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Friday, June 17, 2011

Things I've Learned (as a father)

Over 23 years ago I became a father for the very first time.  Since that time my family has grown to include three young women that now call me "dad", and as of this morning, none of my children will any longer legally be considered "children" (that's a fancy way of saying that my baby daughter has just turned 18).  With the no longer having children and Father's Day fast approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to ruminate on just what it has meant for me to be a dad, what I've tried to accomplish and what I've learned (both about being a dad, and more importantly, about myself).

What it means to me to be a father
Trying to be a good parent is the highest calling any human could ever aspire to, period. I mean no disrespect to anyone out there who does not have children, but until you are actually responsible for the life and well-being of someone so young an vulnerable, you probably just can't understand this aspect of life.  Oh, and while prostitution may be the "world's oldest profession", the world's hardest profession is that of being a good parent.

I guess the above is a fancy way of saying that it is simply a tremendous responsibility.  It hurts when you get it wrong, and you beam with pride when you get it right.  It's is both invigorating and at times exhausting.

What I've tried to accomplish as a father
Before anything else, when the thought of being a father entered into my head a long, long time ago, I really just wanted one central thing...a kind of vow to myself:  I wanted to be there for my children, to be a part of their lives, because I never had a father that was a part of my life in any meaningful kind of way.  I had, growing up, the perfect example of what NOT to be as a dad.  In a strange kind of way I guess I have my own father to thank for setting this (anti) example for me.

As a father, I've tried to do all the parental things that typically fall into the job description:  I've attended concerts, I've attended softball and basketball games (I even coached a season of girls basketball), and I've dropped off and picked children up from various friends houses.  I've also provided resources, both financial and otherwise.  That's all the "usual" stuff, but for me, pretty much from the beginning, I've had one kind of singular focus that I've tried to work on as a parent:  teaching my children the necessity of being independent.  It has been critically important to me, especially having girls, that they understand the value of not having to rely on others.  Now I'm not claiming to have raised a clan of anti-social hermits, but rather I've done my best to instill in my children the critical value in being independent.  The kind of independence I'm talking about is far more than financial in nature, as it more appropriately means having the ability to do what you want in life without needing the permission (or resources) of another.

It may be a very long time before I know how successful I've been as a parent, but I know that I can look myself in the mirror and see someone who has genuinely tried.

What I've learned as a father
This is more of a list than anything else:

  • While there is no substitute for showing your children that you love them, you should tell them that you love them too.  I didn't do enough of this when my girls were younger, but I make a point of it now.
  • Your children are always far more perceptive than you think.
  • While very difficult, you can't take how your children feel about you (at times) personally.  Being a parent means that you sometimes need to make tough and wildly unpopular decisions.  I can think of many in that category myself.  Never the less, if you are sure of a course of action...and it is truly important...stick your guns and take the resulting chiding.  
  • It always ends up costing more than you think, so just get used to it.
  • Your children will learn via their own mistakes, and while you can tell them what to avoid, the reality is that some things do need to be learned the hard way.
  • It's not enough to need to do as well (kind of a reverse of bullet #1).  "Walk to the talk and talk the walk". Never underestimate the power of setting a good example.
  • Talk to your children as often as you can.
  • Have a lot of books laying around.  It creeps me out when I am in a house and there are no bookshelves.
  • Set high expectations for things like grades in school.  If you expect the mediocre then you will most likely  get the mediocre.
  • Cherish whatever stage in life your children may be at during the present moment.  

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't end this with just about the most moving musical tribute I've ever heard given to a father.  Singer David Gates (from he 70's group Bread) said that his song "Everything I Own" was written about his father, and if you  listen to the words I think you'll find that it's indeed something that came from deep within heart.  You can link HERE or click on the embedded video, below.

An early Happy Father's Day to one and all.

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