Being The Dad I Wish I Had

Father’s Day comes every year and brings with it many feelings – some welcome, some unwelcome, and some indifferent. Some of us remember a dad that was rude, selfish and uncaring. Some of us remember a dad that lived a life of quiet resignation with occasional bursts of anger. Some of us remember a dad who abused his family and chose other women over our moms. Some of us remember nothing of our dad because he left before we got to know him.

Father Providing A Foundation For His Child's Feet

But far too few of us remember a dad that was strong, self-sacrificing, solid and supportive. A dad that took the time to teach us what he knew, that supported our interests even when they were different from his own, that sacrificed his own selfish ambition so that we could stand firm on the foundation that he provided, that stayed loyal to his love for a lifetime, and that served the community with his time, talent and energy generously.

This Father’s Day, maybe it’s time to consider being the dad we wish we had. 

How do you remember your father?

My kids are in a great summer camp this year and I have the pleasure of picking them up almost every afternoon. The other day I was sitting in the pick-up line behind a few other parents’ cars and noticed them on the bench waiting for me to pull up so they could get into our vehicle. As I sat in line waiting for my turn, I was struck with a strong sense of gratitude for the way my kids’ faces lit up with joy when they saw me drive up. It’s always so heart-warming to see them smile and wave and point to me and jump up and down. My kids know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are loved by their father. And they have no problem showing it!

I didn’t have that same experience with my own father, though. In fact, mine was quite the opposite.

Me posing with my dad for a photo (circa 1980)

Me posing with my dad for a photo (circa 1980)

My dad was an insecure soul. He lacked the confidence that he could be a good father, so he avoided the responsibilities of fatherhood and chose to absorb himself in his work instead. The pain of this inadequacy in the area of fatherhood was so great that it drove him to seek out circumstances and situations where he felt adequate and more important than he felt at home. He was troubled by an eyesight problem from childhood that only enlarged his feelings of inadequacy in everyday tasks (for example: he couldn’t drive) and he frequently blamed his problems on events, people and circumstances.

His major gift was in music, which he discovered in his teens, and he poured himself into his craft. He played in bands as a drummer and singer for almost all of his life and eventually became an elementary school music teacher. My fondest memories of my dad are seeing him perform with his bandmates while I was sitting at the bar with a “Shirley Temple” drink in my young hands.

My dad loved the applause he received when he was able to offer his gift to others and it’s now easy to see why that world was so much more compelling to him than being at home with two young boys working to discover their strengths and an overworked and unhappy wife who wasn’t giving too many words of encouragement.

What makes daddy’s love so special?

I didn’t hear love from my dad very much. I didn’t see it with my eyes through his actions very often. And I didn’t feel it with his touch almost ever. I often wondered how he felt about me and didn’t really know the answer. That left me confused about him, confused about myself, and uncertain in something that I thought was supposed to be so certain – his love for me.

Me and my lovely daughter Emily posing before our night of dancing

Me and my lovely daughter Emily posing before our daddy/daughter date night

The love of the father is so important in a child’s life because it is not the same type of love that they receive from their mothers. Mothers are the pathway through which all children receive life. Mothers feel a connection and a bond with their children that can’t easily be broken or misunderstood. Mothers don’t have to think about loving their children, they just do it. When a grown son does something stupid and goes to jail, who’s the first to visit with a shoulder to cry on and plate full of cookies? Mom. She can’t help it! It’s just who she is.

But fathers, on the other hand, have to choose to love their children. The father’s love in the life of a child is based on his decision to do so. Fathers can choose to love or leave, and that’s why their love is so powerfully constructive when it’s present and so devastatingly destructive when it’s absent.

Fathers can choose to love or leave, and that’s why their love is so powerfully constructive when it’s present and so devastatingly destructive when it’s absent.

Because of my desire to live a fulfilling life and become the best version of me I could be in this lifetime, I started on a journey of personal growth in my late teens that helped me recognize the reality of what model of the world I had been given by my father. It took many years, but through recognition I was able to release my dad from the pain I experienced as a child and forgive him for not living up to the model of manhood I desired from him. And after releasing that model of manhood from my life I was able to replace it with something better.

Are you being the father you wish you had?

While we were in our first years of marriage, before our kids were even thought of let alone conceived, I was asked, “Can you think of a few words to describe the father you wish you had?” I thought about it, and then wrote down: The father I wish I had is a strong, loving, tender, teachable, generous, risk-taking leader, with a conviction for truth who stands up for himself and others in the face of adversity. And right then I realized, that is the father I will become. That is the way I want my children to remember me. That is the legacy this father will leave behind.

Legacy is a word that means a thing handed down by a predecessor.  That means that the way I’m leading my life acts a model for the way my children will live theirs. As fathers, it’s our responsibility to set our children up for success. The direction my life is taking now is the direct result of becoming clear about how it is that I want to be remembered as a father.

As fathers, it’s our responsibility to set our children up for success…the way I’m leading my life acts a model for the way my children will live theirs.

Are you fulfilling the function of fatherhood?

“Father” is the title reserved for the one who fulfills the function of fatherhood.

Fathers:

  • offer their strength in support of their families
  • model faithfulness to their families by staying loyal to their wives
  • nurture the next generation with humility and tenderness
  • instruct their children in the ways of truth
  • and lead with certainty in the face of adversity
Me and my beloved son Jonathan sharing a laugh at a train-themed diner

Me and my beloved son Jonathan sharing a laugh at a train-themed diner

If the family is analogous to a house, then the father is the foundation. Solid, supportive, and unwavering in his commitment to hold his house together with love (side note: our word “husband” comes from the contraction of the words “house” and “bond” – it is men that should be holding their homes together).

Fathers never fail when times get tough, but stay strong under pressure and give hope to their house.

Back in the pick-up line, my kids now loaded into their seats and carefully placing their seat-belts on, I say to them, “Hey you guys, do you want to know a secret?” To which my daughter replies, “Yeah, dad, we know this secret already…you love us!” Curious, my son asks, “Dad, why do you always tell us you love us?” To which I reply, “Because I never want you to wonder how I feel about you. I always want you to know.”

The reality is, my kids do know how much their father loves them. Not because I tell them every chance I get, but because I show them every day by being the dad I wish I had.

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