Set the example: Don’t end up like Harry Chapin’s “father”
Everything changes for a man the moment he holds his first-born child. Not only does the state mandate an 18-year financial commitment, but for most fathers there is an unspoken commitment to build a better man than the one he sees in the mirror.
This six-pack of advice has emerged from the personal challenge of raising three children to adulthood. All three have jobs, use designated drivers and occasionally take their parental units to a special event. Those are my qualifications. I can’t say I know more about fatherhood than the next guy, so take what you value and ignore the rest.
This six-pack deals with the lessons you teach your child through the example you set. Harry Chapin illustrated this important concept in his sad song “Cat’s in the Cradle.” In it, the father laments the time he spent catching planes and paying bills instead of playing catch with his son. The son idolizes his father and promises he’ll grow up to be just like his Dad. At the end of the song the son is too busy to spend time with his Dad.
1) Family first: Family can find you when you’re lost; ground you when you’re floating; support you when you’re falling and kick you in the ass when you need it. Do not alienate your strongest allies with rashness, stubbornness or vindictiveness. Cultivate these binds. Your children will benefit. They may even visit you when they leave the nest.
2) Mean what you say: Words have meaning. They hurt, they motivate; they will be remembered. Choose wisely, what you may say in anger, or in jest, or just to fill the silence may have more meaning than what you intend. You will not know the importance of words you have long-since forgotten until your child parrots them back in adulthood.
3) Keep cool under pressure: You will face difficult times, emotionally-charged times and times when the answer you seek is not even within your peripheral vision. But, your child will be there, on the periphery, watching you and he or she will learn how to handle stress by how you handle it. Take a deep breath, make your child proud of you and how you handle adversity.
4) Do it with enthusiasm: Remember what Bruce Springsteen sang in Badlands, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” Be enthusiastic about your work, your hobbies, your relationships. That dark rabbit hole of despair can suck in everyone who comes near it. Don’t bring your children down. Success comes more so to those with an enthusiastic positive outlook than to those afraid of the obstacles they may have to jump over or run through.
5) Win with grace, lose with grace: The game is the thing, not the win or the loss. If you win, don’t brag, don’t rub it in, don’t beat your chest. If you lose, don’t make excuses, don’t throw a tantrum, don’t beat yourself up. If your children learn this lesson in play, in work and in relationships, your child will always have teams to play on, employers who will hire them and friends who will support them.
6) Pursue excellence, settle for good enough: It is an innate human trait to pursue excellence, but there are deadlines and commitments that will sap you of your time. Pursue excellence in the things that matter, settle for good enough in the things that matter less and invest the time you save into your kids.
This is the fourth six-pack in a series that make up a case of advice for young fathers. Research has shown that fathers can have a dramatic impact on society by teaching their children responsibility, discipline, independence, and a quiver of other skills and attitudes that can target success. Unfortunately, fatherhood does not require a license, a degree, or any training. And, there’s no penalty for doing it poorly. If you would like my other three six-packs, email me a note and I’ll share them.