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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ingredients of Being a Functional Dad

I've approached being a Dad much in the same way that I approach cooking:  I do my best, I experiment a lot, and I basically hope for the best.  In the case of both cooking and being a Dad, that last part basically amounts to whether or not someone gets killed in the process.

Now I've never received anywhere near any formal training in how to be a Dad (or cooking).  I simply had no one close to me growing up to provide an example, but as I've probably noted on this blog every year since 2008, I did have a good example of what not to do.  That can be pretty powerful.  

Also, note my use of the word "functional".  I don't want to say "great" or even "good", as those are subjective terms.  I've made many mistakes in the Dad department.  What's more, I do think that sometimes being a "good" or "great" Dad may make you pretty darn unpopular in the process, at least over the short-term (a span of time that I think is measured in years by the way).

Anyway, here are ingredients that I think make for being a functional Dad.
  1. Be Present.  Just showing up is most of the battle.  Showing up at school.  At basketball games.  At plays.  There is no substitute for actually being there.
  2. Have a Moral Compass (and follow it).  Morality is a tough concept these days, but I do think it's essential to actually have some sense of a moral compass to pass along to your children.  The key here is that you have to "walk the talk"; simply spouting off values is meaningless unless you actually live them.
  3. Be Kind.  Teach your children to be kind to others, as far too many parents don't. 
  4. Teach Respect.  This starts with respecting your wife/partner, even when that may be difficult, and even when your wife/partner may not respect you.
  5. Take Responsibility.  Don't pass the buck.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  Humility is best taught by example.
  6. Model Intellectual Curiosity and the Value of Life-Long Learning.  Buy and read books.  Go the library.  Watch and talk about the news with your children.  Teach them that learning just doesn't happen from September to June.
  7. Have a Sense of Humor.  I think that laughing makes you far more human and situations far easier to handle.
  8. Teach the Value of Money.  It's tough in a society that pushes so much consumption on young people but teach your children to make good spending decisions.  
  9. Always Take the Long View.  Sacrificing important long-term life lessons for short-term calm is a brutal mistake.  I use the word "brutal" because that's what life can be sometimes, and parents (especially Dads) need to help their children learn important survival skills.
  10. Call Bull$hit to Teach Critical Thinking Skills.  What I mean is to tell your children when something (in the world, in the news, in their lives) simply doesn't pass the smell test.  For me, part of that was in traditional gender roles.  Yes, since I have three daughters, I understood that there are "girl" things, but I also wanted them to cast a critical eye on things that some might consider being "boy" things.  I wanted my daughters to be able to change a flat tire, for example.  Conversely, I think all boys should be able to cook, sew a button or two and wash/iron clothes.
  11. Value the Arts.  Encourage your children to be creative, in any way(s) that make them happy.  I think that every child should, for example, be given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument.  If you're like me, that interest might not last so long, but it's the opportunity that matters most. 
  12. Independence.  Lastly, and maybe most importantly, teach your children that you as a parent have an end-game for them, namely independence.  An important goal of parenting should be to make you, as a parent, no longer needed.  
As a Dad, I can now look back on three daughters who are all out of college (well one is working on an advanced degree) and working.  How great is that?  There are things that, if I had a functional time machine, I would go back in time and do differently, but time machines don't exist and I firmly believe that ruminating on past mistakes is nothing short of an enormous waste of time anyway.  Regardless, a "belated due to graduate research paper" Happy Father's Day to one and all.

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