It should come as no surprise that the state of the American father is in decline. Obesity is rampant, we spend more time working than ever before, and many of us abdicate our leadership roles in the home.
Children grow up with strangers, not dads. Men remain head of household in name only. We suffer a vague, persistent sense of malaise.Obese fathers die of heart disease over a decade earlier than their healthy peers. Perversely, that just might save them from depression. By the time men are finally ready to bond with their children, they will have long since left home as adults.
And that’s just the general state of affairs.
Don’t get me started on extremist liberalism, gender equality, and other well-intentioned but horribly misguided garbage being forced down our throats. Media stereotypes? I think I need a drink.
It’s not easy being a father today.
But, guess what? As men, it’s our job to do what’s right, even when the going gets tough.
Remember the parable of the straight and narrow road…?
Here are a few timeless rules to live by.
1. Be a Father, Not Just Daddy
Dads are playful, cheerful, and fun to be around. That’s a good thing.
But your role as a parent is also to be a father. I’m not talking about the recent fad to define fathers as limited to their biological contribution to conception.
Good fathers are role models, teachers, and disciplinarians.
Flash back to eleven years old, when your mom caught you shaving the cat. Think about the difference between these two statements:
“Just wait until your father gets home!” vs. “Just wait until your daddy gets home!”
Doesn’t the former sound just a bit more… well, threatening?
Your model should include less permissiveness and more parenting, because enforcing limits with your children when their young will help foster conflict-resolution skills in their teenage years.
Your job isn’t to buddy up to your son, try to look cool, or take him out to pick up women. Your job is to raise your son or daughter into the best man or woman they can be.
Start now by spending dedicated, one-on-one time with each of your children every week.
2. Let Your Kids Fall
There is a difference between your God-given role as a protector and our culture’s love of helicopter parenting.
Remember that study from the early 20th century where they placed infants face-down in water to see if they could swim?
Yeah, it was before my time, too. But Myrtle McGraw did exactly that in the late 1920s.
Although they can’t actually swim, newborns instinctively hold their breath and open their eyes underwater. It’s a survival reflex that, strangely, disappears sometime around six months of age.
Here’s something else that’ll blow your mind: if you take a newborn fresh out of the womb and place him on his mother’s lap, he will eventually find their own way up to the breast and latch on to suckle. All by himself! Most infants complete the “breast crawl” in less than hour.
When pushed to their limits, healthy infants will try their hardest to overcome a life-or-death challenge.
And yet, the majority of parents hover anxiously over their kids, doing everything in their power to protect them from every minor scrape and disappointment.
Now, am I suggesting that you drop your six-month old off in the woods and tell him he can’t eat until he finds his way home?
Of course not.
But there’s a balance between protecting them from harm and preventing them from living. The more you do for them now, the less they’ll be able to for themselves later.
You’ll pay for it when you wake up one day and realize that your 30-year-old still lives at home, plays video games until midnight in your basement, and eats all of your chicken wings.
So, where’s the line between both extremes? I wish I had the answer. While I do my best to raise my sons safely without robbing them of valuable learning opportunities, I probably fail more often than I succeed.
The line’s not black and white. Just do your best to straddle it… and let me know what works!
3. Teach and Model Respect
You know the expression “it starts at home?”
It’s still true today.
Teaching your child respect for others is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Doing so will help prepare them for life in the real world.
Teach them to say “may I,” “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” While you’re at it, introduce “sir” and “ma’am” into their vocabularies.
Instilling a strong respect for authority into your children doesn’t just include polite speech and discipline for temper-tantrums.
Many parents unwittingly teach their children to fear authority, which is just as counter-productive.
Here’s one that really irritates me: a police officer walks past a family at Target. Mom or dad grabs Junior in mock fear and screams, “Uh oh, they’re going to take you away if you don’t behave!”
Congratulations: you have just succeeded in teaching him NOT to ask the cops for help if he’s ever lost, scared, or hurt.
Instead, take every reasonable opportunity to introduce your children to police officers. Teach them to wave every time they see a squad car rolling by. Ditto for firefighters and paramedics.
It just might save their life some day.
Along the same lines, don’t badmouth law enforcement if you get pulled over. Sac up and take your medicine like a man. Treat it as a teachable moment.
“Adam, the reason this police officer told us to stop is because Daddy broke the rules. It’s his job to make sure I’m keeping you and everyone else on the road safe.”
4. Be Present
Put down your phone, tablet, and laptop when you’re with your kids.
I know it’s hard. I struggle mightily with this one.
Yes, you have responsibilities to your employer that can extend past normal working hours. If you need to do so, excuse yourself from the room or the house and take care of the problem.
Don’t read your email, surf YouTube, or browse Reddit in front of your children when they’re young.
Do you think your four-year-old really understands that you just have to have some “me time,” or is he learning that the screen is a higher priority than he is?
The harm may not just be emotional, either. Indiana University found that parents who are chronically distracted during playtime may actually be causing shorter attention spans in their children.
Is it possible that distracted parenting is one of the contributing factors to the growth in numbers of what Dr. Lionel Tiger calls “the victims of Ritalin?”
Here’s an idea: take your kids outside and play. If it’s too cold or too hot, build a fort, play a board game, or chase each other around the house.
Dance around like an idiot. Teach them to draw. If your children are young, check out Hands On As We Grow for some great ideas.
Just do something with them.
You won’t “just” be building your child’s trust and self-esteem. I can personally attest to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual rewards dads reap, as well.
Being a father is hard work. It’s an awesome responsibility and a humbling gift. I don’t enjoy every minute of it, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’m doing everything I can to raise my children the right way, and I can’t wait to see what kind of men they become.
How about you? What’s your parenting style?
About The Author
Paul is a father of two young boys and a technology consultant. He also teaches men how to lose fat and get stronger at TektonBody.com.
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