When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years!”
~ Mark Twain
I like lists. I like simple, concrete, action items which can really make a difference in my life. I’ve noticed that men especially want advice to be direct, effective, and free of psychobabble. So with Father’s Day just around the corner, here’s some inspiration for all you dads out there. Several expert dads1 have written extensively about what it takes to be a great dad, and I am going to boil it down and give it to you straight. Condensed, quick, and to the point. OK Dads, get ready to become your kid’s hero!
This just might be the hardest thing. If you achieve this, you’re well on your way to model parenthood. Your kid needs you to be present and available when you’re with him. Don’t try to multi-task when doing something together! Let your kid know they are your priority by listening with an open mind, looking at him in the eyeballs, and trying not to criticize or offer unsolicited advice. Kids will pick the darnedest times to want to play with you or ask you the big questions. Stop what you are doing. Turn to face them. And go with the moment. Even if you’re tired. Even if you’re late. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like right now. Just be present when they need you and you will become the indispensable playmate, counselor, and authority figure you always wanted to be.
Answer Questions with Questions
Kids are curious beings. Curiosity is a good thing because it leads to exploration and eventually knowledge. Of course your instinct is to supply the answer. Well, nice one dad, but that is like squashing their enthusiasm like a bug on the pavement! Answering with another question leads them in a direction of thought where they just might discover something even cooler than if you supplied them with the answer. Besides, it gives you a chance to get inside their heads and enjoy their thought process. You might get the best chuckle or insight of your day! A question in response to their question conveys your belief in your child’s intellect, which communicates much more than the answer to their question ever could. So ask a few questions in return, be their pathfinder rather than their instructor, and see the world light up in their eyes.
Be a Snoop
Your kid needs you to be an undercover agent always looking for clues about what makes them tick. How else will you know what is going on in their lives especially as they get older? You are not entitled to invade their privacy completely, but you can keep your eyes and ears open. Make it a point to drive carpool. Be quiet and just listen to their conversations. Be sure your house is a welcoming place for your kid and their friends. You will glean more data on your kid and his social world in a short amount of time than you ever will by asking questions. Be tech savvy and don’t be afraid to check your kid’s browsing history. Learn about their music, their books, and their media. Take in what they are absorbing and your view of them will expand exponentially. Talk to the parents of your kid’s friends. Networking means you’ve got eyes and ears all over town! Knowing your kid’s world helps you to understand them as a developing individual, allows you to coach them in areas of need, offers opportunities to help them grow, and helps you to keep them out of harms way.
Back Them Up
Every kid needs a cheerleader. A great dad lets his kid know that he believes in them. Empty praise or “good job” at every turn does little to instill confidence. But sincere encouragement, along with a hug, a smile, or a handshake confirms your support regardless of whether they have won or lost the game. Showing up for as many big events in your kid’s life as possible such as school plays, music recitals, sports games, and graduations is a great way to back them up. Make it your job to become a sincere encourager, knowing that they will not always accomplish what they set out to. Your kid needs to know that they can count on you to be there with nonjudgmental acceptance and some good old-fashioned physical contact when things go south. But don’t assume that you know their take on the situation until you’ve asked an open-ended question such as “How do you feel you did?” Your job is to allow them to self-critique and to stand behind them. Perhaps then they will be ready for your voice of wisdom and experience. If you want them to come to you when they’re older and have a problem, be the dad now who reassures, encourages, and snuggles.
Indulge Any Interest
How do you think a kid learns what they are interested in or capable of? Chances are they will need to try many things, many of which will be left by the side of the road to eventual self-knowledge. If you’re stingy about springing for the next round of sporting equipment or lessons they may struggle to find their passion. Within your means, try to be their source of inspiration fulfilled. If you had a penny for all the cast offs you might be deterred. But only you can open doors for them. They will decide whether it’s a door to be walked through or passed by. They should never be afraid to try. Don’t protect them from failing or shame them for moving on. Only they can find their aspiration, but you can be their committed benefactor promoting a sense of wonder and making all things possible.
You are your kid’s role model for all things including how to treat women. If your kid is a son he will learn from you how to have a successful relationship with a woman. If your kid is a daughter she will learn from you how much to value herself. Make common courtesy and respect the rule in your house. Learn to listen and communicate effectively with your wife, even openly heading her advice. Little people take all of this in. Nothing teaches a kid how to love and be loved like seeing love. So kiss your wife in the kitchen. Make it clear that their mother is to be obeyed. Never, ever badmouth your partner to their face or behind their backs. Regardless of whether you are “right” you are teaching your child disrespect. Disrespect leads to broken relationships and failure in the workplace. It’s up to you, Dad, to remind your son to show his girlfriend every courtesy. Teach him to open doors, to pull out her chair, and that “no” means no. It’s up to you to be your daughter’s first boyfriend. That means going to the father/daughter dance at school, treating her like a princess, and showing her that her beauty is more than skin deep. You want her to expect every boy who takes her out after you to treat her at least as well. Even if you and their mother are no longer partners the same rules apply. Kids need you to supply a strong family foundation through your example of loving respect. Creating people doesn’t end at conception. Now is your chance to mold your kid into a respectful human being. Someday it may be you who needs to be cared for by them. Make sure they are the caregivers you want to have!
When you loose control and yell you undermine the respect your kids have for you. You may frighten them into submission, but they won’t learn how to deal with frustrations. Blowing up is a sure fire way to alienate your kids from wanting to talk to you, obey you, or even love you. If you bully your kids, expect them to bully others. You are your kid’s hero. So wouldn’t it be better if you acted like someone worth imitating? Everyone gets stressed, but a controlled freak out is an admirable thing. Demonstrate restraint and self-control even under great frustration, and you are teaching your kid to channel their anger toward a constructive resolution. When you make and model wise decisions and are patient in difficult circumstances, you truly are the wise elder your kids will want to emulate. When you go the extra distance to be respectful, appreciative of others, thoughtful, and kind you will achieve superstar status in their eyes.
Have Clear Expectations
Kids need to know what you expect of them. They need to have standards and be held accountable. Providing the structure of rules and family traditions helps your kid to be grounded for life. Some expectations are for common courtesy, some are for hygiene, and some are economic. Some expectations are for family participation while others are for academic achievement. While it’s not possible to set an absolute standard for academic or athletic performance, it is possible to set goals for their engagement and improvement. Try not to give ultimatums or you may find that they can back fire leaving you with few options to adapt to changing needs. Instead, make your expectations known, but be flexible and demonstrate your ability to wisely judge extenuating circumstances. Father’s expectations are powerful even without a lot of words. Live by your own rules and you will be the mentor who will guide them gently but firmly along the path to success. Go ahead and set the bar high enough for them to have to stretch and watch them jump to please you!
What are you doing this Father’s Day?
This Father’s Day could be about more than your kid celebrating you. It could be a chance to reflect on and recalibrate your parenting of them. Perhaps you will use the reminder of the day to recommit to being the wise father figure your kid needs. No one’s perfect, Dad, but you get a lot of points for trying! It about being present, giving it your best shot, communicating your love, and accepting who they become. Every kid needs a Dad they can depend on. Put in the time now, and they will still want you around later when all you want is to be with them!
- Payleitner, Jay, 52 Things Kids Need From A Dad, what father’s can do to make a life long difference, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 2010.
- Harrison, Harry H., Father To Son, Workman Publishing Corp., NY, NY, 2000.