Becoming a dad is one of the easiest things in the world to do. The part we play as men in the creation of a new life is a lot of fun and can be over quicker than Brittany Spears singing “oops I did it again”. But that’s where the easy part ends and the profound and beautiful challenge of being a father begins. Becoming a dad asks very little of you and pretty much any healthy adult male can get it right. Being a dad asks the very best of you and takes a man of character, love and perseverance to get it right.
How a man lives his life and fathers his children will profoundly impact them for the rest of their lives. He is his son’s first hero and his daughter’s first romance. He is the most important man in his children’s lives. Yet most men enter fatherhood unprepared for the challenge of being the most influential man in a growing young life. Being a great father doesn’t happen by default. It happens when a man consciously and intentionally works at being the man and father his children need. And when he does the rewards are immense for both father and child.
Here are five crucial commitments that will make any man an extraordinary dad:
Look in the mirror. The quality of what we as men are able to impart to our children is determined by the quality of our own inner lives. None of us arrived at adulthood unscathed by our childhood. We are all driven in some measure by the emotional forces that grew out of our childhood experiences, good or bad, and the beliefs we formed in response to those experiences. The more conscious we are of these forces and beliefs, the more we are able to deal with them. The less conscious we are the more likely we are to be driven by negative emotions and beliefs and pass them on to our children. Pain from our past that is unresolved is pain we are condemned to repeat, often at the expense of our children. Great dads are committed to being conscious, to breaking any destructive emotional cycles and dealing with their own issues so they can impart the right stuff to their children. Great dads are committed to being the man they want their sons to become and daughters to marry.
Call out your child’s identity. To be truly seen is one of the great cries of every heart. Great dads make it their goal to be the first man who truly sees their son or daughter, to know what makes their hearts come alive. Every child is unique and their life script is written into their hearts. The father who helps his child discover and know who they are and gives them permission to be fully who they are gives them a great gift. His message is; I see you, I know you, come out and be the man or woman you were made to be. And he can only do this by investing a lot of time engaging with his children, deeply and without distractions.
Validate your child. So many people enter adulthood with a sense of inadequacy. Men doubt they have what it takes to be a man, women wonder if they have anything worthwhile to offer the world. Great fathers validate their children from a very young age. Their children know they are worthy, that their life counts. They know they have what it takes, that they have something great to offer the world. This comes from affirming not just what their children do but who they are. The message is; you matter, you are wanted, you are deeply loved, I delight in you. And the message is conveyed in a thousand different ways. It is in a dad’s words of affirmation, his gentle touch, his look, his smile, his time. This blessing from a father will remain as a cloak of affirmation wrapped around a man or woman’s heart long after their father has passed on.
Create a sanctuary. The fourth commitment of great dads is to create a sanctuary in which their children can grow and thrive; physically, emotionally and spiritually. Renowned educator Reed Markham summed it up when he said, “every man is the architect of his own home”. Sigmund Freud said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection”. The children of great dads feel safe. They know masculinity as a place of refuge, safety and consistency. They see their fathers as strong, gentle and present. Providing the right physical and emotional environment requires a man to nurture, protect and provide. Even when not living in the same house as their children through separation or divorce great fathers continue providing to the best of their ability, continue to protect and never stop being present.
Equip your children for life. This starts with imparting the life skills and emotional intelligence they will need to succeed. George Herbert claimed, “one father is more than a hundred schoolmasters”. Great dads do not leave the education of their children in the ways of the world to the media and their peers, they become the principal in their children’s school of life. Equipping your children for life means disciplining them. The philosopher Goethe said “too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them”. Great dads set clear, fair and consistent boundaries for their children. They teach their children discipline and respect. They know that being a friend to their children comes a distant second to being a father and so they are concerned less with being popular with their children than doing what’s right for them. The final act of equipping children for life is to model the way. Great dads make their lives an attractive example of all they want their children to learn. They know that their lives speak far more eloquently than their words and that ultimately our children will learn from our way and not what we say.
Every man has it in him to be an extraordinary father. If he consciously and intentionally embraces the five crucial commitments, he will be well on his way to laying the foundation for his children to build their own great lives.
Succeed as a man and the effect may be felt for your lifetime, succeed as a father and the effect will be felt for generations.