In Quotes: Things You Need To Know About Being A Father

Wit and wisdom regarding the most important job you'll ever do

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"They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you." 

According to the poet Philip Larkin, the only way to avoid passing on misery to your fellow man is to never have children yourself. But here at Esquire, we consider that advice a little extreme.

Instead, to equip you for the perilous path of Fatherhood, we've combined the wisest things ever said about the job from history's greatest thinkers, writers and wild men. It might not win you Dad of the Year, but at least you'll know you're not alone.

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"Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realise that your heart is running around inside someone else's body."
– Christopher Hitchens


"Sooner or later, you will discover which kind of father you are, and at that moment you will, with perfect horror, recognize the type. You are the kind of father who fakes it, who yells, who measures his children with greatest accuracy only against one another, who evades the uncomfortable and glosses over the painful and pads the historic records of his sorrows and accomplishments alike. You are the kind who teases and deceives and toys with his children and subjects them to displays of rich and manifold sarcasm when--as is always the case--sarcasm is the last thing they need. You are the kind of father who pretends knowledge he doesn't possess, and imposes information with implacable gratuitousness, and teaches lessons at the moment when none can be absorbed, and is right, and has always been right, and always will be right until the end of time, and never more than immediately after he has been wrong. And when your daughter's body begins to betray her, and her sky flickers in the distance with the heat lightning of sex, you clear your throat and stroke your chin whiskers and tell her to go ask her mother. You can't help it--you're a walking cliché."
– Michael Chabon

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"What do I do well as a father? I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love. And I have a lot of skills in terms of getting them to express themselves. I’m good with handy hints — if they can tell me what their problem is — ’cos I’ve had a lot of problems in life myself. I make an effort to expose them to things. I want them to have a deep, inner feeling that it’s alright to be happy, that you don’t have to be constantly manufacturing problems that you don’t really have."
Jack Nicholson (in an interview with Esquire)


"By the time a man realises that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong."
– Charles Wadsworth


"I'm very at ease, and I like it. I never thought I would be such a family-oriented guy; I didn't think that was part of my makeup. But somebody said that as you get older you become the person you always should have been, and I feel that's happening to me. I'm rather surprised at who I am, because I'm actually like my dad!"
– David Bowie

"I’ve done a lot of dadding. Whoo, I tell you what — it grows you up pretty quick when that little bugger starts waking up. Suddenly, there’s this little cute ball of stuff yelling its head off — boom! Snap to! Oh, man, I better take care of this. Daughters are far easier to bring up. My first [child] was Marlon, my son, and he gave me a good fight, man. He would drag my ass sometimes, before I could talk to him and instill the wisdom of not doing that. I occasionally borrow pot from my kids. They do a little weed occasionally. 'Here, Dad,' or more likely, 'Dad, have you got any?'"
Keith Richards (in an interview with Esquire)


"Children teach you that you can still be humbled by life, that you learn something new all the time. That's the secret to life, really – never stop learning."
– Clint Eastwood (in an interview with Esquire)

"Why do men like me want sons?" he wondered. "It must be because they hope in their poor beaten souls that these new men, who are their blood, will do the things they were not strong enough nor wise enough nor brave enough to do. It is rather like another chance at life; like a new bag of coins at a table of luck after your fortune is gone."
– John Steinbeck, Cup of Gold


“A new father quickly learns that his child invariably comes to the bathroom at precisely the times when he’s in there, as if he needed company. The only way for this father to be certain of bathroom privacy is to shave at the gas station.”
– Bill Cosby


“The greatest mark of a father is how he treats his children when no one is looking.”
– Dan Pearce



"That evening he plays with the children, cleans the hamster's cage with them, gets them into their pyjamas, and reads to them three times over, once together, then to Jake on his own, then to Naomi. It is at times like these that his life makes sense. How soothing it is, the scent of clean bedlinen and minty toothpaste breath, and his children's eagerness to hear the adventures of imaginary beings, and how touching, to watch the children's eyes grow heavy as they struggle to hang on to the priceless last minutes of their day, and finally fail."
– Ian McEwan, Sweet Tooth


"I have found the very best way to advise your children is to find out what they want to do and advise them to do it."
– President Harry Truman


"You're tired? Have a baby, then come back and tell me how tired tired is. There's no handbook for parenting. So you walk a very fine line, civilising these raw things."
– Gary Oldman (in an interview with Esquire)

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