Your kids are watching every move you make. They’re cataloging every argument you’re having with their mother. They’re analyzing their interactions with you and figuring out what makes daddy laugh, or lash out in anger.
Your sons will become men very much like you. And your daughters will seek out men just like you. Have I got your attention now? That’s right, you don’t really want her to hang out with boys who resemble the worst parts of you, do you?
As the summer months allow us to spend more time with our kids (and I hope you do), it’s a good time to remember just how important your job is, and how critical it is to be your children’s most conscientious role model and vigilant teacher.
A story about my son.
In fourth grade, my 10-year-old son lied to his teacher about a class project. She phoned to fill me in and to give me the opportunity to handle it as I saw fit, so I could father my son.
I sat him down and shared the importance of trust and integrity in our relationship. It was a good talk. We both cried. Confronting him was emotional for us both. For me, my father had died when I was only nine so I was aware of fathering my son in a way that I had never experienced. For my son, just seeing his dad cry was probably enough to overwhelm his young heart.
But I wanted to make an even greater impression. So I enrolled the assistance of a close family friend. He talked about lying, betrayal, trust and how those issues had affected him in his life. He talked about being the best man he can be and what he needs in other men to have trusting relationships with them. It was a powerful, intimate, and learning experience for the three of us. We all cried some more.
Thanks to the support of many men over the years, I learned that to best father my son and daughter, I needed the help of other men. I needed the experience, wisdom and perspectives other than my own that they were able to give me. And I learned that there was no shame in asking for that help.
Doing it all over again.
My kids are now 32 and 34. Looking back, I now see where I fell short, when I over-reacted, and when I needed help but didn’t ask for it. And all of my shortcomings were wrapped around my ego. If I had it to do all over again, here’s what I would have done to be a better dad:
- Explored my childhood issues with a professional before the kids were old enough to push my buttons.
- Sought out the perspectives of other men before allowing my fears to drive my reactions.
- Developed a healthier relationship with money so I worked less and spent more time with my family.
- Meditated daily to keep myself from making mountains out of molehills.
- Strengthened my listening skills so I could hear the wisdom my wife always tried to share with me.
- Carved out more time to have fun with my buddies so I could recharge and give my best to the ones I loved most.
Now, I was a pretty good dad. I did a lot right. But learning on this job can be quite humbling. With the perspective of years, it’s clear I could have done much better. We can all do better. And that’s my point.
You only have one shot to raise your son to be a good, confident man, and to raise your daughter to have a healthy self-image and the strength to be a fabulous woman.
It’s up to you, dad. What are you going to teach your children? How are you going to show up?