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Akst: Free advice for being a good Dad

This is day 2,706 of fatherhood, starting with birth and counting today. I’d have to rate my overall grade as a dad as a B-minus.

That’s OK, but I envy people for whom parenting seems to come naturally. I struggle with parenting and worry about it – a lot – and make more mistakes than I can count.

That worry obliges me to help newbies if possible, so this week’s column is for about-to-be or very new dads.

The stakes are high: An enormous part of a person’s values, psyche, etc. is formed within the first half-dozen years. Once formed, those values set like concrete.

So, your “A game” won’t be good enough. You’ve to bring your “A-plus game.”

Here are a few tidbits I’ve picked up along the way (besides basic care, feeding, etc.) Take all these with a grain of salt, check with actual experts and find your own way.

Biology: You WILL deal with your child’s unpleasant bodily situations. Deal.

Emotion: If you have trouble accessing your emotional side, think of the youngster as a puppy. In time, the pup will be strong and fine, but early on, they need lots of love, affection and attention.

Toys: Get open-ended toys that require imagination. One of the most crucial skills is the ability to imagine, which leads to critical thinking. That’s why building blocks, dolls, Legos, etc. have stood the test of time. There are 77 empty Synder’s pretzel boxes in our hallway (we keep the boxes when we finish the pretzels). The boxes have been tunnels, igloos, castles, walls, ramps … you name it.

Video: None at all, for at least the first two years. The American Association of Pediatrics says, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” I say as little TV/video as possible, for as long as possible. Surround them with as many age- and reading-level appropriate books as possible. Make the library your best friend.

Language: If you curse, your child will curse, but don’t be afraid to speak in (appropriate) adult language.

Music: Classical music is great. Expose them to it even if that’s not your taste.

Morality: Kids learn to tell right from wrong at an early age. Do what’s right. If you’re not sure what’s right, it’s usually the hardest option.

Behavior: Now is a good time to quit or minimize drinking and definitely do no drugs. Quit smoking.

Capturing: With HD video and DSLR cameras so affordable, it’s possible to capture nearly every moment. That’s great, but don’t miss the moments you’re capturing.

Mistakes: You’ll make them. Keep moving forward and try to do better.

Love: Tell your child you love him/her many times per day. There’s no way to overdo this.

Clarification: My recent column about community gardens wasn’t specific enough. I urged owners of currently vacant property along Lincoln Highway to consider a community garden. But my phrasing offended at least one reader because I described the area in question as “that long, narrow strip of downtown DeKalb bordered by Lincoln Highway, the railroad tracks, the new National Bank & Trust Co. branch and, basically, the new DeKalb police station. Currently there’s a lot of nothing there.” I should have said Pearl Street instead of the police station. Clearly, there are lovely, occupied homes on Lincoln Highway between Pearl Street and the police station.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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