Becoming a father is easy--for the few biological and mechanical minutes it requires. And becoming a dad also can be fun--when you know the secret. Dadhood can be the toughest, most rewarding job you will ever love, hate, resent and rejoice in. Sometimes all of these happen simultaneously, if you can believe that.
Yet, at its truest essence, the secret to navigating the sometimes choppy waters of dadhood rests with a single idea. The most foundational concept in the universe. The notion that everyone knows, most people aspire to, but none ever quite achieves completely. It is love--plain and simple.
To be a father requires successful intercourse. To be a dad requires successful interaction, interjection and interpersonal episodes that last a lifetime. Dadhood is not for the feint of heart. It is for those men whose hearts beat with courage, faith, focus and most of all, an unabiding, unabashed and unbridled love for their children.
The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, retired president of the University of Notre Dame, once sagely said, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Be a man strong enough to show this dedication to their mother without embarrassment, apology or condition. This provides the cement that creates a cohesive family, strong enough to weather any storm together.
Money helps, but memories last. “Stuff” will never replace shared experiences. Russell, the young scout in the Pixar movie, “Up,” reflects at one point in the film that his father was never around much, but that when he was, the best times occurred when the two of them were just being together. Kids have long memories and the ability to prioritize these memories wisely.
Accountability, responsibility and honor are all vital character traits. And all require demonstration, repetition, recognition and reinforcement to become ingrained qualities. Children are going to let you down from time to time. Use those moments to forgive, correct and redirect. A dad becomes a child’s first--and most important--teacher. Savor and respect the power behind this incredible privilege.
Hit the rewind button and think about the qualities of your own father that you would want to either emulate or avoid. What were some of the most significant pieces of advice he gave you? How did he demonstrate his love for you and your siblings? And if the answers to these questions come back negative, then start from there, recognizing that you don’t want to make the same mistakes. Be diligent and serious about this exercise, moving beyond old hurts and resurrecting old joys from your own childhood, to infuse your children’s lives with as much love as possible.
Find a faith-based concept that you feel comfortable in and use its principles to lay a sturdy foundation for your family to abide by. Love remains the core of the world’s faiths, although traditions and particulars may vary. Successful dadhood rests on such study pillars, so learn where your center truly lies and stay there as you raise your children. They will appreciate it in time.
Dadhood can be a scary endeavor. Money troubles come along and tensions can run high within the family. You are going to make mistakes, yell too loudly and overreact. But you are human, just like everybody else on this planet. Instead of punishing yourself, inspire yourself to continuously try harder, be stronger and do better. Forgiveness comes easier when the sinner is sincere about improving.
t may be cliché, but it also rings true--every day is a gift. Every time your child smiles as you come through the door at the end of a day’s work, it is the greatest blessing a man can receive. Take the time to appreciate the small gestures and moments that make life beautiful. Have an attitude of gratitude, and continuously remind yourself that these, indeed, are the good old days.
Fred Rogers, the kindly gentleman who hosted “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for decades on PBS, once said, “Play is the work of childhood.” It is how kids figure things out, test their limits and achieve the joy of accomplishment. When you, as a dad, can be a part of that play, can you imagine how much richer and more rewarding the experience is for the child? So climb into that playhouse. It is a blast to play along with your kids.
While kids are young, they don’t know about the world outside, other than the limits you share with them as a parent. It is your job as a dad to be their primary protector. To be the grown-up who knows how to drive the car to where they are going, the big man who will always take care of them, the one who shovels the sidewalk when it snows and helps to tuck them in at night. You are the leader. Accept your role and do your best every single day to live up to the heroic expectations of the little ones in your charge.
Whether it is through photos, videos or written entries in a notebook, it is worth the effort to record the events – large and small – that shape your family’s history as it happens. The time will arrive when you are saying goodbye at a college dormitory, and you won’t be able to recall when this child of yours was bouncing in a playpen, growing lima beans in third grade or going to a first dance. Keeping a recorded history of these moments creates a treasure that can be opened and reopened for generations to come.
Whether by looking inward or expressing outward, the sometimes choppy waters of dadhood can always be sailed with confidence, courage and calm when love provides the unwavering underpinning of every decision and action. As Robin Williams once quipped, “Being a dad is the most important job in the world, but it’s all on-the-job training.” Operating from a foundation of love makes the journey better and more rewarding--both for you and for your children.
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