The paradox of parenting is that you can perform all the functions and still feel like an imposter. Changing diapers, playing peekaboo, giving piggyback rides — it can all seem like play acting. Then comes the moment when you become a real dad. One day, you’ll be hanging out with your kid, open your mouth and produce a Dad Voice. Like a patronus, it will gallop across the air and freeze its target in his tiny toddler tracks.
Dad Voice is loud without shouting, instructional but not hectoring. When using the Dad Voice, you are not a screaming maniac. You are not unhinged. Instead, you are insistent and unyielding — perhaps setting expectations of a search of various kinds of houses.
Use your diaphragm to boost the decibels and broadcast like a bullhorn. Clip your syllables. Don’t get wordy or witty — it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Besides, this is no time for tomfoolery.
When to deploy the Dad Voice? Here are a few scenarios.
Impromptu Toddler Mosh Pits
When too many kids get together in too small a space, something terrifying happens. A feedback loop of energy is generated by pheromones or underdeveloped frontal lobes or glazed doughnuts. There’s shrieking and squealing and horseplay. Occasionally, that horseplay breaks out of the corral and stampedes over everything in its path.
Squirming groups of flailing toddlers cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be calmed by speaking sweetly about playing nicely. They know only boisterous destruction that ends in tears. And there’s only one way to produce a record-scratch freeze frame long enough to redirect their energy: Dad Voice.
In The Presence of Fragile Objects
How often have I been hoodwinked by a “things to do” calendar? Too many times. Desperate to fill waking weekend hours, I turn to the internet, which assures me that a local art museum’s event has plenty of “activities for children”. We arrive to a scene of broken crayons and photocopied colouring book pages, placed precariously close to million-dollar vases.
Suddenly every dollar I’ve ever worked for is in jeopardy — all can be wiped out by an enthusiastic tantrum in a roomful of priceless objects.
This requires the Preemptive Dad Voice. Long before any reckless behaviour is displayed, the Dad Voice may be used in a modified way to describe the importance of best behaviour and the severity of the punishment should any reckless behaviour occur.
Preemptive Dad Voice is deadly quiet and accompanied by an unblinking stare. Your kids have heard it well if they move through the delicate items slowly and dreamily, like Stockholm syndrome captives.
Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
As soon as your kids learn to walk, they will be drawn to the street like wildebeests crossing a crocodile-infested river. To kids, cars are shiny, light and magical. They vroom down wide, smooth tracks, perfect for play. So when your preschooler sprints toward the curb, it’s not time for a friendly reminder about walking feet. It’s time for a full-throated “Stop!” delivered in Dad Voice.
It’s ok to use Dad Voice on drivers as well. Last spring, my daughter and I were riding bikes to school. Suddenly, some jackass in an Audi took a corner fast enough that the car’s tail end spun out. As he gunned it down the block toward us, I threw my arms out wide and Dad Voiced, “Hey! Slow down!” Turned out I was doing the work of someone else’s dad. The driver was a smooth-faced teenager with dumb hair. Damn kids.
Interacting With Dangerous Animals
One afternoon, three beagle-sized raccoons walked into my front yard. I shouted something like, “Hey raccoons! Get out of here!” They just looked at me. I stepped off the porch and repeated myself. As they shuffled across the street, one glanced back at me with a dirty look on his face, like an Audi-driving teenager.
Whether it’s a strange dog wandering the neighbourhood or a coyote on a hiking trail, you and your kids will have an animal encounter someday. Yes, you work in an office and play video games in your free time, but a mangy coyote doesn’t know that.
To him, you are an apex predator. Act like it! Even when you’re faced with something apexier. I’ve never met a black bear in the woods, but they say you should make yourself look big and yell at it. Do not do this with a grizzly! Unlike Leo, you will die and fail to receive an Oscar. Not sure which is which? Educate yourself.
In a Medical Emergency
If you guessed wrong about the bear, you’ll get to use your Dad Voice again!
In all seriousness, when you take CPR training, one of the things they tell you is to speak in a loud, clear voice. You’re supposed to point at a particular person and say, “Call 911!” or “Bring me a first aid kit!”or “Ten milligrams of Epi, STAT!”
When someone has a seizure in the shopping centre or a heart attack in a restaurant, bystanders’ brains respond like stoners, saying “Whaaa?” If you know how to help the person in distress, you also have to tell the bystanders how they can help you. This requires simple commands delivered in a Dad Voice. Don’t worry. No one’s going to consider you an overbearing arsehole. They’ll be relieved that Dad seems to be in charge.