“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”
In my short years of being a father (nine years this July!) I’ve come to grasp one fantastic truth: being a father is terrifying, and immensely rewarding.
Holding my daughters as they seek safety or comfort or, simply, love is a gift like non other.
Hearing my son laugh, that deep belly laughter that pounds through the air like a drum, can bring such joy to my heart that I can actually feel my chest swell.
If you are a father, you know the feeling – nothing compares to it!
But you also know the crippling fear of responsibility. That immense, unfathomable even, responsibility we have over our children that keeps us awake at night, that gets us out of bed way too early in the morning, and that brings us to our knees when we simply don’t know what to do, and everyone’s looking to us for answers.
Recently I was watching some war movie where the son of a great king was given the throne much too early. His father was unjustly imprisoned by a nearby kingdom and the young son now king was preparing his kingdom for war, to retrieve his father. On the eve of leaving for battle, the young king’s best friend asked, “Are you afraid?”
“Yes,” the young king said.
“How is being afraid good?” he barked.
“Because that mean’s you’re not stupid,” the friend replied.
I think the same applies for being a father. It is a war, a daily battle either against the selfishness in our kids or within ourselves, and it never ends. Ever. Which only adds to the immensity of the task at hand.
In Fatherhood, there is no retirement, no vacation days, no holidays off, no sick days, and no quitting.
But there is joy beyond comprehension. There is laughter that fills the soul and moments of beauty and bliss that energizes the body so completely it can only be communicated through long and intense (probably with some tickling) bear hugs. And they’re the best.
But also, like any soldier whose every marched into battle, we are not alone. We have a host of fathers who can and will fight alongside us, encouraging us, supporting us, and teaching us.
Over the past thirty-five years, I have been extremely fortunate to have such brothers-in-arms, of which I am exceedingly grateful.
Fathers (and mothers too) have taught me various lessons on Fatherhood, perhaps none more important than these, my Top Ten All-Time Pillars Upon Which Fatherhood Stands, Taught To Me By Many Fathers and Others. Or, TTATPUWFSTTMBMFO for short.
Love what you have, not what you want them to be.
I’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of all joy, and for fathers, this is a deep and dangerous pitfall that will bring sure and irreparable destruction. Our kids are imperfect, and as a father, you see the worst of them. They are selfish, mean, destructive, loud, and uncooperative. They aren’t always the most athletic, most popular, cutest, nor the hardest working. They, sometimes, aren’t even likeable. But they’re your child, your son, your daughter. They are yours, and they need to know that no matter what, they are still loved, supported, and not compared to the next door neighbor’s kid who always seems to do it just a little bit better. They need to be coached, taught, disciplined, and everything else, but they cannot be forsaken or even feel like they are. Because you’re their dad, and if Dad isn’t on their side, who is? Who will be?
If not Dad, it will be someone else. And when they grow up, when they need help and guidance and support, Dad won’t be the one they run to.
Fail. Especially in front of your kids.
Our world is consumed with perfection, or at least, the appearance of it, and it is stifling our kids – especially if they are not allowed to fail at home. As a father, our kids need and desire our approval more than anyone (even their mother’s, at times) and we should give it in abundance. But if they fear failure, if they fear the disapproval and embarrassment of their father, they will stop seeking improvement. They will stay where it is safe, where they can thrive – in the shallow end of the pool. But a father who tries new things, who seeks out opportunities to fail at learning and then works through that failure and disappointment WITH their children teaches them not only how to grow and learn and overcome, but to be human. It teaches them that failure is okay, even great! And then one day, almost suddenly, they will swim out and into the deep end, alone and without a floaty, and wave back at their dad.
Fathers, whether we want to or not, we have failed, do fail, and will fail many more times to come. And we will fail our kids. We’ll bark too harshly at them, neglect their questions because we're busy doing something not as important, forget yesterday’s promises, crush their hearts, and even betray their trust. But this, I believe, can be HUGE for our children. Not only can it enforce #2 above, it can also teach our kids how to seek forgiveness, to apologize, and how to restore relationships. We all tell our kids to “go say your sorry” to their siblings or their friends or to the neighbor’s kid for how they reacted or treated them, but how often do we model it? Teach them what it sounds like? What it feels like to be restored? To be forgiven? And to be hugged inspite of disappointment?
What better way than to model it with them and to them then when we fail?
A parent that is not too proud to seek forgiveness from their child teaches the child that they are never to important to apologize to somebody else.
It’s easy to label our kids. He’s the athlete, but she’s the artist. She’s the social one and he’s the introvert. We do it all the time because we’re trying to figure out our kids, to understand them, and to figure out how best to relate to them. And for the most part, the labels are true, but they are also incomplete, and we should never stop trying to discover news things about our kids. Especially as they get older.
A vast majority of accidents happen within ten miles from home because we have become too familiar with our surroundings; we know what to expect and go on autopilot (I kinda talk about this a lot).
As father’s, we should never expect anything from our kids and assume to know the rest. They are always changing, learning, growing, and shifting. When we think we know them and go on autopilot, we get blindsided, and they become stagnant.
With both eyes open, we must be ready for anything. And sometimes, even if just for the heck of it, we should take a wrong turn, try and discover new roads, and possibly a new way home. Just to see what they might say or what they might do. They might, and probably will, surprise us.
Go Camping . . . especially when they’re in trouble.
If you aren’t a camper, go to a hotel, a cabin, or someplace far from home where no friends or family are around. Just the two of you, so they can heal.
Years ago, my father took me fishing when I was supposed to be grounded. We caught tons of fish, created many memories, and built trust. I don’t remember much of our conversations, just bits and pieces here and there, but I remember the many conversations in the years to follow. Conversations that never would have happened if we didn't spend time alone, away from all the distractions, and learning to trust.
Yeah. Go camping.
Read to them.
I have known kids as old as high school graduates who still have their fathers read to them, and they love it. Not only is it a great time together, laying close together, sharing an adventure, it is a great chance to talk about life, consequences of actions, ideas of the world, and the responsibilities of being human. You get to filter the Truth claims of someone else, and you get to teach them how to evaluate such claims.
Stories are the tools we use to explain life, to teach life, and to make sense of it. All we have to do is walk through it with them, page by page.
But you’re a Father, probably a hard working one, and at the end of the day – the hard day, the long day, the give-me-a-beer-and-quiet-room day – the last thing we want to do is sit and read a story.
Do it anyway. Grab a coffee on the way home, pound a Snickers bar, take a cold shower or whatever it takes to wake up for fifteen minutes then use stories to connect with your kids, inspire conversation, and jump out of your immediate reality and into theirs.
Have you ever heard a kid, or anyone for that matter, say, “Man, I really wish we hadn’t read that book together.” Nope, you haven’t. And you never will.
It’s alright, take it out on me.
Earlier today we were cleaning the house and these lyrics bounced around our little home. I’m not sure the song but it was by Mumford and Sons, and as we cleaned, these words kept being sung, “It’s alright, take it out on me.” I had already outlined this blog a little that morning but quickly inserted the words; they seemed to fit perfectly.
Father’s are the safe place, the punching bag, the solid rock. They can take on anything and anyone, even the next door neighbor’s kid’s dad, and they need to shoulder the hurts and frustrations of their kids.
When they are mad at their teachers, “It’s alright, take it out on me.”
When they’re boy friend or girl friend or best friend mistreats them, “It’s alright, take it out on me.”
When they feel smothered or shackled because we say no when they’re friend’s parents say yes, “It’s alright, take it out on me.”
Because we can take it.
Because we have to.
Because we’re their Dad’s
And maybe, just maybe, someday they’ll see how much we loved them in those moments and thank us for it . . . perhaps even on Father’s Day, several years from now.
I blogged a few months back on this topic and how an unknown taxi driver saved Christmas through his acts of humility, but I want to bring it up again because I think humility is the foundation of Fatherhood. Humility, according to John Dickson, is not thinking lowly of one’s self, as the world often thinks it to mean, but it is fully acknowledging one’s skills and abilities (power) and using them for the benefit of others.
We as Fathers must teach this to our children as often as we can, and when necessary, we must use our words.
My father, and his father before him, were great examples of this to me. Whatever they had, whether it be skills, materials, time, or money, if someone was in need, they would freely give. They fully understood what they had, and instead of blessing themselves, they blessed others, and they taught their kids an invaluable lesson.
Even if it's letting them fly a plane.
Give yourself a break.
Comparison is the thief of all joy, so stop comparing. Other fathers may be better at some things than you, maybe a lot of things, but our kids don’t care – they understand Pillar One better than we do, and they understand the love of a father.
Do your best, try again tomorrow, and keep Pillars 2 and 3 in mind . . . and also Pillar 5. On occasion, a six pack of be . . . soda doesn’t hurt either.
Never stop being nine . . . or nineteen.
Sort of. Grow in wisdom and understanding for sure. Learn from your mistakes, but never grow to old to wrestle, throw food at the dinner table, laugh until you puke, and at times, throw caution to the wind. Play video games with your kids, fart, stick your head out the window and remember what it was like when the sky was endless, mountains were conquerable, and yellow tape was a suggestion.
Have fun, laugh, and enjoy the journey of Fatherhood. Our kids will always be there, but they will hold our hands for only a short while.
Being a father is a terrifying thing, but it is also immensely rewarding. I am so grateful for the father I’ve been given and for the father’s I have known. They have shaped me into the father that I am, helped create the mold of the father that I want to be, and have continued with me as I travel down the path to the father I will become.
To end, I will paraphrase (perhaps cut and paste and somewhat manipulate is more accurate) Christopher Hitchens: “To be a father is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know for whom I would die to protect.”
To the many fathers, Happy Father’s Day!
And good luck.
Edited June 16, 2018
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