Just a few suggestions from one dad to another. And just to be clear, I’m writing this not because I think I’m such a great dad or because I know or do it all right. Nope, I’m writing it as a reminder to myself of a few of the things I need to focus on every day to be just a bit better as a father. I’d love to have your input in the comments on the things I left off that your dad did or that your husband does that means the most to you and/or your kids? And is there any other advice you have for dads?
- Spend quality time with your children – We guys frequently feel conflicting demands for our time. Often in the role of (at least partial) financial provider, we feel we are showing “love” by working those long hours, and assume that they somehow make up for the time we are thus not spending with our kids. Guys, when you are old and looking back on your life, I doubt either you or your children will regret a few extra dollars you didn’t make, but I guarantee you will regret the time you wish you could have spent with them… and now can never get back.
- Show affection to your children – Some guys have a real problem being affectionate. The words “I love you” are just not in their vocabulary. Forgive the expressions, but “man up” dude. I get that your dad wasn’t all warm and cuddly with you, and his dad wasn’t with him. Neither was mine. And yes, we turned out all right… but really… if you were honest with yourself, wouldn’t you have loved to have heard just once, “Son, I love you and am so proud of you”? I’m not suggesting you need to get all girly and mushy, you’re a guy. But your kids need to feel, really feel, your love. Give them a hug for God sake, it’s not gonna kill you.
- Treat your wife with respect – Yes, this is a really important way to be a good dad. I don’t care if you and your kid’s mom are divorced and being in the same room with her triggers your gag reflex. You are partners in raising your children, and especially if your kids are young they don’t understand issues you may have with your wife, nor should they. They are going to learn how to be with their future partners from watching and using you as role models. Hopefully you and your wife are married and happy, but regardless show a loving, respectful, common front to your kids. Their current and future happiness depends upon it.
- Talk to your kids… and listen – If you’re daughter wants to talk about her undying love for the Justin Bieiber du jour, then let her. Engage in the conversation. Take an anti-nausea pill if necessary. But keep those lines of communication open. Let them ask questions while they still value your opinion. Share your thoughts, and give theirs respectful attention as well… whether they deserve it or not. Shut that communication pathway down, and it may never get re-opened. Oh, and don’t forget to use all that time you have them captive in the back seat of the car.
- Stay calm with your kids – Whether they are provoking you (as they will do intentionally at times) or if life in general seems to be taking daily pot shots at you… stay calm. Don’t scream or yell (at them or life), take things in stride and show a measured thoughtful response to whatever it is. They need to know their world is secure and safe. They certainly don’t need to be scared of you, and they don’t need to be unduly scared of other things (your job security, the economy, your relationship with their mom, etc). When needed be the parent and punish them as appropriate, but calmly without anger.
- Stop and Smell the Diapers – You may already be thinking of how great it’s going to be when you no longer need to change diapers. Maybe you’re already past that and looking forward to when they are in school during the day and out of your hair. Perhaps you look forward to them being out of the house and turning their bedroom into a home office or gym. I guarantee some day you will wish, beg, pray to have these days back again… to have another chance to spend that quality time with them, not just when they drop by with the grand-kids once a year because they moved to the other coast. Go listen to Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle.
Today is all we have. There is no point wasting time on regretting anything you have or haven’t done. That’s gone… get over it. What you need to do now is figure out how you are going to make the most of the time you do have. Do it now, because “now” is going to be gone before you know it. To borrow an advertising tag line, “JUST DO IT!”
What did or does your dad or husband do that meant the most to you? What advice do you have for other dads?