A father is his son’s first hero and his daughter’s first romance – the most important man in their lives. Yet being a great father doesn’t just happen. It’s a conscious choice.
In all the work I have done around fatherhood I have noticed a pattern – here are the five things all great fathers commit to.
Father. Know thy self
The first commitment is to be the man his children need him to be. This starts with the realization that the quality of what we as men are able to impart to our children is determined by the quality of our inner lives. None of us arrived at adulthood unscathed by our childhood. We are all driven in some measure by the emotional forces that grew out of our childhood experiences, good or bad, and the beliefs we formed in response to those experiences.
The more conscious we are of these forces and beliefs, the more we are able to deal with them. The less conscious we are the more likely we are to be driven by negative emotions and beliefs and pass them on to our children. Pain from our past that is unresolved is pain we are condemned to repeat, often at the expense of our children.
Great dads are committed to being conscious, to breaking any destructive emotional cycles, and dealing with their own issues so they can impart the right stuff to their children. Great dads are committed to being the man they want their sons to become and their daughters to marry.
Father know thy child
The second commitment is to call out the unique identity of your child. To be truly seen is one of the great needs of all of us and to see our childen can be our greatest gift to them. Great dads make it their goal to be the first man who truly sees their son or daughter, to know what makes their hearts come alive.
Every child is unique and their life script is written into their hearts. The father who helps his child discover and know who they are and gives them permission to be fully who they are gives them a great gift. His message is: I see you, I know you, come out and be the man or woman you were made to be. And he can only do this by investing a lot of time engaging with his children, deeply and without distractions.
I’m okay! But you? You are terrific!
A great father’s third crucial commitment is to validate his child. So many people enter adulthood with a sense of inadequacy. Men doubt they have what it takes to be a man, women wonder if they have anything worthwhile to offer the world. Great fathers validate their children from a very young age. Their children know they are worthy and that their life counts.
This comes from affirming not just what their children do but who they are. The message is – you matter, you are wanted, you are deeply loved, I delight in you. And the message is conveyed in a thousand different ways – words of affirmation, a gentle touch, a look, a smile and with time. This blessing from a father will remain as a cloak of affirmation wrapped around a man or woman’s heart long after their father has passed on.
The fourth commitment of great dads is to create a sanctuary in which their children can grow and thrive; physically, emotionally and spiritually. The children of great dads feel safe. They know masculinity as a place of refuge, safety and consistency. They see their fathers as strong, gentle and present. Providing the right physical and emotional environment requires a man to nurture, protect and provide. Even when not living in the same house as their children great fathers continue providing to the best of their ability, continue to protect and never stop being present.
Boundaries, lessons and love
The last crucial commitment of great dads is to equip their children for life. This starts with imparting the life skills and emotional intelligence they will need to succeed. Dads do not leave the education of their children in the ways of the world to the media and their peers, they become the principal in their children’s school of life.
Every man has it in him to be an extraordinary father. If we all consciously and intentionally embrace these five commitments – even if we don’t get it right all the time – we will be well on our way to building great lives for ourselves while laying the foundation for our children to build their own great lives.