There is nothing like learning ‘hands on’. That’s what I feel anyway. Getting your hands on something, learning ‘on the job’. Being a dad has been like that for me, for sure. With some things, you can be shown something many times but it’s not until you get to have a go that you realize what you need to do. Driving was a bit like that for me. I passed my test, then a year later, sitting in my newly afforded car, I learnt how to drive. Just me and the car on a private road, hill in front of me.
And somethings can’t be taught, of course. Or modeled.
Fatherhood was one of those for me. Though I had a father, I didn’t have a dad. And from the age of 21 this man has ceased to have an significance as we both moved away from home. My move, a natural move of son leaving home (and then, as it turned out, making my own home within a year with my new wife). For him it was an unnatural but all to common (sadly) move away from married life.
I became a father at 26. Was I to copy what I had seen, or decide to do it properly? For our first child my wife had a water birth, which meant at 4 minutes old, I was holding my daughter in my arms. It was probably the first baby I’d ever held – and it felt great. The love connection was there almost instantly. Believe me, I don’t do babies (still don’t!) but with my two, it was personal. I couldn’t help but love them – and determine to be the best dad (not just father) they could possibly dream of.
Of course, I’m far from perfect, and I get it wrong many times. But I’m quick to tell them when I’ve got it wrong. They respect that, as they do when I remind them that their behavior isn’t keeping with their character.
So this is me and I wanted to accept this chance to encourage fellow dads out there to be all you can be for your kids. As I’ve said, I’m a long way from perfect but just wanted to share some of the ways I’ve come up with to engage, build with and grow strong connections with my two daughters.
1) Be involved. Know the incredible role you have to play in your child’s life. A healthy child needs both a mother and a father, and whilst it’s not a perfect world all the time, if you are a father you can at least do that part well. That’s your responsibility. Every night I pray for each girl. We also read together and I tell them things like “you can do everything you put your mind to”, “you’re amazing” and such. It’s our regular nightly routine but it’s more to speak truth into their little minds so they grow up knowing they are special and loved. The world will do its best to tell them all the negative stuff. As dads, we get to input some important anti-world stuff in their early years! So be involved.
2) Never be too busy to them. Whilst there are always seasons, make them (and their mother, of course!!) a priority. The other night my daughter told me (in a ‘being thankful’ session – see below) that she liked the fact that if I’m on the iPad and she comes over, I put it down and listen to her. I’m sure I fail to do that as much as I do it, but to hear her say that shows the value it has. I’ll make sure I do it all the more now.
3) Give time to express what you are all thankful for. We do this fairly regularly as a family (usually around the table during dinner – make sure you eat together often!). We each take it in turns to say what we are thankful for in each person. It’s great to speak words over ours kids, and have them speak over us and each other. It’s such a positive thing to do – try it and you’ll see, even if it feels strange the first time.
4) Prioritize time with your spouse! This might sound strange in a list about encouraging kids, but kids feel most secure when they know their parents are tight. Most weeks (it’s a rare time that it doesn’t happen) we have Friday nights as date night. The kids eat earlier (their only meal not with us around the table) and we eat later.
Saturday is mainly (again, sometimes it’s just not possible, especially as kids get older and birthday party invites come up) family day. We deliberately set out to do stuff together.
5) Arrange daddy dates. You can call it what you like, the name isn’t important. But take time out to spend with your kids. It’s an investment in time you can’t overvalue. We’ve now transitioned our own home into the following two types these. Once a month we have a ‘memory making day’ which is usually the last Saturday of the month. I’ll take one daughter out and do something, which includes lunch, and my wife will do something similar with the other. We arrive home and after a rest, switch kids and do something else (without food this time). The follow month we change the order so that we have lunch with the other daughter. Over lunch we get to talk about stuff, they tend to feel happy to open up.
And then once a year (usually after Christmas time) I take each child on a special Daddy Date. My wife will buy a new dress for them, help them get ready and I’ll ‘arrive’ at the door and we’ll go out somewhere (usually an activity and then food). It’s showing them how a man should treat them (which they are used to seeing between mum and dad from the regular Friday nights anyway).
6) Have device free holidays. Building on from what I said in the second point about the value of putting down an iPad, we now have it that on family holidays we turn our devices off. It’s actually better for us adults as much as it is for the kids, but it’s one less distraction at a time when key family memories can be formed, bonds strengthened. Those emails are just not worth threatening that now, are they.
7) Create your own family cultures. They can look like anything. An example from us is what we do before the girls go to bed on Friday night. We hold hands in a circle, singing “it’s Friday night” and doing any random dance, move, whatever really. We then might put on (or have done just before the circle thing) a song or two which we sing to and the girls dance to. We’ll then each sit on the sofa and pray for each other, for the weekend, for sleep that night and rest to come etc. Anything really. We then put our hands on each other and say “Go team Heath!” There are a few other things in the routine too, but they can stay with us. You get the idea. Make the weekend special.
Anyway, those are some of the things we do and I just want to encourage you with all that I can to be the dad your kids need you to be. And as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what your dad was like, you get to be dad 1.0 to your kids, it’s the only one they’ll know, so be the best one they could possibly ever hope to have.