It’s Father’s Day, and I haven’t added to this blog in months. This seemed like a good day to post since I am filled with thoughts- joy, love, melancholia.
My three kids are growing up. Jacob is graduating high school this coming week, and is off to university far away from home in a few short months. My pride in his achievements and the young man he has grown into is unbridled.
My twins recently turned 11. Next year they are starting a new chapter in their young academic careers, having been 2 of 53 students admitted to a special science and technology advanced program in their school board. My daughter Leora dances competitively, and despite my occasional frustration with the sheer amount of time this takes from the rest of our family time, between school and dance she often works harder than most adults in a given week. Her drive and ambition at such a young age are palpable to all who know her. The boy twin, Bennie, plays rep/select baseball, and at 11 already thinks and speaks like a lawyer. He reminds me of myself when I was his age: his ability to process what he takes in and spit it out against you; his ability to reason abstractly as opposed to simply in a linear fashion; his ability to think critically and not simply accept what he is told; his reading comprehension. And he makes me laugh all the time.
Most significantly, all of my children are happy, healthy, well adjusted, polite, thoughtful and considerate of others. Don’t get me wrong. They are not perfect. And there are times where they need to be disciplined harshly. Although I have never raised a hand to them as parents routinely did when I was young, I would be lying if I said the thought had not crossed my mind on more than one occasion.
I am making a documentary on manhood and what it means to be man. So far, there are a couple of themes that shine through regardless of the interview subject’s age, ethnicity or socioeconomic standing. One of those commonalities is the concept of fatherhood as manhood; being a man equals being a good dad. Being a good dad means taking care of your children. Financially, emotionally, and being there for the important events in their lives. And while there are exceptions, sociological studies repeatedly show that children with a father who is present in their lives grow up to become more well adjusted adults in almost every way.
So what advice would I give to new dads?
1. You must earn a living. Like it or not, money matters. It costs money to raise children. That diapers and baby formula are amongst the most shoplifted items at drug stores and supermarkets only underscores this reality. You cannot raise your kids on love alone. Sometimes you have to stay at a job you hate, or take a job you think is beneath you because you need to support a family. Too bad. You have a kid. You do what you have to do to support the kid. It ain’t all about you anymore.
2. Earning a living isn’t living. Regardless of your career, don’t let that job consume you. Make sure to spend time with your kids. They want more than anything to have your time and attention. Yes, I know you’re busy. The good news is that quality trumps quantity every time. Being home every night and just watching tv with your kids is not the same “being there” as working all week and spending Sunday afternoon riding a bike or throwing the ball with them, or being at their sporting event and cheering them on from the sidelines.
3. Lead by example. You can lecture your kids all you want but they need to see you doing what you say.
4. From the time your kids can start asking questions, respect them enough to give them real answers. Don’t talk down to them. And please don’t baby talk to your children.
5. It’s not always fun. Raising kids right takes time and effort, and sometimes it sucks. Too bad. Again. It’s no longer all about you.
6. Find some time for you. You’ll be tired all the time, but squeezing in those workouts, that ice time, that dinner out with friends, maintaining or finding a hobby, will make you more well rounded and happier. In turn, you’ll be a better dad.
Father’s Day is a day when the kids celebrate the dad. My kids always make me something wonderful. I have on a shelf in my office a craft Jacob made for me when he was 3, some 15 years ago. I treasure the homemade cards all my kids give me every year. Yet, I really feel this is a day when I should be celebrating them. Celebrating the privilege I have every day to be their dad. They give me a reason to get up in the morning and go to work. They give my life meaning. They have made me a better man. So on this Father’s Day, I dedicate this blog to them (not to mention all the money I earned last week!).
Back to my advice for new fathers. Here’s the single best piece of advice for you: Don’t listen to anyone’s advice about fatherhood! If you are in tune with yourself and your kids, then raising them well will be instinctual. You won’t get it right every day, but the good news is you don’t need to. Get it right most days, and don’t do anything to screw them up, and they will pay you back every day of your life simply by virtue if the fact that your bond with them is a life force unto itself.