While some dads are deadbeats and some mothers truly do an amazing job raising kids on their own, the lasting effects of a great father cannot be underestimated. I should know, because my dad is amazing. I say this neither to boast nor to gush, but rather because, in both my personal and professional opinion, he’s got this dad thing pretty much figured out. Allow me to share seven fatherhood lessons that I learned from him (along with a few of my own thoughts).
1. Be a good man. Recognize the importance of your example. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you want honest kids, be honest. If you want polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving kids, be polite, gracious, patient, and forgiving. Model the virtues that you want to see in them.
2. Love (and/or respect) their mother. This could be a whole post in and of itself, but to be brief: if you’re still with the mother of your children, don’t be ashamed to love her the most and put her first. If you have a daughter, ask yourself how you’d want her husband to treat her one day; that’s how you should treat your wife. It’ll benefit your own marriage and help your sons and daughters to know how to be and what to look for. I know for a fact that my siblings and I all strive to emulate the marriage of my parents.
If, on the other hand, you’re divorced or separated from the mother of your children, let whatever issues you have between you stay there. Don’t badmouth your children’s mother in front of them. Your kids are not the persons you should be processing with and venting to.
3. Work hard, but make regular time for your children. My dad was a busy man (something I can relate to these days), but no matter how tired he was, he always made a little time for each of us. It was more about quality than quantity, and it made a difference. Because my dad regularly connected with me about my life, I felt comfortable approaching him with my questions about love, money, faith, sex, and anything else.
4. Share your interests, but encourage your kids in theirs. My father is an attorney. My brother is an attorney. My uncle is an attorney. I have cousins who are attorneys. It seems to be what Decker men do. Though dad suggested I look into the profession, he never pushed. He was supportive when I chose a different path. Although Dad was a distance runner, he was thrilled when my brother chose to play basketball. We’ve always felt free and encouraged to find ourselves, and that’s largely because my parents understood this simple principle: Live for your kids, not through them.
If you were the star quarterback but your son wants to do theatre, be proud of him for exploring his interests. That’s not to say you shouldn’t introduce him to the pigskin to see how he likes it. I love running, nature, certain music, and classic Westerns largely because of my dad’s influence, but those things were not forced upon me, and he supported me in my own interests. For example, he was never a filmmaker, but when I showed passion for it, he helped me to scout locations for my projects.
5. Influence instead of control: Far too many parents think their job is to get their children to behave a certain way or make certain decisions. The fact is, children are a stewardship to watch over, guide, and influence, not a property to control. Of course teach them right from wrong, but allow them to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them. When they’re children, that means establishing and communicating consequences (good and bad) for actions, then letting your kids choose while you firmly follow through with the consequences. When they’re adults, they may make choices you disagree with. Let them know if you must, but make it clear that you respect their right to make their own decisions, and will be loved no matter what.
6. Openly express affection: Dads, I know sometimes we’re socialized to be rough and gruff, but seriously: don’t assume that your kids know you love them. Explicitly let them know. You needn’t say or do anything that makes anyone overly uncomfortable, but it should be clear and unmistakable.
7. Don’t lose your playful side: You may think being stern is a dad’s job, and certainly you must be firm at times, but many kids connect with the father who takes the time to have fun with them. You’re busy. You’re stressed. You’ve got a lot weighing down on you. You may think you don’t have time for play. Trust me, you do have the time. What’s more, it’s as good for you as it is your kids.