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5 Things To Do Now To Insure A Good Father’s Day 18 Years From Now

June 20, 2010

Son, Dad, & Daughter, summer 2009 (photo by Mom)

Today is my 18th Father’s Day (!). Yesterday my 14-year-old son returned from a week in Croc, Mexico, where he gave of his time, talent, and treasure to serve the village residents. What’s really cool is that he received as much or more from the experience as the people he served.

On July 13 my 17-year-old daughter will travel with a handful of her high school classmates to South Africa to serve AIDS orphans in the Transkei region. She’ll return on the 25th and I have no doubt the experience will mirror her brother’s. Both kids earned, saved, and raised the funds required for their “service vacations.”

I’m in awe that my children have such big hearts. When I was their age I never dreamed of crossing borders and oceans to serve people less fortunate than I. This being Father’s Day I’d like to reflect on a few of the things I did right as a father that may have influenced my children.

  1. Be authentic. I did a lot of stupid things before I married their mother; rumor has it my father, likewise, was pretty stupid before he met my mother. (It’s a guy-thing.) But he never shared much of that with me. I often wonder if he had been more open about his youth and adolescence, would I have been less inclined toward stupidity? It’s too late for me, but not too late for my offspring. I make a habit of telling them about past regrets and make it clear that they can ask me any question about any aspect of my past and I’ll be totally authentic with them.
  2. Invest in community. We moved to Kansas City in December 1996; within a year we were engaged in a like-minded community of friends who challenge, encourage, and support each other. It’s much more than a social club. We meet regularly, read and discuss books together, serve together, and watch out for each other. This community is intimately engaged in the Mexico and South Africa experiences my kids are involved in this summer.
  3. Stay married to their mom. I know it may be too late for some of you reading this today. If so, I’m not saying your kids are destined for delinquency. What I am saying to those of you who are married to the mother of your children is this: Do whatever it takes to stay married. Swallow your pride. Come clean. Grow a spine. Cultivate humility. Get help. I’ve been part of three small groups that supported couples on the verge of divorce. They tackled financial disaster, marital infidelity, and spousal abuse. Two of the three couples have found their way out of the woods and the third hasn’t given up hope. My wife and I have also been on the receiving end of good counseling from caring couples. We celebrated 20 years of marriage last September and are even more committed to each other now than on the day we said, “I do.” I can’t think of a better legacy to pass on to my children.
  4. Spend less than you earn. Financial problems distract you from being a good dad, and staying out of debt is the best way to avoid financial problems. Yes, you’ll have to say “no” to some of the things you’d like to have, things you’d like your children to have, places you’d like to go, and things you’d like to do. But in the process you’ll be exercising self-discipline, one of the Top Ten Traits you want to teach your children. And as a wise person once said, values are more readily caught than taught. Let your children see you wrestle with delayed gratification (see item #1 in this list). They’ll be better for it, and so will you.
  5. Agitate your children. Not aggravate… AGITATE. Stir things up like the agitator in your washing machine; it’s the only way the clothes get clean. When my son was three years old we established the “three-bite rule.” He had to take three bites of everything on his plate or go to bed with no dinner. But he was a stubborn little tyke, and went to bed hungry three nights in a row. On the fourth night he realized we weren’t bluffing; he has choked down three bites of everything ever since. Today he’s much more willing to try new foods. He raved about the food in Mexico, pointing out how much he likes rice and beans (a complete turnaround from just a few years ago). My daughter was hesitant to send a fundraising letter to friends and family, asking them to help finance her trip to South Africa. “What if they don’t want to give?” she asked. “Let them make the decision,” I replied. “You shouldn’t make it for them.” She pushed through the fear, sent the letter, and was amazed at the response.

I wish I could say that I always follow these five principles. What’s truly amazing is how well they have turned out despite all the mistakes I’ve made. And there’s a sixth principle for you: admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

I’m sure there are plenty of other principles to parent by. What would you add to the list?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2010 11:31 pm

    How about “make sure they know who Jesus is, and what he did for us.” Thanks again for sharing.

  2. June 21, 2010 12:40 pm

    Father’s Day is always a deeply introspective day for me as it is both a celebration and a remembrance of my father who died in 2002. I would add: Remember your role as a role model. Granted, I think you hit on a lot of what this simple phrase encompasses but I also think it is a point worth reemphasizing. You speak to some very visible manifestations of this but there is all the subtle qualities as well: how you speak to other people, how you work with your emotions, how you apologize, how you love, how you stay openminded (or closed minded), how you treat your partner, how you treat ‘service industry’ people. My father was a wonderful role model and I have no doubt that, were he alive today, we could laugh at all we have in common and agree to disagree wherever I chose my own path and perspective.

    Beyond that, I would definitely add: As your children get older, involve them in family finance and life-planning issues. My father was a career accountant and always took the “don’t worry about the mortgage/investments/tax returns/family finance issues” approach since, as he said, “I’m the financial one here.”

    Had we spent even one day together going over all that stuff, I would have spent no more than a week sorting out my parent’s finances after he died… instead it took me a month. A BIG part of being a parent and role model is not only admitting your human-ness but also your mortality. Even making sure the kids have the passwords, names, and phone numbers to all relevant accounts is a simple, time-saving gift to give them. We don’t need to be reminded that demise and death can come quickly and it helps the whole family through the grieving process if end-of-life planning is already taken care of. It reminds me of a quote an colleague used to say: Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

    Finally, having met your kids Richard, I hope you know that you deserve to be one very proud man!

    • June 22, 2010 8:21 am

      Steven, thank you, excellent points, especially the reminder that demise and death can come quickly. Tracy has been gently nudging me to put all my passwords in place and prepare for the unexpected. D’oh! Haven’t followed thru on that one yet! Thanks for the reminder…

  3. June 21, 2010 1:26 pm

    I echo the authenticity one! That has taken me 31 years to figure out. I remember one moment with my dad where he cried in front of us that pushes me to break through the rest of the barriers we have. But it is worth I agree!

    • June 22, 2010 8:24 am

      Yes, authenticity can be a scary thing, especially for an affirmation-whore like me. “What if my kids don’t like me anymore after I tell them the truth?” Well, Wretchard, what do you think they’ll think of you when they find out about all the sh*t you covered up? Thanks for reading and for the comment, Christina.

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