To Be A Dad

January 21, 2010

I talk a lot about relationships with spouses and girlfriends, but it’s time to talk about the most important relationship you can have as a man: the one you have with your kids.

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.

Movies That Define a Man…and Why

February 19, 2009

We are men, we love movies. And believe it or not, there are those movies we watch that actually inspire us. We see certain scenes that make us want to jump for joy, cheer out loud, or go take on the world. Here are some of the movies that change us, and why (warning: there are few romantic scenes in here).

1. Tombstone.tombstone Watching Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp slapping Billy Bob Thornton’s face and daring him to slap leather will get a man’s blood racing every time. Why? We realize the moxy it would take to stand there unarmed and dare someone to be man enough to draw a gun that man knows we’re going to shove up his rear and pull the trigger of. Add to that the way Wyatt sticks up for his family. Someone hurts his brothers, he forms a posse and hunts them all down until they’re dead. Game over.

Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday is a real treat as well. Even though he’s hacking up a lung for most of the film, he still exudes confidence and wit as he faces down Johnny Ringo and the other cowboys. And that final showdown? Amazing.

Guys love this film simply because it has it all. A strong sense of family, plenty of action, men who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves despite overwhelming odds, and the good guy gets the pretty girl in the end. Real life in a perfect world.

The only potential downside to this flick is that you’ll have to listen to your man saying “I’m your huckleberry” for the next three days.

2. Die Hard. die-hardOne man against armed terrorists. Bring it.

Bruce Willis became the ultimate action star to men in the 80’s with this film. He wasn’t in the best shape, he was losing his hair, he was having marriage problems…basically, he was most of the men in the audience. But when the time came he threw down and wasn’t afraid to take the fight to them.

This is the one movie you’ll find in almost every man’s top ten, and the reason why is no mystery. We love this movie simply because John McClane is the man we all hope we could be if we found ourselves in a building taken over by terrorists. The pressure mounts around him throughout the film, but he always takes it in stride and no matter when comes he keeps fighting back–and winning. Most guys would wet themselves if they had to look over the edge of a 50 story building and get ready to jump off with nothing but a water hose attached to them, but we all like to imagine that would be us if the need arose.

Another catchphrase in this film as well…though it’s doubtful he’ll be saying this one around the kids or pastor.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark.raiders-of-the-lost-ark What does a bullwhip-snapping archaeologist have that makes him something men pay attention to? A life of action and adventure. Indiana Jones is just an ordinary guy out to do something simply extraordinary with his life. If he succeeds, the good guys win. If he fails, the world suffers.

Any guy who saw this movie as a kid in the 80’s left that theater wondering where he could get a bullwhip and a fedora. 20 years later, anytime the credits roll on the film, we still wish we had them. You think I’m joking? Stand in a crowd and you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one guy with the “Raiders” theme song as his phone’s ringtone.

Why does this story stand out? While we basically live a drone life of work and home with a week’s vacation where the most exotic thing we see is Disneyworld, Indiana Jones is waking up in a new country every week, running for his life from Nazis before lunch, and saving the world before dinner. He’s the adventurer we all wish we could be. He’s the life of excitement we all wish we had. If adventure had a name…it would be us.

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (or any of the “Vacation” films). national-lampoons-christmas-vacation-1989Clark W. Griswold just can’t get it right. No matter how hard he tries, his “nice family trips” always end in disaster. Something bad always happens to him, and he never gets it right. So why would this type of movie define a man? Because we always see ourselves in Clark.

Yes, we may imagine life as Wyatt Earp or Indiana Jones, but truth be told we’re mostly just Clark Griswold, trying to survive the holidays or vacations with our dignity intact. We go on trips we can hardly afford to places we don’t want to be and spend time with relatives we don’t really know. We try to look cool, but oftentimes we end up looking anything but. Truth is, we’re just trying to be a dad who is fondly remembered by his kids when they start their own holiday memories years from now.

Of course, if Christie Brinkley (or whatever her modern-day equivilent would be) ever wanted to go skinny dipping in a hotel pool with us in the middle of the night, I’d like to think we could keep our mouths shut no matter how cold the water was.