You can undo a marriage. And no longer be a husband or a wife. You can quit a job and no longer be in a career. You can end all your friendships and you’re no longer a friend. Cancel all your memberships and you’re no longer a member. You can take off your priestly robes and break your vows, and no matter how many years of service you put in, you are no longer part of the church. But no matter what you do, once you become a father, you are a father for life.
If you swear off your children, or they swear off you. Abandon them, or they abandon you. Whether you are the greatest father on earth, or the worst. You are still a father. You will always still be their father.
That never goes away.
And there is nothing more I’d rather be. Nothing else I need to be.
The early days of fatherhood are spent walking out in front. Protecting. Leading. Guiding. Providing. Giving whatever of yourself that you can, so that your young ones have what they need. Paving the way. Clearing the way for them. So they can walk freely behind you. So that they can learn, by watching you. Allowing them to grow, in the shelter of your shadow.
Those early roles of fathers has been the same since the dawn of time. And will continue to be that way, probably forever. There is something inside of us that guides us to do this. It’s innate. If you don’t believe me, just look towards the animal kingdom, of which we are a part. Almost all animals grow their young in this way. Mothers and fathers, each playing their roles. Protecting and teaching little ones until they grow into big ones.
And it is truly awesome. You are literally giving your kids life. Teaching them how to live.
Then the kids grow. And they don’t need you much anymore. Sometimes, it seems, like they do not need you at all. At least not for the things you used to give.
In generations past, fathers tried to stay relevant into an offspring’s adult life through advice. Your father was the guy you went to, to learn about cars. About women. About electronics. About mortgages. About kids. Or early bosses. This was the guy who guided you through your life through a series of simple answers or drawn out stories with simple answers tucked inside. Or sometimes just sarcastic comments at the dinner table. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but that’s your father actually trying to help. Actually trying to father you.
Today though, in this age of the internet, when the gaining of knowledge, the finding of answers, comes so easily and quickly from a Google search, the need for fathers as we knew them, has gone away. If I have questions, I reach for my phone. But not to call my father. Not to call anyone. Simply to log onto the internet, aka the library of infinite answers. There, I find more well-rounded, better researched, and definitely unbiased recommendations. Answers to anything I seek.
Gone is the need for lifelong advice giver. Those services are just no longer required.
I watch. As my father struggles to find his place. Wanting to help. With knowledge. With advice. With guidance.
I don’t know that he would be equipped to give me advice these days. On pretty much any aspect of my life. That’s not a knock on him. And that doesn’t mean I know everything. It’s just not something I need.
This is actually a result of how he raised us.
My father raised his kids to become men and a woman. He grew us, so that we could seek out answers. To seek out the truth. To seek out information from a range of sources. So that we could use our own minds. To make the best decisions.
That’s fathering. That’s a father.
Advice has never been fathering anyway. Not really. It was more of a way for socially and emotionally awkward men to communicate with their sons and daughters. A way for men to show they loved their offspring. A way to contribute to their lives.
Advice giving will never be considered fathering in the future. And the numbers of emotionless men are shrinking rapidly.
Fathers must get better at fathering later in life.
Look, my father isn’t a perfect father. But I can’t hold that against him. Right now, knowing all I know, with the entire internet at my disposal for answers and strategies, and thinking about all the things I think about on a daily basis, I’m not a perfect father either. Far from it.
There will be things, when my kids grow up, that they can point to and say, ‘My father screwed me up. And here’s why.’ I just think that’s part of it. It’s part of the human existence. We are flawed.
But I have things that I have learned. Because my dad was who he was. And because of who he wasn’t. And I parent a certain way because of both of those things. I took what he did well, and tried to mimic those things. I took what he did poorly, and tried to overcome those things. I’m sure I over-correct on some things. I’m sure I’m not doing some of the things that he did well, as well. I’m sure that I am doing some things better. I’m putting effort there.
And he wasn’t my only source. I have had the benefit of being able to watch and learn from my siblings, who are all incredible fathers. And from my sister. Who serves both roles of mother and father, undeniably well. Incredibly well.
Here is a list of what I’ve learned so far. This is how you stay relevant as a father. This is how to father for your whole life. Thought this might be relevant for fathers and sons alike. And for people like me, who are both.
Keep your kids safe and happy. I tell my kids this all the time. I have two main jobs in this world; to keep them safe and happy. And that’s not just happy for the moment. That’s happy in life. And those two things, require an incredible amount of my time, energy, and thought. Enough to keep me very busy for the rest of my life. I now know dad, why you were so busy. But you made time for us. Part of this one is making time for your kids.
Have fun in grocery stores. Of all the things that my father taught me, and there were a lot. This is probably my favorite. And the best for my kids. I can go to grocery store with my kids and have the best time. The best time ever. It’s true. It doesn’t have to be a grocery store. It can be a church. A rest stop. A hospital. You can have fun…literally anywhere. You can make something mundane fun. You can make a non-event, an event. ‘A happening’ as my father use to always call it. You want to be miserable in these places…why?
You don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe I can ask the right questions. Maybe I won’t be THE source. But I can be a source. I can be a sounding board. A sound mind that wants for nothing, except the best for my kids. Nothing except happiness for my kids. I can be an unbiased opinion. A trusted confidant. I can be a voice of reason in the coming emotional times. The inevitable hard times of my children have yet to experience.
Be strong. Weakness is not an attribute I want my kids to learn. There is only strength. Please don’t mistake this for brute strength. And it doesn’t mean you can’t show you’re human and have emotion. It doesn’t mean you can’t be loving and soft to the kids. It’s about having a command and a confidence in life. It’s about showing in the hardest times, that everything is going to be OK. It’s about showing them that you will fight tooth and nail, until it’s all OK. That’s strength.
It’s not about your kids being the most successful. It’s about your kids being the most happy. And there is oftentimes a difference of opinion between kids and parents, on how best to get that done. There are differences of opinion on what’s going to make someone happy. Parents oftentimes know more. And have seen so much more. And they do have sound advice to give. They just don’t know the best ways to say it. And they don’t understand that their kids need to make their own mistakes. Kids need to walk through that fire themselves to know what burns feel like. And from the parents’ perspective, I get it. I never want to see my kids burned. I don’t even want to see them get close to the fire. But small burns now will make your kids learn, so that later they stay away from larger fires. This is about happiness overall in life. Not happiness in this minute.
Have a life outside of your children. It’s important to let kids know that they are the center of your world. Just not your entire world. This is healthy for kids to realize.
Don’t let your kids realize you’re human until they figure out that they are. I can’t remember the age when I realized who I was. I was kind of a late bloomer in this regard. With all this exposure, I’m sure the average age is a lot younger today. Stay a hero if you can, until your kids gain the understanding that we’re all flawed. The great realization of a child, that their own parents have sacrificed so much so that they could live, and learn, and thrive, is incredible. It took me raising kids to fully appreciate it. But was an amazing moment. And to be able to give your own kids that moment, when you are still their hero…it’s truly something remarkable.
Don’t project things that you wanted but didn’t get as a kid, on your own kids. If you had some life that you longed for as a kid, and you didn’t get it…or didn’t have it, you can drive yourself crazy trying to give it to your kids. But they are not you. They are a part of you. But they may not want the same exact things you wanted. You have to realize they have their own path. And by forcing what you wanted on them, you will put them in a territory of problems of which you have no idea how to deal.
Be friends with your kids. I know there are many people who say they don’t want to be friends with their kids. That they are their parents, not their friend. I don’t agree with this. It doesn’t mean you buy your kids alcohol when they are 17. It doesn’t mean you don’t discipline your kids. But I want to be friends with my kids. I want to laugh with them. Life is so funny. I want to laugh with these little people, just like I would with friends. I want to spend time with them. Just like I would with friends. I know the teenage years are difficult with that struggle between independence and childhood. But even there, I want to speak logically and transparently to my kids. Like I would a friend.
Make these things a priority in your parenting style. Calmness. Guidance. Clarity. Empowerment. Discipline. Unconditional love. Strength. Compassion. Shared joy. Be interested. Definitely be interested. Be a guiding light by how you act. Always have the best intentions. Non-judgmental. Sound advice. Giving of love. Giving of time.
Be a part in helping your kids realize their dreams. I hope someday, when I’m long gone from this earth, my kids and their kids say that I played a part in helping them realize their dreams. That to me, is fathering at it’s best. This isn’t making happen whatever your 3-year-old dreams up. But it’s helping your children realize what their calling is. In life. Then it’s helping them realize their life’s calling.
If you just did this last one, that would probably be enough.
My father still walks down the path. Wanting to be a father. Wanting to clear the way. Wanting to protect. And guide. At a certain point in life though…the children catch up. At some point soon after, the son passes the father. And goes out front. Protecting. Leading. Providing. Guiding. Not the easiest for some fathers to realize. Not the easiest for some children to accept.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. Know that your legacy lives on, in the way I father my own kids. And in the way my siblings, the greatest fathers and mothers I know, parent their kids. That legacy will live on in your grandkids, and the way they parent their offspring. Both because of who my siblings and I are as parents, and because of who we are not.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers in the world.