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The Toddler Owner's Manual

by Brett R. Kuhn, Ph.D., and Joe BorgenichtQuirk Books; $14.95



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As new parents fill their shelves with parenting books, dads quickly realize that most of these relegate the father to a parenthetical comment. "There will be a long explanation about what mother should do, and then it will say something like ‘(and father too, of course).'" writes dad of two, Joe Mills. "The parenthesis may imply obligation—'we have to mention this'—or bemusement—'Ha, ha, as if father will help,'—but it makes clear that the book's target audience is not dads." Mike Dabaie, a dad looking forward to his first Father's Day, agrees: "Most parenting books make it seem like the father's going to be watching football while the mother takes care of everything. But that's just a myth."

Fortunately, several new books assume that fathers are involved with their children. Here are four of the best.

Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads has the cover and format of a Boy Scout manual, and it embraces "guy" stereotypes. It recommends mixing formula in batches, a "six-pack" at a time, and using a beer pitcher to do so. This feels a little gimmicky, but, overall, the book strikes a balance between shtick and statistics. Be Prepared is an easy, entertaining read, which is an improvement over the many parenting books that intimidate and overwhelm. I like knowing, for example, that reggae music is particularly soothing to babies because its solid rhythm cycles at approximately 60 beats per minute. And I wish I'd known when my daughter was a bit younger that sitting on a running dryer can soothe a crying infant.

Fathering Your Toddler could just be titled "Parenting Your Toddler." Although author Armin Brott has made a career out of being a father, with a syndicated column, a talk show, and a series of books, the text attempts to be gender-neutral. Topics range from the pros and cons of computer use to dealing with a child's fears to the importance of having a will. The book also provides developmental guidelines, booklists, and useful Web sites. Brott tries to be comprehensive, and he succeeds. This is a book that you will repeatedly pull from your shelf to find quick answers.

Between diaper changes, late-night wake-up calls, and trying to bond with a little one, dads could use a little serenity. That's where Crouching Father, Hidden Toddler comes in. Author C.W. Nevius offers a lighthearted "zen" take on the trials, tribulations, and joys of being a new dad, in bite-sized pieces of wisdom. (One of my favorites, regarding eating out with a baby: "You may find that you have never had such fast service in your life. You are likely to be seated, fed, and back out the door in nothing flat." I have found this to be all too true.) But what makes this book easy for dads to relate to are its forays into topics not usually covered in parenting tomes, such as inadvertently lapsing into baby talk with adults (admit it, we've all done it).

If you want everything spelled out for you, try The Toddler Owner's Manual. Written like the instruction manuals that come with home-electronics equipment (except much, much clearer), this book takes the guesswork out of everything from discipline to naps to preparing for the arrival of a new sibling. Augmented by expert tips ("offer her two choices of clothing" has been a lifesaver with my toddler), the book addresses almost every challenge a dad could face. The Toddler Owner's Manual is a follow-up to The Baby Owner's Manual (2003), which is why the authors keep sight of the changing needs ("upgrades") of kids as they grow from infants to toddlers.

Reviewed by Joe Mills, a writer and college professor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Mike Dabaie, a writer and editor in Bloomfield, New Jersey.

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