Fatherhood can be a lot of work, but it should also be a lot of fun. After all, you’re on the Journey of a Lifetime (quite literally) with the people you most love in the whole world. Having fun with your family every day doesn’t take lots of money or hours of free time. It just takes a willingness to enjoy the simple pleasures of life together... and to celebrate the big things together well. It also takes a conscious decision to put your Family First - each and every day.
Make no mistake, each of us decide what to put first in our lives. Some of us choose work, some of us chose worry, some of us chose our hobby or our buddies. But by deciding to put our family first and wielding Tool #1 effectively, we not only enjoy today more but we build a stronger future for our family too. That’s because good times we enjoy today create great memories for the future – memories that are like an invisible glue that binds a strong family together. Every family – every one – will face severe tests and challenges in life. The Father who uses Tool #1 today – and every day - helps his family to enjoy the moment – and to strengthen itself for the unexpected storms of the future.
The statistics could not be clearer. Kids who grow up in a generally happy home with both parents are at least twice as likely to have happy families themselves, go to college, hold down a long-term job and be a productive member of society. Unfortunately, their less fortunate peers whose parents divorce while they are kids are more than twice as likely use drugs, have kids out of wedlock, drop out of high school, be convicted of a felony, suffer from severe psychological disorders and die a violent death. (Source: Father Facts Fifth Edition, National Fatherhood Initiative 2007 I know for sure that neither you nor I want that for our children.
Net-net: for your kid’s sake, it is critical that we as Dads use Tool #2 to help build a happy and lasting marriage. That’s not only important for our children. A committed marriage is also extraordinarily important for our wives – and for ourselves. Marriage was designed by God to be a place where we can be totally open, totally vulnerable, totally real to one other human being. For most of us, our marriage will be the only place in the world where we can be exactly and fully who we are. Or at least it should be. And this cannot and will not happen without an all-in commitment from both husband and wife. If my wife doesn’t know – or isn’t sure – that I am truly for her, that I am going to be there for her in good times and bad – why would she open up the very depths of her heart to me? And make no mistake men, as the leaders of our families it is up to us to demonstrate all in commitment to our marriages. That is Tool #2 – and we will look at in in Chapter Four.
At the same time, you may already be divorced or widowed…or you might have a child born outside of marriage. Life is never as easy as we wish it were. If that’s the case, let me first say “Thank You” for your commitment to being a better Dad despite a less than ideal situation. Chapter 14 addresses this issue directly: “How To Be the Best Single Dad You Can Be.” I hope it is a blessing to you. And I look forward to your ideas and input as to how to strengthen it.
Many people think long and hard about what material things they will pass onto their kids when they die. In fact, there is a large estate planning industry in the US and around the world that does nothing but help parents with inheritance planning.
But there is something much, much more important that we as Fathers need to pass onto our children. A strong set of ethics and time tested values, a True Moral Compass if you will, is the most important legacy we can ever give our kids. A True Moral Compass will serve them well in both good times and bad... even when we are long gone. I realize that talking about a True Moral Compass goes against the grain of much of our culture today, where so few people want to even talk about enduring moral and ethical values. But this Moral Compass Tool is essential to who we are as men. And it will be essential for our children if we want them to live lives of courage, character and commitment.
First, we have to be sure that our own Moral Compass is working properly. And if it is not, we must fix it. Then and only then will we be in a position to pass it on to our own kids. And it is the greatest gift we can give to our children, because how else will they guide themselves in this world if their own Moral Compass isn’t working? The truth is simple: if they don’t learn it from us they are unlikely to ever learn it at all.
I know this one sounds basic, and it is. But love is the basis on which a strong family foundation is built. I’m not talking about the sappy, puppy dog love of 7th grade. I’m talking about the ‘till death do us part,’ real world, “we’re going to make it through this together” type of love that determines whether a family rises or falls. If you’ve been married more than a year, you know that the sparkle and romance of the honeymoon wears off. But if you work at it, sparkle and romance is replaced over time by things much stronger and more durable: mutual respect, interdependence and the joy of knowing, and being known, intimately.
Developing the skill to love the members of your family – in ways each one can understand and appreciate – is one of the most important Fatherhood Skills we need to develop. And trust me, like hitting a baseball or catching a football, all of us can get better at this skill.
This is the essence of all leadership. It means our willingness to put our family’s needs and wants above our own. And it is not easy. Most of us are pretty good at taking care of our own wants and needs. Western society today would have us believe that taking care of our own needs, ‘looking out for #1” is the essential job of every man. But that is not true. In fact, it cannot be true for you if you really want to be an effective Father.
Twenty centuries ago St. Paul encouraged all men to ‘love your wife (and family) as Christ loved the church…and gave Himself for her.’ That advice has certainly stood the test of time. You don’t have to be a believer to understand the power of this message. It is not only good for our wives and children – it is good for us as well.
Let’s face it guys, we are not generally the world’s best listeners. Most of us are action oriented instead of feelings oriented. That’s not a bad thing. But a family, at its essence, is about relationships. We must be able to truly hear and understand each member of our family if we are to build a life-long relationship with them. This is where so many American Dads get into trouble. How many times have I heard it from men whose families have gone over a cliff? “I gave her/them everything they needed. I provided abundantly for them. Where did I go wrong?”
The truth is that we must provide for our families. But as we will examine in the chapter on Tool #10 (Dynamic Whole Person Support), we must provide forour families emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Not just materially. The only way to be an effective emotional, mental and spiritual provider is to develop a real relationship with each member of our family – and that starts with listening and understanding them.
This Tool is fundamental to many of the others. And it is a natural outgrowth of Tool #4 (Heartfelt Love). Each one of can improve our listening and relationships skills. Not only is this a truly critical Tool for you as a Father, it will help you develop more productive and positive friendships outside the family as well.
No matter what your take on spiritual matters, I hope we can agree that we as Dads need as much help as we can get. If God truly is our Heavenly Father and loves you and me as His sons (as Jesus taught), doesn’t it follow that He wants to help us to be the very best earthly Fathers we can be?
Whether you are a believer or not, and whatever your belief set is, doesn’t it make sense to ask the Heavenly Father for help? Many years ago a dear friend of mine challenged me, then an Ivy League agnostic, to ask God to reveal Himself to me. I did – and He did. Over time, and with many bumps in the road, it changed my life completely…and for the better.
We all need a rich source of love and joy and wisdom and peace in our lives. That is especially true of Moms and Dads because our children look to us for those assets all the time. If God’s love and joy and wisdom and peace are available for every single one of us…as the Bible clearly teaches…we’d be foolish not to ask for His help.
The truth is that there are no good “Lone Ranger” Dads. None. It is impossible. We are by nature social beings. Yes, we as men may not have as big a need for social interaction as our wives, but the need is still there. If we fulfill that need by hanging around with guys who are chasing skirts or who clearly don’t care too much about their families, that is going to rub off on us. Don’t kid yourself. Bad friends trump good intentions. That’s just the way it is for most of us. On the other hand, if we consciously seek out men of character and competence who care deeply about their families, we will be influenced for the better.
The positive influence of other good Dads, and especially those who can be good role models for us, is very powerful. That’s why good Dads in cultures the world over have close friends who themselves are committed to their families…and their friends. As the Bible teaches us “a cord of three is not easily broken.” Tool #8 will show us how to find and build positive and productive friendships with like-minded men who desire to be great Fathers. For a true team of three or more is not easily broken.
This is one of the most important Tools for every effective Father – and one that each of us needs to develop. You can do a great job with the other nine Tools, but if you don’t have this one, all your work can be for naught.
It reminds me of one of the best lessons I learned at Harvard (where I did my MBA). There was a well-researched study of successful CEO’s and their less successful peers. The study determined that there was one primary difference that existed all across industries and all cultures. Every single executive in the study – and that included scores of senior executives from companies around the world – had endured painful and potentially career ending professional and/or personal set-backs. Failed projects, disastrous acquisitions, missed promotions and even outright demotions…each one had experience significant professional failure. But the successful ones were those who made the conscious decision to fight through their failures, to learn from them, and not to give up. Likewise, we as Dads have to learn to fight through the set-backs, both big and small, that inevitably come to all families.
Developing the inner strength and moral courage to never give up on our wife, our kids or our family as a whole – that is a man’s man. And that’s what Tool #9 is all about.
Notice that I did not include the word “financially.” That is because so many of us, including myself for too many years, overemphasize its importance. In fact, at least for me, ‘being a good provider’ justified a lot of behavior on my part that really was not good for our family at all: working too late, being away from home too much, moving my family too frequently and being overly devoted to my ‘job.’
Yes, we have to provide materially for our families, sometimes in conjunction with our working spouse. But providing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually is just as important. If I’m too tired from my efforts at work to provide those other things…I probably need to make some changes.