How to Be the “Best Dad Ever”
Today was Father’s Day in Australia. I love being a dad and I take my role as a father very seriously. No matter how successful I am in my career, or how much money I make, if I’m not winning at home with my kids, then I’m not winning at all.
Apparently I’m doing a good job so far because my kids say I’m the “best dad ever.” They even gave me this mug to prove it:
Since it seems there has never been another dad as great as me, at least from my kids’ limited perspective, I figured it was time to share a few of my secrets.
1. Recognize how indispensible you are.
The starting point of being a great dad is to understand how massively important your role is. I believe one of the primary reasons western culture has devolved to its current state is because many dads are shirking their responsibility.
Social psychology research has found repeatedly that fathers are crucial to a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing, and therefore the quality of their lives later in adulthood. Here are just a few of the findings from a University of Guelph research summary on the effects of father involvement:
Infants of fathers who show higher levels of play and caregiving activities are more cognitively competent at six months old.
Children of involved fathers are more likely to achieve higher levels of economic and educational outcomes, career success, and psychological wellbeing.
Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall life satisfaction, lower incidents of depression, and a greater tolerance for stress and frustration.
Children of involved fathers have a greater ability to take initiative, use self-direction, and have greater self-control.
Children with strong paternal relationships are more likely to be tolerant and understanding, empathetic, and to go on to have more satisfied and successful intimate relationships.
Infant mortality rates are 1.8 times higher for infants of unmarried mothers than for married mothers.
Obese children are more likely to live in a home with an absent father than are non-obese children.
Children with active fathers have fewer behavioural problems, display less antisocial behavior, and are less depressed and withdrawn.
If you’re a dad, your child’s future hinges on whether or not you are fully engaged in the home. Embrace your high calling.
2. Build a sense of family identity.
None of us were able to choose the family we were born into. Since my kids must play the hand they were dealt, I want them to feel thankful for the family they have. I want my kids to be proud to be in our family.
As a father, it’s my job to help them feel this way. I must frequently verbalize my love for and commitment to our family and to cast vision for why we exist. Then, my kids will see me excited and encouraged about the direction our family is going in.
It’s not hard to do. Let your kids hear you say things like:
- “We have such a great family.”
- “I’m so thankful for all of you kids.”
- “What’s important to us as a family is ________.”
- “Kids, isn’t your mom amazing?”
When dads are silent about the family, kids wonder what he is thinking. When they hear him speak about the family, dads build trust and confidence in the hearts of their children.
3. Let them see you love their mom.
I believe one of the best ways to build security and a sense of family identity in the hearts of kids is to let them see you passionately in love with their mother. Children thrive on this. It lets them know that all is well in the home.
My wife and I kiss often in front of our kids. We do it on purpose. They usually say they are grossed out and tell us to stop, but we can see it in their eyes; deep down they love it. Seeing their parents in love fills an emotional need for security and stability.
4. Give lots of hugs and kisses.
Physical touch communicates closeness, vulnerability and intimacy. When it comes from dad, it makes kids feel loved and secure.
With my little ones, this is easy, and some of them experience love through physical touch more than others. As my older ones are approaching the teen years, they act like they don’t want as many hugs and kisses. But I don’t let that stop me. I know deep down, they really do.
The last thing I want to do, especially with my girls, is leave them wanting more physical affection. If dad’s fail in this area, they leave their children’s hearts vulnerable to someone else who comes along willing to give them some attention.
There’s even science behind the power of a hug. Apparently, hugs have healing power. Physical affection releases oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel like we’re bonding with loved ones. According to a UC Berkley study, oxytocin also has reparative, anti-aging benefits on our bodies.
5. Watch your verbal tone and be an encourager.
Our words are so powerful, especially as fathers speaking to our children.
Just today, our family went on a 5-kilometer hike together. Here’s a photo from about half way through:
The first 3 kilometers were uphill, and a few of my kids were letting me know how unhappy they were about being made to endure this torture.
But one of them, my seven year old, was powering through, and talking about how amazing this hike was. I’m sure you can tell which one I’m talking about in the photo. I kept telling him how awesome he was for having such a great attitude. At one point, after I hadn’t said anything to him for a while, he said, “Dad, tell me how good I’m doing on this hike.” I was reminded again of how much they long for words of encouragement.
But it’s not only what we say that’s important; it’s how we say it, or the tone we use. Several times, I caught myself snarling at a few of the other kids. At one point, I totally failed by reaching into my bag of manipulative parenting tactics. I turned around and quipped sharply, “This is supposed to be Father’s Day and I’m really not enjoying all of this complaining.”
It shut them up, but I had also cast a somber shadow over the next leg of the hike. You know your tone is unpleasant when you suddenly look around to see if anyone else heard what you said. Thankfully for my pride, no other hikers were nearby, but I could tell from my wife’s not-so-approving glance that I had totally missed the mark in that moment.
I’m reminded of an ancient Hebrew proverb: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”
6. Humble yourself and confess your mistakes.
In all honesty, I miss the mark almost daily on many of these points, especially that last one. I raise my voice, I become impatient, I miss opportunities to show love and affection, and I overindulge in the pursuit of my career objectives.
One of the most helpful realisations I’ve had as a father is this: My kids don’t expect me to be perfect, but they do expect me to be humble. They do expect me to acknowledge when I’ve missed the mark and ask them for forgiveness.
Children are so quick to forgive and forget. I’ve seen so many times, especially after raising my voice or speaking in a manipulative tone, when I get down on their level, tell them I know what I’ve done is wrong, and then ask for forgiveness, it’s like it never even happened. There’s no grudge held and it’s as if whatever damage I may have done to their little hearts gets healed. Humility and the reconciliation that follows is a beautiful thing.
I’ve seen other families though where offense is not resolved. Issues get swept under the proverbial rug, where they remain until this day. Children are bitter at their parents, and parents can’t understand why the kids don’t come over more often. If only they could have humbled themselves and confessed their mistakes, all could have been healed. It still can be.