Paternal instincts rarely get the same attention as their female counterpart, but Clyde Edgerton’s new book could set that right. Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages gives the impression of a man who looks at the world around him, really looks at it, and picks it up and gives it a shake to see what it’s made of in order to understand it. Applying that keen curiosity to co-parenting four children, ages 5 to 30, is part of his recipe for success, one that seems to work for prose as well as peewees. He is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and many short stories, and a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Fathering and writing may have more in common than you’d think. “You are, or are about to be, involved in a mammoth art project—the making and molding of a new life,” Edgerton writes. Both take creativity, stamina, grace and forgiveness. “You can’t be a good father all of the time, but what you have to do is recognize when you’re not and not be too hard on yourself, and try to do better, not make a big deal out of it,” he says.

Save that energy for getting down on the floor with your child when she asks to let her climb on you, or for acting out the parts of Ray Charles’s “Hit the Road Jack” together. Lay down on your back in the grass with your brood and play “Sky Television,” a game where you watch the sky like it’s a screen and say what you see. Play strange Monopoly with your six-year-old, where standard rules do not apply; let him put 10 hotels on Park Place if he wants. Edgerton would sooner see you foster an independently minded child than one solely clamoring for the latest, greatest toy on TV (and he does believe there’s a special circle of hell reserved for those who pen advertisements geared toward children or invent those irritating talking toys).

One good way to foster fine habits is to demonstrate them yourself. “I’m totally convinced that kids learn so much from their parents’ behavior, as opposed to what they say. It’s really important to think about those kind of things,” says Edgerton. Also important are practical matters: “Assemble the crib before the baby is born,” and “Pick the baby up and cradle him in your arms, fashioned into the shape of a new moon. Or you can hold him like a football.” You can use a cooler instead of a bassinet. Toss the baby in the air to quit their fussing. “I discovered that early on and it works great! They don’t know what the hell’s going on. They forget, and you catch them and they’re safe and it just makes them forget what they were worrying about,” he says, adding that if your mother-in-law objects, you can toss her, too.

The observation-based advice is juxtaposed with letters to Edgerton’s children that evoke tender feelings: appreciation for daughter Catherine’s first laugh; acknowledgement of an ill-fated sled run with son Nathaniel at age two. And while good humor shines through most lines, you can tell the man takes the job seriously—and in order to be a good parent and partner, he must take himself seriously. “I learned you’ve got to love yourself more than  anybody else in order to love other people the right way. You take care of yourself so that you can love other people, and I think sometimes selfish people give themselves away until they disappear. My wife and I have that understanding. We take care of ourselves first, not in a selfish way but in a way that’s a gift to other people,” he says.

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Edgerton Cover

For fathers or fathers-to-be, there’s plenty to emulate in Edgerton. Mothers and grandparents, too, may benefit from his sagacity and wit. The author suggests that the book might in fact be read by anyone who’s ever been a child. “If I could get everybody to read it I’d be able to put my kids through college,” he says.

I don’t have kids and never was one, but I’m still liable to agree with most everything he writes. Especially this: “If you are a good person, you will probably be a good father. Try not to worry too much.”

Megan Labrise is a freelance writer and columnist based in New York.