New babies don’t come with instructions, but follow this dad’s advice and you’ll do just fine.
An amazing thing happened six years ago after I became a father for the first time.
Barely five minutes after my son bravely descended into this beautiful but difficult world, I received the handbook. You know this book, yes?
The Rules for Fatherhood.
This book has been my indispensable guide to becoming the nearly perfect father I now am.
You didn’t receive The Rules for Fatherhood?
Of course not. You’re not alone. Neither did I. And I’m not a nearly perfect father.
But I didn’t really need to tell you that, did I?
We don’t receive an owner’s manual when we take our children home from the hospital and it can be scary when we’re faced with the enormity of the task at hand: safely raising our child to be a loving, responsible and mature adult.
For many men becoming a father is rather easy. However, becoming a good father takes effort and it’s within all of us to be good fathers to our children.
For those unsure where to start on the road to good fatherhood let me offer six basic rules for getting it right as a dad.
You’ll notice that one of my points is not about “loving” your children. I’m operating under the assumption that you do and that you want to love them even better.
Love is action and these six rules demonstrate love for your child.
1. A good father is present.
My wife and I got a kick out of the anachronistic scene in Mad Men where Don Draper and several colleagues discuss the experience of awaiting news from the hospital of their children’s birth while smoking and drinking at a nearby bar. Well, those days, thankfully, are long over but men need to ensure they are present in the details of their children’s lives: the pediatric appointment, the school science fair, the soccer game, or the first trip to the emergency room.
The simple fact of your presence will show your children that you will be inconvenienced for them, that they are of value to you, and that you do, indeed, love them.
2. A good father is affectionate.
Humans need physical contact and children need close contact with their parents to thrive. Our children, boys, and girls, develop a healthy understanding of men, masculinity, and sexuality when a father demonstrates appropriate and loving physical contact.
Hug and kiss your children. Snuggle with them. Carry them on your back and shoulders. Wrestle with them. Your children will love and cherish this time with you.
3. A good father is supportive.
Your child is not you and will not be a mini-version of you, though he or she will obviously be like you in many ways. An important task for a father is to encourage his child to be fully attuned to his or her strengths and interests, rather than the interests of the father.
Find words that encourage and uplift your children and appreciate how different they are from you (and each other). These differences will also challenge you to become a better man and a better father.
When you are tolerant of the differences in your children you help your children learn how to be tolerant of the differences they will encounter in our world.
4. A good father is instructive.
Teach your child what you know.
And find ways to teach your child what you don’t know.
Encourage your children to be curious about the world and don’t embarrass them for asking questions or not knowing the answer to a question.
5. A good father encourages independence.
One of your goals as a parent is to raise your children to become independent and thriving adults, living lives of meaning and purpose.
It can be tempting, especially when our children are young, to encourage their dependence on us: picking them up when they cry in the middle of the night, buying the toy they request from the store, or cleaning up their room for them.
However, it’s important to take the long view as a parent and encourage independence as appropriate for their age.
6. A good father listens.
Hear your children. Pay attention. This can certainly be a challenge when they are young and you want some peace. However, we feel loved and understood when we are heard.
Fatherhood is tough but it’s also been the most rewarding experience of my life.
When you make an effort to be present, affectionate, instructive, supportive, and to listen and encourage independence, you are on your way to being a good father.
Previously publishes on STAND Magazine