Fatherhood A to Z; 26 things I’ve learned in 15 years
When they’re young your kid(s) want your attention, especially when you have something important to do or are trying to sleep in on a weekend. Give them all they need, they won’t have that heartfelt desire to please you forever. And if you make them feel like they’re bothering you every time they ask for some of your time, well, they may eventually put their attention toward something else…or someone else, sort of like ‘Cat’s in the cradle‘.
B = Boys will be boys.
They never entirely lose that inborn quality; the ability to do the unexplained just because they wanted to see what would happen, make somebody laugh, or be able to tell their friend’s about it afterward. Please don’t tell them (ahem, US) to grow up, you’re wasting your time.
C = Child safety devices.
They should be called ‘adult frustrations devices’, yes, they work, yes you should use them, and you’ll be glad the day you finally get rid of them…except that they’ll remind you of your child and you’ll want to leave them there just a little bit longer, a taste of bittersweet.
D = Dog.
You gotta have one, make sure you get one YOU like. The kids will beg for it, promise they’ll feed and walk it daily, as well as clean up after it. They will also forget about it a month later and it will end up being your responsibility (no matter what you do or say), so choose a canine that will make a good companion.
E = Educate.
You live with your kids through their most formative years, educate them accordingly. I don’t mean put them in a good school, though this is certainly a great idea, I mean ‘home school’ them after the regular school day lets out. How? Answer this question; how much of what you do in your everyday life did you learn in a traditional school? Now consider all that’s left over, that’s what you can teach them; the real life lessons from your hard earned and proven life experience (yes, you guessed it, better to do this before the teen years).
F = Friend.
Being Dad is always priority one, but there are times when you might be needed as a friend. Times when your manly knowledge and experience have no power and all that matters at that moment is that you’re there to lean on, cry to, or just not act your age for a little while.
G = Girls will be girls.
So let them be girls, and treat them like the Princess they believe they are. Open the car door for them, buy them special surprise gifts, watch girl movies with them, and always treat them like a lady. Remember, you’re setting the bar for the man your little girl will marry some day, set it so high that it takes her at least 30 years to find someone worthy enough to deserve her hand.
H = Honesty.
So easy to say, and so easy to get yourself into self-imposed ‘gray’ areas on this one. You can talk about and teach the elements of it, but the best thing might be to just live it.
I = Integrity.
The close cousin of Honesty, and sometimes a hard one to explain, once again, the best way to teach it is to live it, and on top of that share real life stories of times when your integrity was challenged, and how (and why) you stood firm. You might also want to ask what they might do in a similar situation.
J = Jobs.
No, not Steve Jobs, I mean give them jobs around the house and make them work, don’t just give them money anytime they want (or say they need) it, what good can that possibly do? Make a simple ‘job list’, let them work jobs to get paid and then teach them the basics of budgeting their money. If you don’t teach them (early) the principles of work and basic budgeting, nobody else will (unless of course they discover Dave Ramsey – which would be a good thing).
K = Kiss them goodnight.
It’s a precious moment that never gets old, a final bonding step before we each go into our own individual world of slumber. I used to say ‘Sweet dreams’ before putting them to bed, now I say ‘maybe I’ll see you in a dream’, in the secret fantasy hope that our dream worlds will collide and we’ll find ourselves together in a swashbuckling adventure with fantasy beasts, martial arts, superheroes, and junk food.
L = Laugh.
A child’s laughter is like an unexpected ray of sunshine; it can brighten a dark room, warm a cold heart, and break the ice in awkward social situations. So make them laugh as often as you can, and by all means laugh along with them. Those childhood giggles will make you smile every time you think about them for the rest of your life.
M = Mistakes.
You will make them, admit when you do, and when appropriate share any lessons you learned from them (sometimes the greatest teacher can be learning from other people’s mistakes). Likewise, the kids will make mistakes of their own…and sometimes the last thing they’ll want to do is admit it to you, especially if their afraid you’ll get mad. Those are usually the times when they do something that upsets you and when you ask why, the answer is the always frustrating “I don’t know”, which actually translates to: Dad, I made a mistake and didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d get mad, so in hopes of getting away with it I rolled the dice against the odds that you would never find out…and I lost.
N = No.
It’s one of the hardest words to say to your kids, and quite possibly one of the most detrimental to their future. It took me a while to realize that I don’t always owe an explanation to my kids when I say “no” to something. Sometimes the most appropriate answer, like it or not is ‘because I said so’. Yes, as a Dad you do have the right to say that.
O = Open minded.
You can be open minded enough to try new things, but not to the extent of being open to all things. When it comes to kids, being open minded sometimes means being open minded enough to understand their viewpoint on something, but not necessarily to agree on it. In other words, a respectful understanding of their ideals, but not to the extent of letting them do something harmful to themselves or others.
P = Passion.
Music, Art, Business, Sports, whatever their childhood passion is, help them to develop it. If they love to do something and are really good at it keep them on that path, as it can prove to be the natural path to life and career happiness. This might be tough, for example, for the parent who wants their son to be an engineer, but he chooses to spend all his time painting pictures; yes, engineers make a great living, but observe the look in his eye and how he comes alive when he turns a blank canvas into a masterpiece.
Q = Quiet.
Take time to be alone in a quiet place to think and reflect on the day, your family, your life, God. Yes, you really do need this.
R = Remain Silent (and listen).
Sometimes you can get more conversation out of a kid just by keeping your mouth shut and listening (oh, but it’s so hard). There will be times when your kids don’t care what you think, what you know, where you’ve been, or that you have the answer to their toughest problem. They just need you to listen to them, just listen. And once it’s all out, you’d be surprised how open they are to hear what you have to say.
S = Serve.
Serve first, everything else will follow. You’re at your best when putting emphasis on and being attentive to the needs and desires of your kid’s. In the same spirit of Servant Leadership, be a Servant Father. In a sense, this one coupled with the letter ‘U’ sums up the entire 26 letters.
T = Teach.
Part of your duty and obligation is to teach kids what you know based on your experience and knowledge. This is different from teaching what you think you know, which happens when you act like you know something and authoritatively try to teach it. That worked before the Internet. These days the kids can ‘Google’ anything you claim to know as truth and confirm whether you know what you’re talking about, or if you just think you know what you’re talking about. You know what I’m talking about?
U = Unconditional Love.
Above all things love them unconditionally and let them know you do, especially when they’ve done something wrong or made you mad. I try hard to keep in mind that I serve a God of forgiveness and that He loves me no matter what, even when I mess up…and when I compare my mess ups to my kid’s mess ups, I know God has an unconditional love for me, same as I do for my family.
V = Vulnerable.
Yes, you’re a Superhero to your kids, you’re bigger, stronger, faster, but they need to know you’re human too; at the core you’re just like them. Tell them when you hurt both physically and emotionally, let them into that part of your life and they get to know who you really are. (This one inspired by Seth Godin, thank you, Seth)
W = Winning.
It isn’t everything and it’s not the only thing, it’s the balance to losing. Yes, teach them to fight hard to win and celebrate the victory, but also teach them to lose with dignity, to extract the lesson or opportunity they can use next time around, and how to be a ‘good sport’. In short, winning, like success can be the greatest accomplishment; losing, like failing can be the greatest teacher.
X = Xenial.
Hospitality toward guests. Kids should know some ‘Host’ basics, such as offering a beverage and walking a guest to the door when they leave…funny enough, not much of this has rubbed off on my kids, maybe I’m not being xenial enough? (Yes, I had to search for a word that starts with the letter X and was a little surprised I actually found one that mostly fits into context).
Y = You.
Life is no longer about you; it’s about them and you, but mostly them.
Z = Zest.
Have a zest for living, a fearless spirit! Do great things and encourage your kids to do the same, push them to do what they fear, to do what they dream, to take every day as an opportunity to develop who they are and who they want to be.
There are other lists like this out there, if you don’t have one of your own maybe now is a good time to start. Now that I think about it, I’m sure this won’t be the last one I write.