Many of us Dad’s these days don’t have a lot to go by. If we were lucky enough to grow up with present fathers, we had it made. Most of us grew up in, at best, broken homes, or were raised by other family members. More often than not it seems, we were raised by hardworking mothers, or grandparents, with fathers that were nowhere to be found. Growing up we held a great deal of resentment, and now that we are fathers, we can run into a lot of problems, and question ourselves if we are doing a good enough job.
The families that I admired as a kid came from television shows, reruns of a time past, and I still admire them. I used to pretend that Andy Griffith was my Dad, or that I was a member of the Brady Bunch. I looked to older kids when I was younger, for acceptance, and proof that I too, was a man. I could throw rocks, catch fish, ride my bike fast and chop trees without the guidance of a Dad, couldn’t I? Of course I could, and I didn’t need a Dad around to help me with those things.
My Dad was never around, I vaguely remember meeting him as a child, and once as an adult, just to close that chapter. I wanted to thank him for his role, or lack there of, in my life. It helped me learn what a father is supposed to do, everything he didn’t. I remember back to the times as a child, I wished I had a Dad to do the things other kids talked about. I wanted someone to take me fishing, I wanted a partner to have my back when I played ball, but most of all I just wanted someone to be around. I said it a thousand times as a kid, “I would rather have the worst Dad in the world, than no Dad at all.” Most of all I just wanted someone to be present.
- That brings me to my number one point. In this day and age you get points just for showing up. You are a father, show up and do the work. It might seem small and insignificant to you, but spending time with you child is the number one thing your child wants from you. It’s simple, yet rare to see it happening. You can’t imagine the amount of compliments I would get from mom’s when I would take my daughter to the park in the mornings. “It’s so great that you take her out here and play”. I would always reply with “Don’t give me any compliments, this is what a father is supposed to do.”
- Lead by example. Be an example to your child, and other fathers as well. Your child will become a testament to your job as a parent, and take any opportunity to let them in on the secrets of life that have taken you years to learn. They don’t have to be taught the hard way, let them know now how important honesty is, and reward them for it. Teach them to always do the right thing no matter how hard. Let them know that the right way and the easy way are rarely the same thing. Start building a foundation now, and be that example for them to look towards. Hold doors open for people, say please and thank you. Be slow to anger and quick to apologize. Be the example you wished you had.
- Listen. We are all busy with our own lives and it’s hard sometimes to take your child’s little problems seriously, but remember, this is their first whirl around the world, so take them seriously and listen. If you start now with taking time to listen to them, and allow them to speak without punishment or ridicule, you will find that they will share with you not only the small stuff, but the bigger things too as they get older. Be honest if they ask you a question, and always lend an ear when they have something to say.
- Why so serious? Play with your child, rough-house, teach them how to do something…anything. Read books together, and make messes. Build things together, think of little projects you can do, let them take part in your favorite activities and have fun. Ask them what they would like to do every once in a while, and do it. Teach them the things you wanted to do as a kid, to play catch, to go fishing, to build things. Be the example you wanted your own father to be.
- Show them an example of love. You’ve made a child and you have to do what your father didn’t, and that is to put yourself second and your child first. The best example of love, and setting them up for finding love and giving love when they are older is starting at home. Try as hard as you can to get along with your partner, you both share a child, and try, and I mean really try to make it work. Be thoughtful and sweet to your wife. Take your child with you on dinner date’s, and show your child how a man is supposed to act. Bring home flowers every once in a while, and hug and kiss your partner often. If things don’t work out with you and your partner, for the child’s sake, keep it friendly. There was a time where people thought of children and marriage as sacred. Ive seen it said that most divorces are because of “hardness of the heart”, lighten up, put yourself second and make it work. You owe it to your child to have tried as hard as you could to be around.
- Be honest. Honestly is a number one rule in this house. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If it is impossible for you to keep the promise, apologize and make it up to your child. If you say you are going to be somewhere, be there. You child needs to know that they can depend on you, whenever they need you.
- Forgive yourself. Usually the best sign of being a good dad is feeling like you are one of the worst. I assure you, you aren’t. If you care enough about your child to criticize your own parenting, that’s is a step in the right direction. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you make a mistake, learn from it and make it right.
- Create tradition. I always was so jealous about hearing how other kids in class had family dinners. My family dinner usually was around the television, who contrary to popular belief isn’t the head of the household. Children need structure and actually look forward to things you do together as a family. Although we never really ate dinner around the table in our household, I made it a point to do it in my household now. We turn off the TV, (usually) leave our phones away from the table, say our grace and eat together. We have conversation about our day, and enjoy a break from technology as we delight in a family meal. Having “take out Wednesdays” or “taco Tuesdays” really can make dinner time fun but don’t stop there. Have a certain night a week you all play a board game, or go for a family walk. Make one day a week “dance party night” and spend the evening dancing together. Make something in your home, or many things in your home, that your child can look forward to.
- Let your child know it’s OK to not be perfect, but that you always keep trying. We all make mistakes, and we all feel like we are doing a crappy job, but its getting up when we are down that’s so important. If someone had told me as a kid, it’s OK to screw up, but just make sure you fix it, I might have spent less time screwing up. Sounds backwards but makes a lot of sense. Sometimes when we fail, we feel like giving up and that we might as well keep on failing. Not so, each day is a new day, and another chance to do the right thing.
- Never stop saying “I love you.” It doesn’t matter how old or young you child is, they need to hear how much you love them. Don’t assume they know all the work you put into being a parent right off the bat, they might never understand until they are parents themselves, but always tell them with your words. Your actions might show it, but if they don’t hear those words from you at least once a day, then you are missing something special. Kids need to know there is someone in this world that has their back, that they are loved and that you love them. We even created a secret symbol between us that means “I love you”, and we flash it to each other quite often. It’s something special we can share together, that no one else has, that is a great way to show we love them.
Having no father yourself is no excuse to not be a great Dad. You might have had a great father figure, like I did, in your Grandfather, for example, or maybe a teacher that helped you out as a kid. If you have no point of reference at all, and are completely clueless, ask your child what to do, they usually can be pretty honest. Start molding yourself into the person you want to be, whether its the person you are or not. As a kid, and as an adult still, I still admire the men of justice, truth and honor. If you have to think to yourself, “what would Andy Griffith do?” before making a decision, then, by all means you owe it to your child. I admired Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I admired Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby show, I admired James Evans in Good times, Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver, heck, I even admired Herman Munster from the Munster’s. To this day I mention how “it used to be”, and to be honest I don’t have an example of “how it used to be” other than from some of those TV shows, and you know what, that’s fine. You are doing OK as long as you strive to be the best father you can be, it’s the most important thing you can do in your life, and if you make a mistake, pick yourself right back up and try again.