(The following is an excerpt from my new book Joker to King which is available now on Amazon.)
I’m going to assume you already know that your kids need the essentials of food, water, clothing, and shelter. So outside of the basics needed for survival, how do you know what else your kids really need? What kind of father do your kids need you to be?
There’s already plenty of advice available on how to be a good parent. You might find a lot of the “dad vs. father” articles online preaching the same things–spend quality time with your kids, discipline in a firm but fair way, love their mom, show them you care. All of those things are so common because they’re important, and yes, kids really do need those things.
So what I’m going to do is simply add to that list by giving you five items that are often overlooked.
#1: Your kids need you to be patient.
They need you to be patient with them, they need you to be patient with their mom, and they need you to be patient with yourself.
There’s a feeling of anxiety and cluelessness when you first discover you’re going to be a father. You really have to be patient with yourself. Everything takes time, but we often beat ourselves up for not living up to some ideal. We feel like we have to be a great father right now because of the newborn baby who’s in front of us right now. The truth is that you have to live in the moment, try your best to do the right thing in that moment, and then learn as you go.
Your kids need you to be patient with them as well. Imagine how much patience you have each day for your clueless boss or coworkers. Now show some of that same patience for these little human beings in your house who have only been alive on this planet for a few short years. They’re kids. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know anything. My five-year-old took a marker and drew on my piano keys. I wanted to pick up the child and throw him in the garbage. But instead I asked him (a bit loudly) “Why’d you do that?” He thought for a minute and said in all honesty “I don’t know.” And the truth is that he’s right. He didn’t know. He had no idea why he did it. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Yes, he needs to learn not to draw on the piano. And yes, your kids will need to learn discipline. But remember when you had to learn discipline? You were patient with yourself, so be patient with your kids.
Your kids need you to be patient with their mom. Remember those feelings of fear and cluelessness you had about being a father to a new child? Well get this…that child just came out of its mom’s birth canal. Imagine how clueless and afraid she felt. She’s learning how to be a parent too, and research shows that women are many times more anxious about getting it right than men are. They are constantly worried about being a good mother, more so than we could ever imagine. Be patient with the mother of your kids. She allowed her body to become a human factory for nine months for goodness’ sake. Be kind to her.
#2: Your kids need repetition.
Learning is based on repetition. Relationships are based on repetition. Everything positive in life is based on repetition. I recall a while ago telling my youngest son to go into the bathroom and brush his teeth. He replied “But I brushed my teeth already yesterday.” It sounds funny, but there are too many fathers who treat parenting this way. Your son needs you to throw the football with him more than once or twice. Your daughter needs you to tell her how awesome she is more than once or twice. Your kids need to repeatedly hear you say “I love you.” They need to repeatedly hear your ridiculous “dad jokes.” You need to repeat things a bit because the things that get repeated are the things that get remembered.
#3: Your kids need to watch you be the man.
If you have a son, this is really important. By being a father, you have become that little boy’s living breathing model of what it means to be a man. When your son is a toddler, you will be amazed at how much that little boy copies the actions of his father. He will borrow your words, your behaviors, and some of your likes and dislikes. Your children are watching you even when you don’t think they’re watching. They’re listening to everything you say, and absorbing every decision you make. Yes, there are things you will teach your son as he grows up, but the best thing to teach is what a real man looks like.
If you have a daughter, this is even more important. By being a father, you have become that little girl’s living breathing model of what it means to be a man. Quite often, a little girl grows up to (consciously or subconsciously) look for those qualities in other men that she saw in her father. Yes that’s a lot of responsibility. Luckily, you are constantly learning every day how to be a better man…which leads to the next item.
#4: Your kids need you to keep growing.
Your kids need to watch you as you change. Muhammad Ali once said that “If you’re the same man at 50 as you were at 20, then you’ve wasted 30 years of your life.” Your kids need to see you make decisions, make mistakes, and then make corrections. Parents are a child’s first teacher, and one of the best things a child can learn from you is that learning never ends. As you learn new things, share them with your kids. One of the best sentences a dad can say to his kid is “Hey, come here. Look at this.” Remember earlier when I said kids don’t know much because they’ve only been alive for a few years? Well, you get to be the one to bring them from not knowing to knowing. All learning results in change. Help your kids continue to grow by helping them continue to learn.
#5: Your kids need you to be stable.
This sounds like the opposite of what I just said above because growth seems like the opposite of stability. But trust me on this one.
Imagine trying to jump without bending your legs. Go ahead. Stop reading this, stand up, and try to jump in the air without bending your legs at all. You can’t do it, right? The reason is even though you really want to propel yourself away from the ground, gravity is a strong force that pulls you back down. You need that bend in your legs to propel you in the opposite direction. And the deeper you bend, the more potential energy you build up to jump even higher.
The same is true for your children’s lives. They are trying to live as the best human beings they can possibly be, and they will someday propel themselves away from their homes and into the direction of their own futures. But just like your need for a stable ground to propel yourself in the air, they need a stable home to propel them into their adult lives. Provide that foundation for them by making sure their physical needs are met, their academic needs are met, their emotional needs are met, and their moral, spiritual, and ethical needs are met. Give them the best shot at living beautiful, productive lives by being their solid foundation from which to jump.