Updated: Dec 28, 2022
If I were being honest with you and myself, I had fatherhood all wrong.
It's not as scary as I initially thought it would be.
I've learned that I am very capable of changing a diaper (even with one hand when necessary). Juggling the demands of family life and work is a matter of scheduling life around them and not scheduling them around life (still working on this, by the way). And despite all of my flaws and shortcomings, an abundance of financial resources, or the lack thereof, my boys are always looking to me for my approval, support, and unconditional love. None of which money can buy.
I was also able to overcome my deepest fear – failure. For the longest time, I was afraid of screwing up my boys' lives. I didn't have a blueprint or a roadmap. Outside of being a provider, why else was I needed? I attached my value as a father to material things. Now that I look back at this old version of me, I marvel at how green, immature, and unrealistic I was. I was looking to everything else to signal that I was a good father instead of giving the priceless gift of being a loving dad.
Man, I wish I knew then what I know now. But that is why I am writing this blog post for you. If you find yourself struggling with some of the things I did, here is a list of things I've learned that helped me redefine my ideas on parenting that have nothing to do with money.
Drum roll, please…
Hugs and Kisses – I use to think that giving hugs and kisses was a show of weakness. But I've learned that it reinforces my children's self-esteem. It's okay for men to show affection to their sons. In fact, the ability to do so is the ultimate display of strength.
Smiles of Approval – It's so easy to perfect the "You bet not do it" face when it comes to our kids. Since you've got it down, now try the "Smile of Approval." The next to you see your son or daughter just being their authentic whimsical selves, catch their gaze and give him or her a loving smile. It demonstrates that you respect them as a person.
Enthusiasm – When is the last time you showed a significant level of enthusiasm when greeting your child? I still struggle with this one. I don't like to get too high or low about anything. But there is something magical about enthusiasm. Especially if you are the cause of it. The next time you wake up your child in the morning or pick them up from school, make it a celebration. Kids are so excited about the world around them. They need to know that they are a marvel of the universe as well.
Dance – When you and the kids are home with very little to do, cut on some of your favorite tunes and teach them some old-school dances. And then let them turn on their favorite tunes and teach you the latest Tic Tock dances. Our kids need to see us as human – even silly humans that can't begin to fathom how to do the renegade. It's invigorating. It teaches them that magic is something we create. Not something we wait for.
Read a Book- Reading to our children doesn't only stimulate brain development; it also reinforces intimacy. They also learn how to hear sound and infer toning meaning by the way we express words. Reading together, especially a book that has never been read before, creates dialogue and intrigue that only you will share as you navigate this journey together.
Special Time- For those who have more than one child, we must find ways to engage each child on a one-on-one basis. This could be a movie, ice cream date, lunch at school, etc. Ask them about their interests and do it. Find ways to show that you value each of your children as individuals. Plus, every kid quickly becomes a cool kid when their parent brings them McDonald's for lunch.
Spontaneous time- I triple dog dare you to schedule an impromptu trip on a school day. Pick them up early from school and go do something fun. School is important. Work is important. But it doesn't mean that we have to be bound by the laws of culture all the time. We live life every day. Not just on the weekends.
Traditions / Rituals- What's a family without having quirky traditions? If you don't have any, why not be the one to establish some? We only live once; Life is way too short to be wound up all the time.
Whether it be a secret handshake, code words, special family rules to board games, etc., find ways to make being part of your family unit exclusive!
Do you pray together? It's a great way to learn about your child's concerns. And, just as importantly, what can be done as a family, with God's help, to address those concerns. It's a great way to teach our kids that we might solve the prayers we pray for others. God just doesn't hear us. He works through us!
I'm Sorry - Other than saying, "I love you.", saying, "I'm sorry." is the next best thing. As parents, we do not always get it right. If we allow pride, ego, and power to dictate the terms of our relationship, it will sever the relationship in a way that can be hard to mend. Asking for and receiving forgiveness is a form of healing and growth. We can model that, every day, in our homes.
I Love You – Find every opportunity to tell your children that you love them. They know that you love them, but it makes it even better when you say it. If you want to step up your game a little, tell your child that you love them after they've experienced a significant setback. As parents, we tend to criticize our children at the worst possible time instead of letting them know that regardless of what just happened, "I love you to the moon and back! We'll get it the next time around."
Everything that I just shared with you took me years to piece together and learn how to apply. Some of you might be thinking that all of these things are obvious. Well, they were not obvious to me. And, for those who feel uneasy about the things I've stated, Good. I felt uneasy, too. It's a part of the journey - a worthwhile journey.
I hope these words of wisdom rooted in figuring things out the hard way serve you well. You can't buy their love, trust, and affection. You don't need a big home, car, or corner office to gain their approval. They just want you - Yes, raggedy busted up you (LOL!) - to be present and engaged. Which means that you are not raggedy and busted up. You are a gem. They see it. It's time for you to see the gem in you, too.
It's there. Trust it.
Until next time, you have more power than you think. Own it!