My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it. —Clarence Budington Kelland
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to watch my son-in-law dote on my daughter as she heads into the final days of her pregnancy. There is nothing like the exquisitely helpless sensation of the expectant father: wanting to help carry the burden, trying to ease discomforts, working to anticipate whatever might be needed, being present but unable to affect, manage, or direct any bit of the process we call pregnancy. The expectant father is a passenger, along for a ride in which his primary role is to be present, smile, and love. For my son-in-law, that is all about to change.
From the moment our children open their eyes to see the world for the first time, they are experiencing all that we are as parents. From the second they first hear our voices, they begin to assimilate our tones, implications, and lessons. Recently watching a video of our youngest daughter minutes after birth reminded me of these facts as I watched her Herculean efforts to open her eyes for the first time as I spoke in that soft, high-pitched voice of a father who has fallen hopelessly in love yet again. At birth, the game changes, and though we as fathers will still spend some time on the sidelines, we are now truly in the game and that child is watching and listening to everything we do and say.
For Father’s Day this year, I have a few thoughts for our sons on the edge of fatherhood and those for whom the very notion is still a distant possibility.
- The first job of the father is to show up, every day. Don’t underestimate the power of presence.
- Quantity time trumps quality time. See Item 1 above.
- Your most compelling lessons come from how you behave, day-in and day-out. Who you are speaks much more loudly than anything you say.
- Jobs will come and go, your children are forever. Treat them with that priority.
- By virtue of simply being your child’s father, you will always be the coolest dad on the block. Hold that honor as sacrosanct. You never have to compete for your child’s love.
- The greatest gift you can give your child is your undivided attention. Give it often.
- The way you love your child, treat your child, and show up for your child teaches him how to do the same for his children.
- The way you love your wife teaches your son how to do the same for his wife and teaches your daughter what to expect from her husband.
- The way you love your parents teaches your child how to love you.
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Don’t be afraid to apologize. Humility is a gift.
- Don’t be afraid to share your passions. Energy and enthusiasm are gifts.
- Disappointment, failure and loss are part of life. Teach your child how to cope with both.
- Keeping your family intact makes your child’s life better.
- Never abandon him or her. Never.
- Self-discipline, respect, kindness, and a willingness to forgive are the greatest skills you can teach your child. You must embrace them before he/she will.
- Expect your son to be a gentleman. Expect your daughter to be a lady.
- Give your child something to believe in. Faith is a powerful gift.
- Don’t let your child blame outside circumstances for his/her decisions and actions. Teach him/her accountability. If you’re not sure how, start by focusing on what we can control as individuals.
- Always remember that you are perfectly suited to being a great father. Then make it happen.
The list above is not exhaustive but it will give you a good start. Fatherhood is an incredible honor and an incredible responsibility. In looking at the lessons of my 25 years a a dad, I realize that it is not an exact science, I (fortunately) did not have to be perfect, and that my children have taught me as much or more than I ever taught them. For you soon-to-be and would-be fathers out there, I wish you the singular joy and satisfaction that come from this oldest of vocations. Be a good father and gift the world with good children.
Happy Father’s Day! Feel free to share additions to the list above!