How tech has helped me be a better dad

It’s Father’s Day weekend, and many fellow dads out there may be looking for a good excuse to go out and buy some new gadgets. A new mobile phone maybe, a better camera or even a tablet. Go ahead, I say. Because tech, when used right, can help you to be a better dad.
My first daughter was born five years ago this month, and while there might be downsides to being an always connected father – I’m the first one to admit that checking email at the playground is a bad habit, but also that I do it nonetheless – there are also plenty of examples for technology saving the day, and memories for years to come. Here are some of the apps, tools and tricks that have helped me to be a better dad:

Is it time to freak out yet?

Timing those contractions. Being a geek dad starts early, and this one can be particularly helpful if you’re trying to be useful in those hours before birth without freaking everyone out. For the birth of my first daughter, I still tried to count and calculate contractions the old way, and quickly gave up. Getting caught up in math problems really isn’t a great way to calm your partner’s nerves. The second time around, I just discreetly pressed a button on my Android phone and left the calculating to a contraction timer app. That was much less effort and calmed my nerves – until the numbers told me that it was, in fact, time to finally freak out.
Skype is for grandma. Part of being a dad is to keep in touch with the rest of your family despite parenthood seemingly eating up every minute of your non-work life. That can be even more challenging when some of your relatives are hundreds, or in my case thousands of miles away. Skype (s MSFT) to the rescue! Video calls not only help you to stay in touch, but they can be excellent for show-and-tell as well, allowing your kids to share their lives with grandma and make the world feel that much smaller.

One of the many things my daughter wanted me to buy her. I took a photo of it instead.

Let’s take a photo of it. Every parent has been there: You’re at a store, and your son or daughter really wants to have this one toy more than anything else in the world. Pleeeeeease! First it’s cute, then you’re getting into an argument, and soon the breakdown is inevitable. That’s when camera phones are lifesavers. I started long ago to take photos of things my older daughter wants to have, but doesn’t get to buy that day. It calms her down, and we know exactly what she wants and can put it on her birthday wish list – or forget about it if it turned out to be not that important to her after all.
Cloud to the rescue. Speaking of photos: One of the great things about tech is that it’s much easier to capture precious moments. Of course, it’s also much easier to lose all the data you have, which is why I long ago started to automatically back up all of my photos to a cloud storage service, in addition to the external backup hard drive I have at home. I’m using Sugarsync, but other services may suit your personal needs even better. I also started to have a second cloud backup of all my cell phone pictures when I installed the Google+ app on my phone last year. Google+ (s GOOG) doesn’t just automatically upload every photo you take, it also allows for easy sharing with select groups of friends or family members – which is great if you’re not comfortable with the idea of sharing your kids’ lives with all of your online friends and followers.

The things my daughter does at preschool… sent to me via Posterous.

Stay connected. Sending your kids off to day care or preschool can be tough, because you suddenly get to spend a lot less time with them. Luckily, tech can help you stay connected. When I enrolled my daughter in preschool two years ago, one of the first things I did was to set up a Posterous group for all of the preschool’s parents. Her teacher usually takes a few photos every day that automatically get sent to all of the parents – and there’s nothing better during a long day of work than to get an email that shows your daughter, drawing a picture, smiling.
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And of course, feel free to share your favorite tech tips for dads in the comments. Happy Father’s Day, everyone!
Image courtesy of (CC-BY-SA) Flickr user nelsocs.