The 10 Most Important Things Fathers Can Teach Their Kids
What Fathers Can Teach Their Kids
Being The Man now is obviously different than it was for our fathers. There are few loads you'll have to bear on your own these days, for one thing. You're very likely the co-breadwinner, and probably at least close to a full partner in the day-to-day, down-and-dirty childrearing and housekeeping duties.
There's one role, however, that remains yours alone: You're the male role model. The Man.
I'm not going to pull us into a drum circle and lead us in a chant to heal the neglected warrior within. (It would take more than a chant to rouse my warrior, anyway. He's a paunchy little guy with a weakness for microbrews, and beer makes him sleepy.) But I am going to suggest that it's a good idea to give some hard and ongoing thought to the wisdom you're called upon to give (and embody) to your kids.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 that I've tried to impart to my daughter in my dozen-year tenure as The Man:
1. You could laugh.
You can choose how you're going to respond to most setbacks, annoyances and outrages, and it doesn't have to involve screaming or teeth-gnashing. Satisfying though those gambits might be in the moment, scorched-earth policies tend to leave you with...well, scorched earth.
2. That’s gonna leave a mark.
What you do matters. So does what you say. Your deeds and words leave the only trail others can or should track you by.
3. Dr. Bissmeyer doesn’t know how to milk a cow.
I was a sensitive lad (read: butt-clutching crybaby). My pal Billy Bissmeyer's dad was a doctor, and mine a mere dairy farmer -- paired facts that provided the inexhaustible theme of Billy's daily discourse. This cruel inequity finally broke me down in bed one night. Mom came in, and when I whispered the shameful facts to her, she brought me out to Dad and made me tell him.
I didn't want to crush my dad! But he wasn't crushed. Not even a little crumpled. He just shrugged and said, "Well, Dr. Bissmeyer doesn't know how to milk a cow."
I was thunderstruck. It was inarguably true: elegant Dr. Bissmeyer would look ridiculous in my dad's rubber boots and raingear, would be lost before a busted tractor or under-producing Jersey. My father was an expert in his field, and so was every other father (and mother) I could think of. My unthinking acceptance of class and status dictates took a lifelong hit that night.
4. Creepy Kitties are people, too.
That oddly-named soccer team that just trounced your U8 team, the ones with the bellowing coach with the bulging neck vein and the U12-sized striker who made your goalie cry? Sorry: even with all that, those girls aren't evil. They're people, too. So are Republicans (or Democrats), Jews (or Palestinians), cats (or dogs). Well, wait a minute...
5. If someone's hurting, say something.
Anything. Even if it's not the perfect thing. Nine times out of ten, just telling them you're sorry it's happened to them will be enough. And if you can't say something, a pat on the shoulder (or an affectionate sock there, if the two of you are too studly for a pat) will say you recognize they're not feeling great, and wish they were. That's really what they want from you, and it'll make a world of difference.
6. Only you can torment your brother.
Or sister. (Or dad, or mom, or friend.) Internecine skirmishes are unavoidable and often fiendishly enjoyable, but if someone else messes with the little brother who drives you crazy, you step in and stand up.
7. Think about tomorrow morning tonight.
Yes, you want to live in the moment. But you don't have to live only there. In particular, you'd do well to get in the habit of looking at least eight hours into the future: Get some sleep.
8. Say you’re sorry.
Yep, you screwed up -- hurt somebody, let someone down. Being human, you might not recognize this right away, and might give in to the temptation to make others feel crummy because you're feeling crummy. (Humans can be messed up, sometimes.) But once you do recognize it, say you're sorry. The real words, out loud, to the actual injured party. Mean the words, and sound like it. And then fix it.
9. Sometimes (sometimes) it’s OK to just go fishing.
One of my jobs growing up was feeding the heifers who hung out in a hillside pasture: climb into the old haywagon, break open a couple of bales, and distribute the hay into the mangers on either side. Simple.
Unless you see a rat in the wagon.
A few years ago, I was going through my dad's wallet after he'd moved into his assisted-living facility and wouldn't be using it anymore. Folded and tucked into a back pocket was the note I'd left him that day:
Dear Dad -
I went to feed the heifers. I fed most of one bale, and then saw a big, hairy rat.
I've gone fishing.
A great dad, my father was also a demanding, impatient boss. But he never gave me a hard time about walking away from my task that day, and I think he was right not to. You don't need to fight every battle, every day. You just don't.