In honor of all fathers . . .
1. Show Up
Regardless of whether you live with them or not, a father’s job is to show up whenever possible and be a positive force in the lives of your children. My kids are young adults now and I’ve been fortunate to be present for most of their journey from infancy to adulthood. You’ve got to make time for them.
2. Be interested
What you’re interested in is not necessarily what your kids are interested in. It’s fine if they don’t want to play the sport you played or read the books you loved or hold the views that you do. From an early age, they are their own person possessing their own wants and needs. Show interest in who that person is.
3. Maintain composure
There are going to be many times when your kids piss you off or frustrate you, but that’s no reason to lose your cool. Whatever the situation, poise and composure count. They’re always watching for your reaction.
4. Show vulnerability
You don’t have to be—you can’t be—the all-knowing, all-together Dad. You’re every bit as vulnerable as your children are to making mistakes, being embarrassed, or feeling down. I’ve entertained my kids many times with stories of my own mishaps and regrets.
5. Demonstrate behavior
If you want your kids to be kind to others, let them see you being kind. If you want them to get up when they get knocked down, then you get back up when you’ve been flattened. You can’t expect them to act in any way that you’re not willing to act yourself.
6. Give space
Children are allowed lives of their own. They are allowed to keep secrets from you. The more space you give them the more likely they are to trust you and share with you. No snooping in journals, tracking them on social media, or meddling when it’s not an emergency.
7. Go easy on unsolicited advice
Just because your kids tell you about a dilemma they’re facing or a problem they’re dealing with doesn’t mean they want you to solve it for them. Sometimes they simply need to talk. Ask them if they’re just sharing with you or if they want you to help them problem solve. If it’s help problem solving, now you can grace them with your wise counsel.
8. Validate their emotions
Our tendency is to sometimes say “Don’t cry, it’s okay.” Or: “There’s nothing to be anxious about.” Or: “You might be sad now, but . . .” I’ve done it many times myself. I wish instead I said something like, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Because whatever they’re feeling, whatever we’re feeling, it’s all true and all valid.
9. Handle anything
Things will happen to your children that are painful, unjust, and inexplicable. There will be burdens and heartaches and potentially worse. As a father, you must be able to handle anything that gets thrown your way.
10. Accept and learn
You’d think after all these millennia there would be a definitive manual on the best practices of being a father. Right. Every father is different, every kid is an individual. What works with one kid, utterly fails with another. You have to accept you’re going to make a lot of mistakes as a parent. Apologize if necessary, learn, and move on.
Bonus: Teach your kids to drive
Dads, if you want to test your nerves of steel, your patience, your poise, then teach your kids to drive. You’ll never forget the experience. I taught both my kids and today they are excellent drivers. My most important piece of unsolicited advise about teaching driving: The risk isn’t that driving is so difficult, it’s that it’s seemingly so easy once you get the hang of it, and therein lies the danger—that you might lose your focus at the wrong time. Kind of like being a Dad: You’ve always got to be paying attention to what you’re supposed to do.
These two are the best. Julia passed her driving test first (2016), then Owen (2018), a little more gray hair for me each time.