Disclaimer: I feel woefully unqualified to offer any parenting advice as it is. Like every other parent, I’m just trying my best to not screw up my kids so that they grow up to be functioning members of society who don’t have exorbitantly high therapy bills. But these are my thoughts on fatherhood and hopefully they will be helpful to somebody. Also, I hope it goes without saying, but everything I have written about fatherhood is also true of motherhood and more generally, parenthood. But it’s Father’s Day, so let me just have this please.
“A father provides.” That’s what I was taught as a kid. And for the longest time, I believed that to mean that a father provides materially. My job was going to be to make sure that I made enough money so that my family had a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and video games to play. And that is definitely an aspect of providing. But as a father, I’ve come to understand that a father provides so much more.
A father provides emotionally. Children are emotional beings, especially when they are young. Everything is either the greatest thing that ever happened or the worst thing that ever happened. I can’t tell you how many times one of my kids has come to me to excitedly tell me about the most mundane of things. But I have learned that if my child is excited enough to come to me to talk to me about it, then I should reflect that excitement back to them. “You saw a bird?! That’s amazing!” I usually don’t care about the thing they are excited about, but I do care about them and this is one way I can show them. And if they come to me upset, I try to validate their feelings and let them know that I care before I jump to the part where I tell them to suck it up. I have noticed that as I have made more of an effort to be aware of my kids’ emotions, my relationship with them has been much improved.
A father provides spiritually. Children look to their parents to provide a moral compass for them. Kids may learn about God at church, but it is in their everyday life that they learn what it means to truly follow and love God. They learn the way they should treat each other by watching the way their parents treat each other. They learn to follow God as they see their parents strive to live a good and moral life. A father should not be afraid to let his kids know that he relies upon the Lord. Pray with your kids. Let them see you plead with God on their behalf. And if you aren’t religious, take the general principle of providing morality to your kids and just ignore all that God stuff.
A father provides discipline, with clarity. It is not enough to discipline your child, they need to understand exactly what it is they did that was wrong. They need to understand why it was wrong. And it’s my job as a father to take the time and explain that to them so that they get it, not just to send them to time out and be done with it. I’ve found that if I don’t have a good explanation to give them about why something is wrong, then it probably isn’t important enough to get on them about in the first place. Disciplining appropriately can be difficult and is probably the area I fail at the most as a father, which leads me to my next point.
A father provides humility. Fathers aren’t perfect. I know that I am not. I make mistakes with my wife and my kids both. But my kids don’t care so much that I make mistakes, so much as whether or not I correct my mistakes when I make them. They learn humility when they see me acknowledge my faults and strive to make amends. They learn that it’s ok to be wrong, that it is good to apologize. There are times when I have been angry with my kids and yelled at them or times when I have been frustrated and snapped at my kids over things that did not merit it. I have found that apologizing to my kids in those cases has made us closer. My children are forgiving and loving people, and they show that to me when I apologize. I genuinely appreciate that about them.
A father provides respect and unconditional love. It can be hard to remember that kids are little people with feelings and emotions and not just that little person who is constantly demanding your attention. They are little people, who will grow up to be big people, and all people deserve to be treated with respect. More importantly, they are my little people, and I love them more than anything. I do all I can to let my kids know that I love them, no matter what. There are few people throughout your life that you can be confident will have your back in any situation and who you can trust to care about your best interests. I hope my kids will always know that I am one of those people for them.
Above all, a father provides a peaceful home. The world can be a negative and cruel place. It can be at times overwhelming. Your children will get hurt out there, physically and emotionally. They need their home to be a refuge, a calm from the storm. By trying to be the best father and husband I can be and by doing my best to provide in all ways for my family, I help to make our home a place where my children feel safe and loved.
As the old saying goes, any man can squirt some baby making juice into a woman but that doesn’t make him a father. It makes him a sperm donor. Being a father is much more than providing the biological material required to start the human gestation process. Being a father is a lifetime commitment. It requires effort and a willingness to be present. It is a sometimes difficult, often rewarding experience. And I am beyond grateful for my children and to have found a remarkable woman who chose to make and raise babies with me. I feel truly blessed. Happy Father’s Day everyone.