It is Father’s Day on Sunday (June 15th, 2008) in the UK, USA and many other countries around the world. This year, the day will be especially poignant for me as for the first time in my life on father’s day I will be without my father who passed away last December. So this year is truly a time to remember just what he meant to me and what he will always mean to me.
Father’s Day is becoming an important day of celebration and gradually catching up with the more popular Mother’s Day worldwide. Now the fifth most-purchased greeting cards in the USA are Father’s Day cards.
Whereas Mother’s Day is seen to be more sentimental, Father’s Day is seen more as a day of practical gift giving such as DIY tools etc. However the most popular Father’s Day present is apparently the gift of a tie.
No matter what you call your father — dad, papa, pop and so on — today is a chance for you to celebrate your father and recognise just what he is and what he has done for you. Father’s Day is your one chance in the year to give your father a pat on the back for who he is and what he has done for you.
I believe Father’s Day is also an opportunity to review just what being a father means to you and how you can become a better father to your children.
I imagine there is so much time, frustration, stress and sacrifice involved in being a parent. Occasions such as Father’s Day allow us to reflect on just how worthwhile it all was. If I had appreciated the efforts of my parents when I was younger, I would probably have been a lot nicer to them and more appreciative of their hard work. Maybe they should have classes in how to be nice to your parents!
I do not have children of my own, but have been blessed with a number of nephews, nieces, young cousins and any number of young people in our extended family. I still recall my great joy the first time I received a Father’s Day card from my nephew.
Also the children of many friends have found a second home at my place. I even have a special toy box for those times when I have young visitors. There was a time when children visiting us would rush straight upstairs and bring down the toy box, promptly emptying the contents on the lounge floor with a great relish.
Though I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have children of my own, I do feel that I have had the best of both worlds. I do also wonder just what sort of a father I would have been. A good one I hope, taking the best of the lessons from my father and also from my mother, and combining these with all my own observations and learnings from the last few years of personal growth and exploration.
Having worked with children in the UK and also at Nirvana School in Pondicherry, South India, here are my ten top tips for being a great dad:-
1. Always be encouraging to your children. Give them love. Give them respect. And give them as much freedom and real responsibility as they can handle.
Children will stretch themselves when challenged. But when you encourage them, make sure they can succeed. Do not set such high standards that they might ultimately fail and lose confidence.
So often we are quick to let a child know when they do something we think is wrong. But remember to acknowledge and appreciate a child when all is going well and the child is playing quietly in the house or doing some chores.
2. Treat the child as an equal. Never assume an air of superiority. Give them credit – they are smarter than you think they are!
Expect a great deal from your children and they will rise to the occasion. By setting your expectations in a loving way, about things such as good manners and efforts at school, and expecting them to do well, you will be letting them know that you think a lot of them. When they know this, they will in turn respond with a great deal.
3. Let them follow their own life path – just be there to support them in whatever they choose, rather than pushing them into following your footsteps. They have their own desires and interests.
Many families put so much pressure on their children to become a doctor or a professional of some standing, whereas the child may want to follow a completely different path.
Not all children will succeed at, say, academics. As a father, your job is to help them discover their gifts and not disparage them for anything that you perceive as beyond them. Challenge and encourage with compassion, but at the same time without promoting mediocrity.
4. Be there for them always. Spend some quality time with them in the evening after work. Share at least one meal a day together. This is what brings and keeps families together.
Place a high value on spending one-on-one time with your child. More than what money can ever buy, your child really wants their father’s time and undivided attention.
Nowadays, even in South Asian families like mine, children live with their parents for only a short period of their lives. Therefore enjoy the moments now so that one day you can both enjoy the memories.
Live simply and don’t have extra demands and activities that can keep you and your child stressed out and too busy to enjoy the important and essential things in life.
5. Truly listen to them. Ask them for their opinion and let them know that what they think and want counts.
Don’t just listen to the words, but listen to what is behind the words. “Hear” what your children are really saying. Though listening like this requires patience, do persevere and focus on your children. Give them your time – after all their words are so important.
Part of listening and responding is to be able to say “no” as and when appropriate. There is so much stuff out there for children these days and sometimes you have to decide just what is appropriate for them. It is usually better for children to learn discipline, self-control, and how to delay gratification, when they are told no by their parents.
6. Walk the talk. Set them a noble example and be in integrity always. By this, I mean make sure your thoughts, words, feelings and actions are all in agreement.
Be very honest with your children as they will know when you are not telling the truth. You will both feel better, trust more and learn to be honest.
Also, as a father, always be sure to treat the mother of your child well. This is where your children will get very important information about relationships between men and women.
Do not ever fight in front of the kids and remember to be kind much more often than trying to be right. This reminds me of a quote I read a while ago which is very apt:-
“The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and respect their mother” (source unknown).
7. Laugh often with your children – be childlike.
Apparently, children under the age of seven laugh 700 times a day, whereas adults on average laugh only four times a day! So you have a lot of catching up to do. Therefore look for humour and share moments of the joy of life with your children and the rest of the family.
Life is too short and your children will have grown up and left you before you know it , so remember to have some fun together along the way. Don’t take yourself or things so seriously. Begin to see your child through the soft eyes of love and kindness –after all you were once young too – be young again.
I still remember a time at a Xmas party a few years when my father orchestrated a silly party game and had us all in raptures and fits of laughter. He shed away decades that evening and looked so much younger and energetic. We had never before seen him so childlike and joyous.
8. Teach your child about your values and what is important to you and your family. One of the greatest things you can instill in your child is a sense of what is right and what is not. Teach them a sense of duty, responsibility and good morals.
Like it or not, one day they will be walking their own path and you will no longer be there to catch them or protect them. So whilst you can, share your ideas and your wisdom, but be prepared to let them walk in their own shoes.
At the same time, protect your children, but don’t smother them.
9. Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s accomplishments, but do not make their achievements the basis of your love and attention. Don’t jump in with your advise and how they “should” do things. Just be there to support and encourage them. If nothing else, truly listen to them.
Look for the evidence of accomplishment, no matter how small. Appreciate your children’s efforts and enjoy them for what they are doing and do not look at what they are not doing. Instead, look for the good in what your children already do and who they are, rather than insisting that they fit your or some cultural stereotype image.
At the same time, always separate the behaviour from the child. Remember it is not the child who is bad – it is their behaviour that may not be acceptable.
Of course, hitting, spanking and physically punishing your kids is out – in my opinion it just doesn’t work at all. As a father, do you really want your kids to be afraid of you? Research has proven how counter-productive physical punishment can be to a child’s self-esteem. Punishment in general is not very effective, so try encouragement instead.
10. Finally, truly love your children. You may say you love them, but if they don’t feel loved, then they aren’t loved.
Don’t show favoritism amongst your children but appreciate their individual uniqueness. Not all children are created equal or are alike. Create opportunities to find out how each child is unique and wonderful. Each child has so many gifts to offer you – you just have to look for them.
At the end of the day every child needs love above more than anything else and as a father you have a wonderful opportunity to bestow this gift on your child – in the same way that at one time your own father did to you.
I will always remember visiting orphanages in Pondicherry and meeting all these children without any parents and thinking how lucky I was to have had such loving, kind and good parents. It is now up to you to bestow the same love and kindness to your children who will carry the candle after you.
To end, here are some inspiring and thought provoking quotes about fatherhood:-
“Not every successful man is a good father. But every good father is a successful man” (R. Duvall)
“I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week” (Mario Cuomo)
Hope you have a happy Father’s Day and don’t forget to let your own father know that he did a good job. Go on, make more of a fuss than usual. Make the most of your father whilst you still can.
Just as importantly, remember to truly love your children, today and always.
And of course do share your own top tips about being a great dad…