There was a time when I aimed to be the most fantastic and well liked dad in — well, at least our neighborhood. At some point in my fatherhood experience, that was actually a goal of mine — partly because I wanted our house to be the Kool-Aid house, the home where everyone wanted to be, and part because I want to be the best at what I did.
If you are still looking for popular, may I suggest a few clinchers; ringers in the neighborhood dad game of one-upsmanship.
Popsicles are key. Hide your stash so that your wife cannot claim any of your fame by passing out dad's special frozen confections. Silly moms. Popsicles are for dads.
Rides around the cul-de-sac in your gardening wagon is like catnip to a kid. Put a comfy blanket in and don't go to fast around the corners. Give each kid two tickets and then move on to something less taxing, like eating apples while running through the sprinklers.
Change it up. Location, Location, Location is an effective instant upgrade. A blanket spread on the lawn is a great place for iPad games, or for a game of Duck, Duck Goose. Climb a tree for story time. Or put out some colored chalk on the driveway and classic rock on the radio.
Follow through on promises. Do what you say you will do. If you say that Saturday is Superhero Day then make sure you have your tights and Speedo ready to go Remember, it's not about you, regardless of how you feel in a Speedo over tights.
Play Tom Sawyer. Spread sheet plastic over the grass and paint something all one color. Have several small brushes and make sure they go home to put paint clothes on first.
Moving on past popular into something more meaningful
Frankly, I am moving on past striving for popularity now that I had held the title of coolest dad in the neighborhood for several consecutive months last summer. Now I am striving for something that seems more important as a neighborhood dad: Transitioning to neighborhood safe dad.
Safe neighborhood dad walks out in the middle of the road and stops teens speeding through the residential neighborhood. We ask firmly and politely. If it happens again we threaten to rip out their clutch through their throat. Another more modern ploy is to take a photo of him speeding and post it on Brandon's Facebook page and ask all his friends to talk some sense into little Brandon. Also post a photo of your baby just learning to walk. Brandon will be emotional toast.
Make it clear that daddies are tougher than any ghost or zombie. At my house there is a clear rule that is understood by the entire neighborhood, our grandkids and our church primary group. There are no monsters allowed at the Cheney's. We don't joke about it. The undead are just are not welcome, and we enforce the rule.
Kids know that our house is a safe house. If they are locked out of their home, or if they are home alone waiting for a family member to get there and it is getting late, they know they can "come on over to my house." Someone may help them with their Spanish homework. Dinner's at 5:30-ish — nothing fancy. And no phones at the table.
Also, they know that they can come on over and say hi to our chickens and try to find where they are laying their eggs this week. The backyard, the swings and Meg the Toothless Wonder Dog welcome one and all.
Have a special medicine that is only used for special occasion sicknesses. This also works for having a special sleep drink or a "no bad dream powder." For this use Mentos in a bottle, milk with a little brown sugar, or lavender carpet fresh in a fancy or exotic container — one you found at the secondhand store or in the attic. Can you say Placebo?
Don't put kids down, even in fun. Don't be a Pollyanna, either. It's OK to say, "Well that wasn't the brightest thing you have done this week," after he drove his bike off of the roof onto the trampoline. But then move on. Dwelling on negative or constantly making fun is simply not fun for everyone. It will never make people feel comfortable around you. And kids are people.
Don't talk bad about others. You will never be the most popular dad or neighborhood safety dad if you have to put others down in order to be such. It's cool to acknowledge that others have their cool moments, as well.