A simple story for dads, this Father's Day
Tomorrow is Father’s Day here in the states. And frankly, because of the tenuous relationship I’ve had with my own father, it’s always been somewhat of a bittersweet day for me.
I’m 46 years old, at this point in time, I’ve not been around my father for a significantly larger portion of my life, than the time I’ve spent with him.
For me, personally… being a father is one of the most difficult jobs I’ve had. It’s one of the few jobs you can do, where… experience measured in time doesn’t always seem to equate to your ability to handle new “fathering” situations.
I am constantly learning new things about how to be a better father, and I wanted to pass along two of the most important things I’ve learned over the last 20 years I’ve been at it. Maybe you’ll be able to relate to this, or maybe you know someone who can appreciate it.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even learn something from this, although I’m not going to try and fool anyone and pretend I’m anywhere near as good at parenting as I am at marketing and writing copy. But I will say, it’s not for a lack of effort, that’s for sure.
Lesson # 1: Love unconditionally. I mean REALLY unconditionally.
Before I share a story with you, let me tell you a number of my struggles with parenting have been due to my lack of role models. My dad didn’t get it right, and I haven’t really had anyone else to look up to, along the way, so I’ve had to sort of look for little lessons, and soak them in, whenever I had the chance to grab them.
Here’s one of those instances:
I’ll never forget when my older son Nick was being born. I was talking with the nurse anesthesiologist right before Nick arrived, and she said something to me so profound, that here I am 20 years later, and I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
She asked me if I knew what my job as a father was. I have no idea why she asked me this — perhaps she knew I was scared to death, or perhaps she just had great intuition, who knows? But standing there totally clueless and nearly shitting in my pants, I sheepishly said, “To tell them the right things to do?”
And she said, “No, that’s not it.”
“See, your children are going to jump over many rocks in life. And they are going to jump over the rocks THEY want to jump over — which may not necessarily be the ones you want them to jump over. Your job isn’t to tell them which rocks to jump over, it’s to make them the best rock-jumpers they can possibly be.”
I felt, at the time, such a sense of relief when she said this. I barely had the wherewithal to make my own decisions at the time. And having to make them for others at this intense level, wasn’t something I was looking forward to doing.
Plus, although I hate being controlled, I’m also not too interested in controlling others, especially people I love and care about. So this was great information and it’s probably the one big foundation behind everything I’ve done as a father, during the last 20 years.
But there was one piece of this puzzle I don’t really think I figured out until this last year or so.
And that puzzle piece, of course, is the answer to the question, “What’s the most effective way to make them the best rock-jumpers?”
After twenty years, I know that answer is to love them unconditionally. See, the nurse was 100% correct — kids are no different than their parents. They’re going to do what they want to do, just like you and me… whether we like it, or not.
But when they know, regardless what they’re doing, they’re safe and sound in that love… that’s where their confidence comes in. They’re able to attempt new things and feel good about themselves, because they know, at the core… you love them, regardless.
Yes, of course things like “setting a good example,” and “practicing what you preach,” are important — but frankly those are things you should be doing for yourself, not anyone else. These things don’t give your children anything — they give you credibility and respect, but they don’t do a damn thing for your children’s self-esteem or their feelings of self-worth.
Unconditional love is so incredibly powerful, it may be the single most important thing you can offer anyone, actually.
2. Never lie.
Over the years, my kids have all told me far more information about what was going on in their lives, or what they were thinking about doing… than I ever would have wanted to know.
And yet… after every secret was revealed… and every plot was uncovered… I was thrilled they had the courage and comfort to share each and every one of these things with me, every time.
Now I can’t say for sure why they’ve done this, but I suspect it’s because I’ve never lied to them. I’ve never told them one thing and then gone and done another… and I’ve never pretended to know something when I didn’t.
For me, fortunately — and let me tell you, this is a blessing as well as a curse — I’m just not wired to make stuff up. I’m probably not smart enough to do that, simply because I couldn’t ever keep up with all the “new” lies I’d have to create, to make everything else seem in line with the original lies.
But in spite of all the things I really didn’t want to hear from my kids, when they did share them with me… I made sure to never make them feel uncomfortable or angry at themselves for telling me. After all, I’d rather they share things with me, willingly… and then we have an open platform to talk about them, then never telling me things that could potentially ruin their lives.
I am FAR from a perfect father. So please — don’t take this as me getting up on a pulpit because I definitely have no right to do that, at all. I’m just sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned, from some of the tuition I’ve paid.
I know, in years to come, I’ll have more stories to share with you, and more tuition to pay. Because Lord only knows… I sure as hell have a lot more learning to do.
Happy Father’s Day.
Now go hug your kids, Craig Garber