No experience has changed my life more than becoming a father. Things on this list should (ideally) be started as soon as your child is born. But none of them should be discounted if you’re reading this later in your journey as a father.

Sharing this list with a new father is one of my favorite things. In reality, we are all learning as we go, but I firmly believe every “Dad” should be doing these things, whether a biological parent or otherwise.

A father and child give a "high five" in a sillouette against the sunset.

Tell Them You Love Them

Tell your kids you love them and you’re proud of them often.  They need to hear it more frequently than they do. 


Start journaling!  This doesn’t have to be an every day thing but you should do it enough that it becomes a habit.  Write down even moderately noteworthy events and moments in your child’s life.  You’ll be surprised at how many important family moments you’ll actually forget.  When you’re older, look back fondly at so many memories that would have otherwise vanished. 

When my daughter was born, I started pulling out my phone every once in a while (when I was alone) and recording short video messages for her. I’d talk about what was going on in her life or certain milestones she’d reached. I’d always end with “I love you.”  I store them in a (backed-up) folder on my phone and my wife knows they’re there.  Someday, they’ll all be given to her.

Schedule One-on-One Time

Schedule time to spend with each of your kids. I mean it. Actually put it on your calendar, no matter what age your child is. If it seems unnecessary or difficult to do, I promise you it’s absolutely important and not that hard.

Put an hour or two block, for each of your kids, on your calendar at least once a week. Your kids don’t need to know you’re doing this. You can schedule group time with multiple children in addition to this, but the one-on-one time is important.

Spend this time doing something your child enjoys, whether or not you enjoy it yourself!

During this time, you are not to be on your phone! You’re not staring at a screen! You’re going to be engaged with your child and creating memories. These will be some of the more memorable moments, both for you and your child, down the road.

Have a Plan for Discipline

I’m not here to tell you to spank or don’t spank your kids. There are libraries of literature on parenting and I don’t think anyone’s got it all figured out. Inevitably, your child is likely to behave badly… whether at age two or seventeen. That’s life.

What I can say is you need to have a plan for how you’re going to react when your child behaves inappropriately or falls short of your expectations. You need to imagine your child (of any age) doing something you disapprove of. Picture a range of behaviors, from simple mistakes to full-on rebellion.

How do you PLAN to deal with that? Without a plan, you are likely to act emotionally or not act at all – both can be wrong! And if there’s another parent in the household, make sure they’re on the SAME plan.

Online Savings Account

Start an online savings account for each child as early as possible. Online accounts, which are FDIC insured, are the way to go because they pay decent interest – and your kid won’t need to walk into a branch to meet with a loan officer any time soon.

Everyone will have varying abilities to contribute, but even small amounts compounded over their first 18 years add up.  At minimum, put any birthday money they get when they’re young into the account. As they get older, use it as a way to teach them about saving, spending and compound interest. Make them spend their own money if they really want to buy something that’s not in the budget.

The only rule here…  I almost never say never, but NEVER pull out of this account for anything unless it’s an absolute emergency.  This money should be gifted to them or used for college. Keep that in mind when you decide how much or how often to contribute. Make it sustainable. 

As for where to save the money, I personally use Ally Bank and have been happy with it for many years. 

Create a “Death Folder”

The name is terrible, but this is a good idea for anyone, father or not. I’m not talking about a “Last Will and Testament” (although that’s a good idea too!)

Create a folder of documents (you can do digital, but I prefer physical) to be opened by loved ones only upon your death. 

Include notes about where your assets are and important account passwords your loved ones will need in case of your death.  Provide instructions on what you want done at your funeral service.  Include letters to loved ones if you wish.  Seal it and let only your family know where it is. 

But don’t forget to update it periodically.  You’d hate for your new wife to find the letter you wrote to your ex.

Life Insurance

Closely related, consider life insurance. Chances are you should have a life insurance policy and you don’t. Don’t get sold on “Whole Life” or similar polices no matter how tempting. Buy simple, cheap, term life insurance to cover enough years until you think your loved ones won’t need it any longer.

Take Vacations

Again, I know I’m speaking to all income levels and lifestyles, but some form of “Family Vacation” is necessary.

Look back on your own childhood. I bet you don’t remember as much as you think you do. But think of a family vacation you took as a child and the details are probably crystal clear. You’ll be surprised at how many things children will forget when they’re older, but family vacations have a tendency to last.

If you don’t have much of a budget, the “vacation” can be a camping trip or a trip to a relative’s house for the weekend. Get creative and start putting aside even a small amount of money each month for an annual family vacation.

VIDEO: A recent family vacation to Huntington Beach

Treat Mom Right

You, the reader, may be in a different family situation with the mother of your child than I am. I get that. But there’s still value here. If you’re still together, treat your spouse like a queen and let your kids know how important she is. This will work wonders for both your relationship with your spouse, and your childrens’ definition of a healthy family.

Don’t forget to schedule a date night here and there when you can. You both deserve it!

If you’re separated, I know this can be challenging. At minimum, don’t subject your kids to disparaging comments about their mother. Be kind and be respectful in the presence of your children. It won’t hurt you to do this, but it could hurt them more than you realize if you don’t.

Closing Thoughts

Nothing has changed my life like fatherhood. Regardless of what any expert tells you, we’re all doing this for the first time and nobody’s figured it all out. Being a father is a mixed bag of the most joyous and terrifying experiences you’ll encounter. Just do your best and put your kids first!

Brandon Stocking

Brandon Stocking

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