As a working parent, I can imagine many of you working parents relate to that moment when your child comes home at the end of the day and embraces you. They throw themselves into your arms and shout mommy or daddy. And then they drag you by the arm into whatever thing inspired them at that moment. They want you to embrace the world they create. Because the fact you embrace their world means the world to them. Those moments when my daughter gives me a hug, or when I drop her off and she asks me for the third time if she has hugged me because she doesn’t want to miss it mean everything to me. And that got me to thinking about the things I have learned about being a dad. What does it mean to be a father? And how has being a father impacted me?
I came up with a list of things about being a dad that have moved me, which I will get to in a moment. But to understand my version of this, you have to understand where I came from. I believe I came from a long line of fathers that didn’t necessarily know how to communicate with their children. Unfortunately, I do not have a reason for this. I just remember the TV shows had fathers who would relate deeper truths to their children through some object lesson. Why I never had those moments made me think about my relationship with my father. This does not mean that I did not love my father. Or that TV show dads are realistic. (Hint: They are not) And I know my father loved me, in his way. We just didn’t communicate.
But the times my dad did step in and do something, I tell you now that I will never forget. I can remember getting hit in the face with a baseball when I played T-ball for the first time. My dad took me to the side and played catch with me. To this day, I still relate to my dad about baseball even if nothing else. And I remember my dad looking at me with pride when I hung onto my first job and worked hard at it. Seeing the pride in my dad’s eyes and voice cannot be expressed in words.
Given the scarcity of those times we connected, I dedicated myself to fatherhood in a way my dad did not. Being involved meant more than making sure my kids had food on the table. Although that had to happen as well. Fatherhood meant active involvement. And as I became involved, I started to learn things about what it meant to be a dad, that I did not know before. You don’t get training to be a good dad. Most of the training you receive occurs from negative examples of other parents, or on the job training, which can be amusing but alarming as well. And I have taken my share of lumps in the process of becoming the kind of dad I wanted to be.
I wish I could tell you that I would spare you those lumps in ten easy steps. But I tell you truthfully, some things we never learn properly until we are forced to deal with them ourselves. So you may have to do a bit of on the job training yourself. But I will give you ten things I learned in my time, and maybe you will avoid a pitfall or two along the way to becoming the best dad ever. Or the very best version of you as a dad ever. And what more could we ask for?
Ten Things I Learned Being A Father –
10) You Can’t Fix Everything –
As tempting as it is for guys to try to fix things in life (we do love to fix things), some things cannot be fixed. If a pet dies, you cannot do anything about the deceased animal. If a friend does not treat your child well, you cannot make the friend behave differently. The list of things you cannot fix goes on and on. We want to fix things as a dad. But our children are not car engines. We provide tools, consolation, and security. And even if they need us for first aid service, that doesn’t mean everything fixes itself with a band-aid. Get used to feeling helpless at times. But that’s when it’s most important to take the time to listen. You may not fix the problem, but your child will feel like the problems have melted away in the love and concern you show them.
9) Actions Are Good. Words Are Good. If They Don’t Match, Everything Is Bad.
I know you have been told that actions speak louder than words. And they do. But words are a type of action that can do so much damage that you cannot possibly imagine. I have known so many people who just because one teacher criticized them once, they gave up on doing a subject in school. Imagine how much more intense that would be if your parent made a disparaging comment. So live in a way that shows your child you love them. And speak in a way that shows them you love them. Without both, they won’t see love either way.
8) Expressions Of Love Display Strength Not Weakness.
I don’t know whether people train us to be emotionless or our biology predisposes us to be emotionless and trying to rationalize everything. But in that state, men pretend that displays of love are signs of weakness . . . unless we might be part of the mafia and then it might mean someone is going to die. Loving our kids does not make us weak. What that love looks like may differ from time to time. Sometimes we have to be brutally honest. And sometimes we just give them the biggest hug. But in all times we make sure our kids know that they are loved. You will be surprised how strong you feel when you see the look in your child’s eye of adoration for you. Some idiot says Red Bull gives you wings. No! Your child’s love will give you wings.
7) Limited Choices Build Life Skills.
It seems a bit odd to think this. But as adults, we hate to think that our options are limited. And so limiting our children’s life options seems strange. They have the whole world before them so they need to make decisions about this world. But honestly, our kids want structure too. With all the world before them, trying to make a choice seems scary. They will be frightened to make the wrong choice.
Giving them limited choices makes them feel more secure about the choices they make, allows them to see you respect their opinion, and doesn’t leave them afraid to make a choice. Besides, how often as adults do we have unlimited options? We have options shaped around our kid’s needs, our spouse’s needs, your parent’s needs, your immediate needs, etc. The options aren’t limitless. And when they are, it’s because we have cut everyone from our lives. And where will you be then?
6) You Are The Best Dad Possible When You Are Your Essential Self.
I suppose for ax-murderers you should ignore this one. Or any other number of vile crimes that people commit. What I really mean is that your kids should recognize love and passion in the things that you do. Sharing your passions with your kids and equally being interested in theirs makes you the best possible parent. They will see someone living an authentic life and model that behavior. That makes them happier. It makes you happier. To be able to show that passion for living, you need to be the most authentic you possible. I know we have hangups, but our kids see right through those as well. Don’t allow fear to creep in and ruin who you are. Because your kids need us to be ourselves in the most real way possible.
5) You Will Lose Inhibitions Quickly.
How many times have you been out there and been reserved because you want to put on a good face for the world? Get over it. From 3:00 A.M. feedings, to your child vomiting on your best shirt, you will quickly realize that all those outward things that mattered to you so much are really small in comparison to the beauty and wonder of your children. I remember I was a sympathetic vomiter. I would have to leave a room if someone did because I had a hard time being near it. Just the smell and I would go running. But one night holding my daughter while she was upset she vomited all the way down my back. I needed to calm her down at that moment. That’s all that mattered to me. Everything other care vanished in the wind. And I didn’t have a problem with it after.
4) Every Moment Is Precious And Cannot Be Given Back.
Maybe this should be self-evident anyway. But there is something about having a child that brings this truth home in a way that nothing else will. Your child will grow up before your eyes and you will not be able to get today back once it’s gone. I just commented to my daughter I cannot believe she starts the sixth grade in a week. That does not seem possible!?!? She just started Kindergarten yesterday right? Right?!?! Unfortunately, I know this not to be the case. She will be in high school tomorrow, college the day after, and married with kids the day after that. And I’ll never get today back. So love on your kids today!!
3) Unconditional Love Moves You In Ways You Cannot Imagine.
First, we like to pretend that we can love without conditions. Marriage and the vows are a representation of what that love looks like. Except we know it does not look like that. How many divorces are there? How many broken homes? We don’t love the way we should. And to be honest, when our significant other treats us as an afterthought or abuses us verbally or mentally let alone physically, it’s hard to imagine how to love back properly.
And yet, with our children, that love burns within us like nothing else. We become self-sacrificing and self-effacing. Yes, there are not good parents who are focused on themselves, but if you would allow your love for your kids to move you, you see the world change before you. And you start doing things and loving in ways you never thought possible before. It can be beautiful. Allow it to be for your child’s sake, as well as your own.
2) Every Child’s Soul Has A Unique Beauty To It.
I admit that as a single father of just one, I have limited experience when it comes to comparisons of children. I have one child and she is the best, of course. But as a former teacher, I could see each individual and the beauty they had inside them. Our children’s souls display such unique variety. And they are all uniquely beautiful. Do not try to make their souls like yours, or like their other siblings. They may have similar traits to you, but making them into you makes no one happy. Allow them to flourish as themselves. Recognize the beauty within them, and then encourage them to be their best self. You will grow as a parent, and they will flourish as children. It’s the ultimate win win.
1) Take Time For Yourself Each Day Or You Will Have None To Give Anyone Else.
I think this truth is the hardest to accomplish, often because it seems the most selfish. But truthfully it comes down to the baby in the airplane seat. You are always told to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on them. Why? Because if you die, the baby will too. So it is in life. Without giving yourself proper care, you will not be able to give anything back to anyone, including your children. Being happy is like the equivalent of a yawn. You may want to try to stop yawning when you see another person yawn, but you cannot help yourself. Being happy will make those around you happy. And it makes your children especially happy. And nothing should make us happier than when our children are happy. So figure out how to take care of yourself so everyone becomes happy!
Continue The Conversation –
For those of you who are dad’s, what have you learned being a father that has moved you the most? What lessons did you wish you had learned sooner? And as a mother, what things moved you the most, and what things have you learned as a mom? Or if neither, what lessons in your life were the hardest to come by? And what might you be looking forward to if you want children? I would love to hear from you as always.
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life