The Single Best Way To Be A Great Dad: BE THERE

“When your kids become adults, how do you want them to remember their childhoods with you?” Almost all fathers want to be remembered as being a consistent positive presence in their children’s lives. Making this happen requires aligning our actions with our priorities.

I hope Nick can look back on his childhood and know that I was there for him (just like I can look back on time with my dad)
I hope Nick can look back on his childhood and know that I was there for him (just like I can look back on my childhood with my dad)

Modern Dad Workshops

John Badalament is a true pioneer in work-family issues for dads. He wrote a great book, made a documentary, and writes and conducts dads workshops all aimed at equipping men to be better, more present fathers. I had read his book a long time ago, and was happy to have met him in person at the Thirdpath Institute Summit this past May.

In his workshops, he asks this question as a prioritization exercise:

“When your kids become adults, how do you want them to remember their childhoods with you?”

Fathers’ Priorities

I posed this same question to dads I met through Fathers, Work and Family’s facebook page and the Dad Bloggers facebook group. As these are dads who walk the walk, I figured they’d have some good perspective to share.

Their responses:

  • Dylan Jawahir – I want my kids to remember me always being there, except when they were on the toilet.
  • Len Filppu – That I listened to love them and loved to listen to them.
  • Craig Myles – I want them to remember me as always being on their side and that my presence / involvement made any given situation better and not worse. That sounds like I’m setting the bar quite low, but it can be a difficult thing to achieve all the time.
  • Zach Rosenberg – I want him to remember that I was there, playing with him and getting him interested in things that he might be excited to pass on to his own kids later – just as my own father did with me.
  • Chris Gould – That I loved their mom and them, unconditionally. That I was not perfect, but willing to admit my mistakes and ask for forgiveness. That I would do anything I had to to provide for and protect them. That there is so much wonder to life! That God’s grace is sufficient for anything and everything they will ever encounter. That they were equipped and prepared to live in this world, and were not shielded from the pain and frustration I experienced, when it was appropriate for them to experience it too. That good grades are no guarantee of anything, and while an important metric, are not the ultimate goal of school. That they are valuable, important people who should seek to submit to others in love, but value themselves highly enough to take care of themselves. That no matter what else they remember, that they were loved, cherished, adored, disciplined, held accountable, and loved even more.
  • Chad L. MillerPresent, engaged, encouraging their curiosity of life, merciful, empathetic, graceful, fair, and fun as hell.
  • Neal Call – Hard to refine it down to a quick thought or two, but this is what I’ve come up with:
    1. That my frequent presence made her feel loved, safe, and supported.
    2. That using that stable, forgiving platform to launch from, she could try new, difficult things, and even fail sometimes, and so learn to stretch her abilities and grow confident in her ability to pick herself up after falling down.
  • Larry D. Bernstein – I want them to remember their childhoods as happy and their mother and I as supportive, encouraging, and fun. Most importantly, I want them to feel that they are loved.
  • James Hudyma – I want them to look back and see that everything I did was in their best interests.
  • Brent Almond – I want my son to remember feeling safe and loved, that he felt the love between me and his Papa, that he cherishes the passions I tried to share with him (music, art, comic books) even if he ends up thinking I’m a big dork.
  • Matthew Gpx – A culmination of both work knowing you are providing for them and very importantly the time spent doing activities, trips to the zoo, watching cartoons together, family shows, making them participate in hands on things like cooking, building a ground floor cubby, watching sports on tv and them playing them and just basically having that all important balance so they know and remember you were still there during these all important years.
  • Adam Dolgin – The short answer is I don’t want them to have to think about it. If they do, or question what I did for them, it means I failed to do what I set out to do (i.e. be one awesome dad they could always rely on).
  • Victor Aragon– As a teacher, my hours are long and at times, stressful.  There have been times when I came home from work with a pile of papers to grade and tired as hell, but when my little girl wants me to play with her I put it all down and give her 100%.  I think that’s what I want her and her brother to remember, that I always put them before anything and did everything in my power to make sure they were happy and taken care of.  I shared with them my love of all things geek: comics, toys and movies.

These are pretty awesome answers, and represent a great list of priorities for all of us to aim for.

There’s a consistent theme in these responses, which I’ve put in boldface type. BEING PRESENT. BEING THERE. Most of all, it seems we want our grown-up children to look back on their childhoods knowing that their dads were THERE FOR THEM- being a CONSISTENT PRESENCE so that our kids always feel the love and support of their dad.

To me, it seems that BEING THERE may be the foundation of all other good parenting.

Living Our Priorities

But, back to John’s workshops…

Many of the dads John does his workshops with are fathers in demanding jobs who work very long hours. They tend to give him very similar responses to my sample of dads.

But then, he asks a follow-up question:

What are you doing right now to make this happen?

He tells me the room often goes silent as these well-intentioned dads begin to realize that they are often not living their priorities. They are spending too much time at work and not enough as a present dad.

John then works with them on figuring out ways to better align their actions with their priorities. Life-changing stuff. Pretty great workshop if you ask me.

The Takeaway

I won’t pretend to give advice here- I’m making it up as I go along just like you.

But I will say this- We can all find ways to more closely live our priorities. If being a great dad is important (and it is), it seems like the best first step is to carve out enough time to be a consistent positive presence in our kids’ lives.

How do you strive to make your priority of “being there” a reality for your kids? What have you struggled with? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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29 thoughts on “The Single Best Way To Be A Great Dad: BE THERE

  1. Really enjoyed the summary of what others had to say in response to this question. For those fathers in the military or professions that require extended periods of time away from home, it would be great to see a discussion on how those fathers stay “present” through a variety of methods and means.

    • You raise a really important point. You can be a consistent presence even if you can’t always be present. Facetime and Skype can be useful here, and I have covered a few items that traveling dads can use (see sidebar for that category). I haven’t really covered military dads, who sacrifice so much for their important service. I’ll have to correct that soon.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. If I may add a daughter’s viewpoint here – a little girl’s first love is her Daddy. I admire a man who wants to set the gold standard for the kind of man his little girl will want to marry some day. I especially admire a man who sets this standard with his little girl’s Mommy. 🙂 For men who also have sons, the bonus is that you are teaching your boy how to treat women respectfully. For men who ONLY have boys, give this some consideration. There may be a mom out there, like me, who has a daughter, and may – someday – be forever in your debt. 🙂

  3. This is so true as my oldest son will soon be married. He shows so much respect to his wife to be and is actively helping with the wedding plans. My husband has a very close relationship with all our three sons. As you stated he was always there for them and still talks, listens, plays golf and tennis with them. So yes, being there in spirit, in the moment, special occassions and life changing moments makes a world of difference in the lives of children. This kind of support cultivates confidence.

    • Thank you for reading, and for this heartfelt comment. I hope my wife can one day, look back on how I was as there for my son as your husband was for his sons. A terrific tribute- I hope you share this comment with him.

  4. Hi Scott

    Thank you for the probing, powerful questions you ask. As a father, I’m called to explore my relationship to my children with inquisitiveness, playfulness and curiositys. I’ve found that the best way for me to hold that space of inquiry is through open-ended questions like the ones you’ve asked here.

    I can struggle with being triggered by my boys. This takes me away from the moment, from being engaged and available. What helps is often to practice mindfulness (often by spending time in nature alone or with my boys) and to have a good circle of support, other dads and men i can reach out to for compassionate listening.

    Miki

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