Are you a dad? Do you ever plan to be a dad? If you answered yes, then this post is for you.
Having been a dad for over 19 years, I know firsthand that it’s no easy task, so I’ll say upfront that for a multitude of reasons I feel unqualified to write this post on how to be a great dad.
That’s in no way an attempt at gaining sympathy, it’s just the plain truth – ask my children!
Like so many of the dads I know, I’ve failed on numerous fronts at being a good dad, and that’s something I’m learning to live with.
Yet, in my own personal pursuit of becoming the best I can be, in what I believe to be the most important role I have in life, I’m writing this in the hope that it’ll help to encourage, and at the very least, provoke the thoughts of other dads.
Writing a blog post on what characterises a great dad evokes a variety of emotions. I think about my own father, our relationship past and present.
What I’ve observed, learnt, and experienced from his fathering of me and how that has shaped my life.
And I also give thought to the many mistakes I’ve made as a dad, and relive the pain that has come as a consequences of some of my many mistakes.
But in considering these things, I thought sharing some reflections would be helpful for other dads, who like me, take seriously their responsibility to father well, and who’d consider themselves as ‘works in progress’.
The list I’ll present is short, for there’s no doubt many other characteristics I could’ve added. Indeed you too could add to the list, and I’d invite you to do so by sharing your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Show unconditional love
To be honest, this goes against much of our natural inclinations. When children comply, they’re easy to love. But when they’re disobedient, disrespectful, or deceitful, it’s less likely that we’ll want to sit in the same room as them, let alone have fun and spend ‘quality time’.
Yet though this is true, great dads understand that the love they show to their children can’t be dependent on their child’s behaviour or choices.
Instead, they recognise the importance of addressing their own inner process — what their child’s behaviour is evoking in them and why — and then acting graciously and objectively.
They are deliberate about telling their children they love them everyday and show as much affection as possible.
They also know that taking a look at what’s missing in the relationship, and likely causing their child’s behaviour, is their responsibility.
In addition, they understand that despite discovering what they may not want to see, initiating and making change is a necessary must.
2. Lead by example
The best thing a dad can do is model what they want to see their children become.
John Maxwell says of leadership that it’s “caught, not taught.” This would be true of the kinds of values, attitudes, and behaviours we want to see in our children.
The best dads are those who communicate their values not simply with their words, but by how they conduct themselves, in the choices they make, and by how they prioritise their time.
If we want our children to be generous or hospitable, then guess what? We need to learn to be hospitable and generous.
For our children to recognise the importance of exercise for well-being, then guess what? We need to exercise.
And if we want our children to see the importance of their ongoing development, we too need to invest in our personal growth – spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
3. Allow your child(ren) to make (some) mistakes
Again, this is a hard one, for there’s nothing worse than seeing someone you love make poor decisions that’ll increase the chances of them coming to some harm in the long run.
I’ve seen a couple of our children choose friends with poor character, spend money irresponsibly, get caught up in unhealthy relationships, and develop poor habits.
What I’m growing to understand is that as painful as it may be to observe, its important for them to make these mistakes.
For it’s in the making of mistakes that they’ll have the opportunity to learn from them, just as I did (and continue to do!) when I was growing up.
Good dads allow space (not life threatening space) for their children to encounter failure, knowing that with maturity, these experiences will become points of reference for future — hopefully better — decisions.
4. Praise and affirm your child(ren) in public
The health of a child’s view of self is a high priority for every good dad.
I’m not talking here about praising a child who cannot hold a note to the point where they have an unrealistic view of their abilities and then go to audition on the X Factor — we’ve seen enough of those!
But rather, positively affirming and encouraging further growth in the things we recognise in them that are ‘good’.
For example, one of our sons does in fact have a good voice, which I first noticed when he was fairly young.
Having recognised it, I acknowledged it, encouraged it, and then affirmed it in front of others. All of which was done intentionally.
Over time this will impact his confidence, and more importantly, increase the likelihood of him utilising a gift he’s been given.
5. Encourage your child(ren) to reach their potential
Every child has the ability to achieve greatness and make a positive impact in the world around them.
And with there arguably being opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve success, as never before in history, it’s only right that a child should be challenged to maximise their potential.
Good dads know this and make every effort to encourage their children to reach towards their best in everything they do. Though there needs to be a balance — which I’ve failed miserably to maintain at times! — it’s important.
Raising the the bar of expectation with regard to everything from attitude, behaviour, character and desire to fulfill purpose and achieve, is what great dads do. They don’t allow their children to settle for being average.
They know that their children have one life to live, and that the joy and fulfillment they’ll get along the journey, will be in part, related to their willingness to reach their potential.
6. Discipline your child(ren)
This can be an area of much debate, and I’ve been guilty of getting this one wrong at great cost in the past.
Discipline is a part of a good dads repertoire. Why? Because good dads know that to allow their children to not face consequences for poor choices is to to set them up to fail in life.
In the real world, there are costs for poor choices, and children need to learn that from an early age.
Showing disapproval of unacceptable behaviour, attitudes, or words, through appropriate discipline, provides dad with opportunity to help children to understand that there is a better and more acceptable way.
7. Teach your child(ren) to be grateful
It’s so easy to go through life with little or no appreciation for the many blessings we have. And so it is with our children who have more choices and opportunities than we ever did. Some of which are literally at the tips of their fingers.
This is why good dads work tirelessly to instill in their children a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the things and many freedoms they have.
Great dads know that helping their children to see the value in all they have is important in them developing an attitude of gratefulness.
From given them responsibilities around the house that encourage them to play their part, to saying a short prayer of thanksgiving at the dinner table, good dads are intentional in their efforts to cultivate a heart of gratitude in their children.
In closing, I would say that being a dad is one of the most rewarding responsibilities in the world. At the same time, as any dad will know, it’s also one of the most challenging too. But with focus and purpose, although we’ll never perfect it, we can get better.
Here’s a reminder of what we looked at:
- Show unconditional love
- Lead by example
- Allow your child(ren) to make (some) mistakes
- Praise and affirm your child(ren) in public
- Encourage your child(ren) to reach their potential
- Discipline your child(ren)
- Teach your child(ren) to be grateful
Over to you
Of the 7 tips listed, which one did you most connect with? What was the most challenging for you? When thinking about being a better dad, what would you add to the list? Share your thoughts and comments below.
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