This isn’t going to be one of those “oh, my dad was horrible and that’s why I turned out to be the way I am” kind of speeches. I don’t blame my old man for anything in my life. He lived to work and his success on his job was how he gauged his success in life in general. Even today if you ask him what’s going on, he’ll talk about work. It remains his life call…but I still turned out fine.
That being said, when I had kids of my own I did decide I would be a different father from the one I grew up with. When the choice comes between work and family, family wins every single time it’s possible.
And so, because absolutely no one asked, here is what it means to me to be a dad:
You are shaping and forming the future.
With every family moment you spend playing a game instead of watching one on television, you are forming a bond with your child. That child will see you and watch you and–if you give them a reason to–will admire you and want to be like you. Hey, when they hit those tumultuous teen years you’re going to need all the help you can get. Investing when they’re young means you are a role model in their life and someone they grow to respect for information…not the guy who comes home from work and yells at them to get away from the front of the television set so you can see the game.
I’ve heard a lot of parents talk about how horrible their kids became when they were teens, but then I’ve heard just as many dads talk about some family get together they’re doing this weekend with the kids. It isn’t hard to figure out who spends regular time with the kids and who lives their own life without them in mind.
Remember, every moment you spend with them today shapes the future. It may not always be the most convenient thing to do when you’ve just had a long day at work, but take advantage of the opportunity to throw a baseball, attend an imaginary tea party, or get hopelessly slaughtered in a video game by a 9 year old. These are moments you are investing that will pay off in the future.
You are the role model…now act like it.
I have never understood how a parent can stand there holding a cigarette in their hand and tell their kids not to smoke. I don’t follow how fat parents can make fun of their kids for being overweight. Whether you believe it or not, your children look to you as their role models. They may hear what you tell them, but your actions will dictate theirs.
Become the person you want your children to imitate. Don’t just talk a good game.
Your words have power…use them wisely.
I’ll bet you can still remember vividly some cruel remark made to you as a child. Maybe it was you were ugly, or fat, or stupid, or lazy, or something like that. Whatever it was, you remember it. It may have been said in anger, or in passing, or just in jest, but years later you remember it. Maybe it made you a better person as you strove to prove them wrong, but more likely it haunted you over the years.
The kids will make you angry from time to time. They may really do something stupid every once in a while, but never, ever, ever, under any circumstances allow your anger to get the better of you. Keep your mouth shut! Walk away, do whatever, but don’t let your words get away from you.
That’s not to say you let the kids get away with everything. If they do something stupid, call them on it–just don’t call them stupid. Criticize the behavior, discuss options, spank them if need be. Just remember that your words in that moment will forever be remembered.
I have a friend who is 50, and still vividly remembers the day he got his license at age 16. He left his house just minutes after getting his license and drove off to see his girlfriend, driving there on his own for the first time. Along the way, he had a wreck running his car off the road and seriously damaging the transmission. Here was this terrified teenager who called his dad from a pay phone and waited anxiously by his car as his father drove to where he was.
The father arrived and immediately asked if he was ok. My friend said yes, but that the car was ruined and he was sorry. What happened next has stayed with him over 30 years later, and I’ve heard him tell this story to folks numerous times. His father said, “As long as you’re all right. Where were you going? Well, take my car and I’ll stay here until the wrecker arrives. You be careful and have a good time. We’ll talk about this later when you get home.” My friend received mercy when he didn’t deserve it, and his father even allowed him to go on to see his girlfriend (rather foolishly you might think, but it was a cool thing to do). His dad never yelled at him or anything; they just worked out how long it would take the kid to pay off the repair bill.
I’ve heard that story a number of times and have a lot of respect for that guy today. He has kids of his own (all teenagers) and last year one of his daughters wrecked their family car while learning to drive. He told me he remembered the mercy his father showed him, and even though he was steaming inside for what had happened, he kept it in and just held his daughter while she cried and shook, and told her it was all going to be all right.
That’s the legacy of a good father. When your child grows up and decades later still remembers the life lesson you taught through an act of undeserved mercy instead of blasting them away with words, you have succeeded. When that same child uses you as their role model when parenting their own children, you are more than a success…you are a legend.