You don’t have to be told that your presence as a father in the life of your son or daughter will influence them for their entire lives. Children who grow up with fathers who are “present” in their lives tend to be less reliant on public assistance later in life, may have higher IQs than their peers and are less likely to develop psychological and even physical health problems.
Even without the science, you knew this. That’s why you’re there, at their side, and why you always will be. But have you reflected lately on just how many ways a father’s daily life can leave a lasting influence? In a hundred ways every day, your example is helping to shape a life. Here are a few reminders about what that actually means.
How You React to the Unexpected
Anger is not sexy. No matter how many picaresques like “Mad Men” and “House of Cards” come along, snarling and confrontation are the tools of the undisciplined man.
Reacting in anger to something that’s outside your control isn’t just a way to chase away women — it’s something your kids will pick up on immediately. If there’s one tenet of stoicism worth living by, it’s the knowledge that our reaction to outside stimuli is one of the few things we can control in this life.
Help your children learn this lesson early on. Anger is a tool that can help us learn about ourselves and the world. We can acknowledge it, honor it, then commit ourselves to besting it. Even the tiniest details help, like just breathing deeply and letting it go next time somebody cuts you off in traffic or fouls up a zipper merge.
How You Behave When Nobody’s Looking
Speaking of traffic: Have you let your kids see you texting and driving? You don’t look like an important jet-setter when you text and drive. You look foolish. If you think they’re not noticing it, you’re wrong.
But even if your kids don’t know that what you’re doing is the cause of nearly 30 percent of automotive accidents, it’s still going to help set a larger pattern in motion. That pattern, namely, is the tendency to misbehave when we believe nobody is watching us.
Nobody’s immune to the desire to cut corners every now and again, but it pays to stay mindful of who might be watching from the back seat. If you’re seen breaking rules that feel small enough to break, it means other rules might be equally open to interpretation.
How You Treat Your Partner
As a father, you have more influence over how your daughter or son will treat their future partner than you probably know. In fact, you should get yourself used to the idea that your children will learn a great deal about love — and its beauty and complexities and responsibilities — directly from you. This factor is one of fatherhood’s greatest burdens, challenges and honors.
Do you get exasperated with your spouse easily? Do you make them feel foolish when they ask questions you think the answers to are obvious or when they make mistakes? Do you go out of your way to make your partner feel valued and loved and safe? When you look at them, is there adoration in your eyes?
Not every moment of married or domesticated life is the stuff of sunshine and miracles. There will be some ups and downs as well as some butted heads. Your job as a father is to provide an anchor and a comfort blanket in the middle of any storm. Your presence must be steadfast, consistent and reliable. And it mustn’t resent the work it does, even when it’s very hard work indeed.
How Much Weight You Carry
According to some scientific inquiry into the subject of “epigenetics,” a father who is highly stressed prior to conception might play a role in that child developing high blood sugar later in life.
Claims like these deserve more widespread study — but what’s clear is that the metaphorical “weight” a man carries can easily translate to social, psychological and perhaps even physical complications in children. Kids pick up on stress levels in their parents quite easily, which means it’s beneficial to take stock from time to time and really be honest about how we let the stress and anxieties of daily life affect our behavior.
Other lessons await for better stress management too. Children who can observe a mother or father coolly organizing and reorganizing their life in a way that balances productivity with a healthy pace and outlook are likely to pick up on these time-management and problem-solving skills and deploy them more confidently than their peers.
How Well You Set an Example Worth Following
Whether you’re a father now or soon to become one, we hope we’ve convinced you of some of the many ways your actions will influence your children — including reacting to stress and anger, planning your life and respecting and loving the people around you. Above all else, it’s about remembering that everybody’s life touches everybody else’s in myriad strange, wonderful and often unexpected ways.
Photo provided by the author.