Six years ago my life completely changed; the birth of my son ushered in a sense of awesome responsibility that was greater than any I have ever experienced (the Marine Corps and marriage included). I realized very quickly that my actions, at more than anytime in my life, would have a direct effect on the life of someone who would forever be connected to me. Unlike any other relationship, this was an unbreakable bond; we all have only one father, and for better or worse much of the course of our early lives depends on this male figure and what kind of person he is.
With this in mind, I write this article for the men who care how they present themselves to the world but since having children have pushed dressing sharp to the backburner. After all, taking care of yourself is second to doing the important stuff for your family, right? I argue you must achieve balance. Dressing sharp does not have to take away from spending quality time with your family; in my opinion, it enhances it.
Fatherhood Brings Challenges
A father loses personal time – Marriage is a relationship of choice; we enter it knowing we are making a free choice commitment to another rational human being. Although we adjust our schedules, for the most part we still have our personal time to read, exercise, and entertain ourselves. Children change all this – they are not rational, they do not respect your schedule, and your free time is now consumed researching which types of diapers are going to be the least irritable to your son’s skin.
A father loses personal space – I have a home office that is clearly sectioned off from the rest of the house to ensure it can be deducted for tax purposes. The IRS respects this boundary; my two year old daughter does not. She has no problem walking in as I’m having a conference call and telling me she needs to use the bathroom. Those lower shelves that organize my collection of wires, small electronic devices, and important but rarely used papers? I discovered not too long ago that my son decided they would better house his Transformers. As a father, be prepared to lose many of the areas that you once considered your domain; unless it’s locked up, its fair game.
A father has less control over life in general – Although I’ve never been under the impression that I control everything in my life, I did have a sense that my actions determined how most things turned out. If I went to bed early, I would awake early and refreshed. If I began a workout program, nothing short of a trip to the emergency room would derail my schedule. As a father you’ll find life has plans of its own. You’ll experience the week when both your wife and kids are sick; count on sleepless nights checking temperatures, administering medicine, and numerous trips to the doctor. And just as everyone starts to feel better and you’re ready to return to work, you’ll get hit with that same nasty virus.
Why a Father Should Embrace a Sharp, Clean Cut Style
Despite the challenges that fatherhood brings, it is still possible to dress sharp and be a dad. It’s just takes some modifications and patience. Putting in the effort is worth it for a few reasons:
You no longer just represent yourself, you represent your family – You are the head of your family, and as such the impressions you make upon others reflect on those under your care. As unfair as this sounds, your son, daughter, and wife are often judged by people’s first impressions of you. If you are inconsiderate, unprofessional and poorly dressed when first meeting your daughter’s teacher, the instructor can’t help but assume this is normal for the entire family. Sons and daughters pay for the faults of their father – do what is in your power to represent your family properly.
Set the example – Children do what you do, say what you say, and behave in a manner that reflects your actions. When you dress respectfully on Sundays, your son will learn quickly that there is no room for debate here. When you show proper manners to women, your daughter learns to identify a gentleman. Lead by example, and dress in a manner that you’ll be proud to see your children emulate.
Your wife still cares – I haven’t met a woman yet who wasn’t thrilled by the idea of her husband dressing in a sharp and professional manner. A properly fitted sport jacket can make you look taller, shave pounds off the midsection, and increase your masculine appeal overall. A crisp white shirt set next to your dark skin and hair brings attention to the face and highlights the eyes. Looking great for the mother of your children is a fine compliment to the love you share – trust me on this one.
Tips for Fathers Looking to Dress Sharp
Encourage your children to help you prepare – Now I’m not saying you should have your kids shining your shoes or ironing your dress shirts. No, rather I’m suggesting you sit with them as you perform these tasks. Teach your son why leather needs to be taken care of and how it makes the shoes even more handsome, and he’ll ask you to teach him how to take care of his other belongings. Explain to your daughter why laying out your clothes the night before saves you time in the morning; she’ll follow suit and hopefully build preparation habits that will serve her in other parts of life.
Select clothing that is dark and durable – When you can, select dark fabrics that hide stains and rougher weaves such as tweed that can hide food spills. Grey flannel trousers are a father’s best friend; they are tough enough that they resist tearing, dark enough to hide stains, and professional enough to wear with a sports jacket and walk into a meeting with a client. 100% cotton shirts are great in that they can be laundered at home with strong detergents to remove dirt and grime. Learn to spot clean your clothing, especially your wools unless you want a very high cleaning bill. Brush your jackets after each wearing as food and dirt will end up on your jacket if you are within 5 feet of your kids.
Dress & groom before your children wake up -The key here is that you have time to yourself, before the household gets going and you are dragged into a fight as to who gets to play with a particular Lego mini-figure (despite my kids having 50 of them….they always zero in on one that both have to have at that moment). Thirty minutes in the morning is all most of us need to enjoy a hot shower, shave, and dress without interruption. I advise you leave your dress shirt and tie in the closet until you are about ready to leave – many times at breakfast right after a spill I’ve been thankful I’m just wearing an undershirt and trousers.
Have a chest or place to securely store your valuable menswear items – Kids are kids, and they will find and play with valuable items you’d rather not have them breaking and scratching. That expensive watch should be kept locked away, and those freshly shined shoes placed in an area that markers and crayons cannot touch.
Have an extra set of clothing at work – The day will come when everything is going according to plan, you’re out the door ten minutes early, you have green lights all the way to your daughter’s day-care, she doesn’t cry when you take her out of the car seat. And then just as you’re hugging her goodbye she gets sick on your shirt and tie. On this day you will thank me for this bit of advice.
Learn how to properly address stains & spills -In general, the rules are 1) Act quickly 2) Follow label directions 3) Follow stain removal instructions 4) Be patient and try again if necessary. Below are instructions to remove some common stains children seem to leave in their wake.
Blood – Rinse with cold water, launder in cold water. Never expose the garment to heat, as it could set the stain.
Chocolate – Scrape off any excess, then treat with soap directly and let sit. Wash in the hottest water allowable according to the clothing’s label.
Dirt – Scrape off any excess, then treat with soap directly and let sit for about one hour in warm water. Wash in the warmest water allowable according to the clothing’s label.
Ice Cream – Scrape off any excess, then treat with an enzyme containing soap or detergent (read the label – it should say- Tide is a common one) directly and let sit for about thirty minutes in cool water. Wash in the warmest water allowable according to the clothing’s label.
Ketchup & Spaghetti Sauce – Scrape off any excess, pre-treat with soap or detergent ten to fifteen minutes directly before washing – then wash normally.
Mud – Presoak the garment in the warmest water allowed by the label with powder detergent for one hour, then wash normally.
Vomit – Immediately scrape off any excess and thoroughly rinse with cold water. Next wash the garment in the warmest water allowable according to the clothing’s label using normal laundry detergent.
Note to men without children
I hope this article doesn’t scare you. Having said all this, I would not trade fatherhood for anything. It’s in my opinion the most enjoyable experience any man can have. But it is a major change in your life – this article hopefully helps prepare you for it.
Dressing well as a father requires extra effort; there is no denying this. With little time for yourself, you’ll have to sacrifice sleep and entertainment to ensure your clothing is ready for the day’s challenges. But remember that the confidence and competence you display in presenting yourself properly is important. The ritual of shining your shoes briefly before heading out the door, the way your aftershave smells at the breakfast table, and the time you take to teach life’s lessons will be things your children always remember about you.
For further reading I suggest Tom Junod’s “My Father’s Fashion Tips” – a great 10 minute read!
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