school in the fall, you'll finally get to be the Space Doctor Dad that you've always wanted to be.

4. To Andrew, for knowing how to dress a child.

This isn't surprising because you were always the most impeccable dresser in our group, second only to your wife. Every time I see another picture of sweet little Rae in a dinosaur costume or some kind of silly jumpsuit, I'm in awe. It's impossible to look at those precious photos and not feel a smile stretch across your face.

You've set a high bar of cuteness for us future parents to strive toward — because let's face it, adorable baby photos are of the utmost importance.

5. To Jake, for reminding me that sometimes the only thing harder than being a dad is not being a dad.

I know I said that, if all went to plan, I'd probably be a dad sooner or later. But as I've watched you and your wife struggle with conception this last year or so, I'm reminded that things don't always go according to plan.

We hear a lot about unintended pregnancies, but we don't hear as much about the people who are longing for that kind of happy accident, who are ready and willing to face the challenge of raising a child — if only they could.

I can't fully understand yet just how much it hurts when you see other dads bringing their kids to the record store. But if we end up having the same struggle, I'll know that it's nothing to be ashamed of and that you'll be there beside me no matter how big or small either of our families are.

Image via Aaron Cohen/YouTube.

So to my dad friends on Father's Day: thanks for all the accidental advice and for giving me another thing to celebrate this year.

Fatherhood can be intimidating, and there's no one right way to do it. But I'm glad to have friends like you around to point me in the right direction when I'm struggling to fill those fatherly shoes.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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