The Footprints of Fatherhood

A monument says, “At least I got this far”.  A footprint says “I got this far and then I moved on.” (William Faulkner).  It says “I’ve been here. I know this place. I’ve had the experience. I can give you directions and guidance as you follow and then one day make your own.

We need to leave footprints for our children.  Here are nine footprints I think matter and why our kids need them from us:

  1. Your courage – because the world can be scary and very much unknown to them. They need to see a dad who takes on the world and survives (doesn’t mean conquer or not come through unscathed)
  2. Your honesty – because people will be trying to coerce your children into many things, much of that won’t be true or have their best interest at heart.
  3. Your respect – because children are individuals and will learn to make their own decisions. They are worthy of your care and nurturing.
  4. Your shelter – because children can’t protect themselves or provide what they need to keep themselves safe.
  5. Your passion/vision – because children don’t see all the potential in the future. They need to be guided to what the possibilities are for them.
  6. Your wisdom – because children are learning how to navigate the world. Your experience gives a base for them to learn from.
  7. Your integrity – because children are fragile. They need a dad who is strong, trustworthy, and consistent that they can depend on.
  8. Your leadership/authority – because children are looking for guidance. If they don’t get it from you, they will find it other places (and this can be a scary proposition).
  9. Your trust – because children learn from experience. They need to be allowed to try new things, even if there may be some pain involved.

And remember, no one can give to others what they don’t have ourselves.

Have you got what it takes to leave solid, clear footprints for your children?

The Disaster of DIY Dad

DIY Disasters – we are drawn to the attempts of others to “go at it on their own” in the same way that we pause and watch the carnage of a traffic accident.

Its a popular show these days.  A couple wants to get in to their dream home.  They spend time searching for the perfect home.  They find one, make an offer, finalize the deal and eagerly look forward to moving day.  They are in their first home.  But a month later, things start to fall apart (with the house, I mean).  There are leaks in the bedroom ceilings.  The electricity shuts off when a toaster is plugged in with a cell phone charger.  The floors get mushy in the bathroom.  And that is just the beginning.  So they call a very famous home inspector who discovers the roof has nails poking out from the attic through the shingles, the wiring in most of the house has been pieced together with electrical tape and the toilet is leaking under the floor.  Apparently the previous owner had “friends who knew all about home reno stuff” and now this couple is left with a do-it-yourself disaster that will mean tens of thousands of dollars to fix.

In the same way, the attempts we make to deal with the problems or struggles we run into in life on our own often leave us with bigger messes in our lives and relationships than what we started with.

And men seem to be often guilty of this.  We are born and bred to be independent and to at least look like we have it all together.  Weakness is a sign of frailty.  Frailty is a sign of un-masculinity.  We grow up with superheroes that struggle yet usually succeed with enough grit, effort and . . . luck.  Our genetic makeup is to take risks, tackle the odds, and be the strong one for our families.  Yet the push to protect ourselves from exposing our frailty forces us into a DIY mentality.  A relationship with our wife may be falling apart, but we deflect the problem onto her or we step up with greater efforts that eventually miss the mark or we bury the truth, hoping it will go away or we let our anger do the talking and we are left with the emotional carnage of a DIY disaster.  We go at it on our own.

Or you stumble upon your teenage daughter’s Facebook page that reveals she is pregnant and is making references to having an abortion.  You may avoid the issue entirely, secretly hoping she goes through with it so you don’t have to face it.  Or your anger may do the talking and she choses to runaway somewhere.  Either way, you have tried to deal with this on your own.

But how willing are we to open up to other men about our responsibility for these difficult situations?  Are we willing to tell other men how these things affect us and (dare I say it) how we “feel” about them?  We men don’t talk about these things to others to readily.  We especially don’t talk about the stresses of parenting or marriage unless it involves a joke or sarcastic comment that we hope will just keep the emotional truth about ourselves and the situation at bay.  But we need to have a couple of guys we can talk to.  DIY relationship fixes will lead to a disaster 100% of the time.  We need others to know what is going on.  We need to listen to the wisdom of other men.

Surrounding ourselves with good men by involving them in our lives in very real ways reduces the likelihood that we will create a DIY disaster that others just can’t keep their eyes off of.  In fact, maybe others will have their eyes on us because they want to know what it is we are doing to avoid possible DIY disasters.

But how often do we really pay attention to things that are going well?  That’s a thought for another blog.

Father of the Year

I’ve been quiet for a number of months now – not for lack of thinking of writing, but I guess there truly is a season for everything.

And I guess it takes something significant to stir the desire to add something to the ever increasing depth of fatherhood blogging.  Something like the recent commentary on true fatherhood with the announcement by the National Father’s Day Council (US) that Bill Clinton has been named “Father of the Year“.

Shocked?  Maybe.  Our memories are not too short to drift back to the days of the early nineties and the drama surrounding Mr. Clinton’s very public private life.  The comments at the end of the politico.com article show this to be true.

Yet looking over the news release put out by Rueters, there is no mention of him as a father other than saying he has one daughter, Chelsey.  Here is what Dan Orwig of the Father’s Day Council says in the news release:

“With the profound generosity, leadership and tireless dedication to both his public office and many philanthropic organizations, president Clinton exemplifies the attributes that we celebrate through the father of the year award.”

These are all good things – strong values that impact our world.  But this says nothing about Mr. Clinton’s relationship with his wife and daughter.  I’m curious why the standards are set outside the home?    Are they saying that the best dads are primarily involved in people’s lives outside of their families?

What are the standards we hold fathers to?

faithfulness to the mother of their child?
being a role-model worthy of their children’s respect?
community service?
church attendance?
reading to their children every night?
being gracious with their leadership of their family?
driving a minivan?

Fatherhood is more than a relationship between a man and his children.  It is a statement to the world that there are good men, and good men are necessary for the future of a just society.  Some would even say that a father’s heart focused on his children keeps peace and blessing in a society.  I believe this to be true.

Are there good men out there?   I believe this also.  They are being the men that this world needs – men who care about truth, have high standards of themselves, expect high standards from people around them, and react with grace when those standards are not met.  The only place that Father of the Year should really matter is within the home of each and every dad, grand-dad, uncle and older brother who is influencing a child.

So despite our recollections of Mr. Clinton’s affairs, we must remember that 20 years have passed.  People do change.  Commitments can be renewed.  Grace can be shown – even to men who make very public and potentially damaging choices. But I can’t help but wonder if the premis under which he has been named Father of the Year doesn’t water down the essence of strong fatherhood.

And so I won’t give in to the urging and swaying and prompting to compromise the standard of what strong fatherhood is.  Those standards are the footprints by which children can find their way.  Those are the standards that I hope you help me reach for.

“How do good men become part of the regime?
They don’t believe in resistance.”
Josh Garrels,
The Resistance,
on Love & War & the Sea In Between

The Cell Phone Controversy

I appreciate the article written by Erin Anderssen of the Globe and Mail.  Cell phones and smartphones are useful tools but their overuse is creating an epidemic of distance, isolation and uninvolvement within family relationships.  We often condemn yesteryear’s dad who came home after work, put his feet up on his favourite ottoman and read the paper or watched TV all evening.   Yet is this not what we do while texting our buddies, checking our email or tweeting what we just ate for dinner?  Maybe things haven’t really changed.  Today’s smartphones have simply replaced the newspaper (except the smartphone is everywhere, not just the living room).  Both are indicative of where our attention is not.

Our kids are watching us text, email, voicemail or tweet our time away and they know we are not focused on them.  Then we complain one day that they are not talking with us.  They will be texting, emailing and Facebooking their life for all to read.  And some may do their best to keep dad and mom from being privy to their posts.  Who is the responsible one here?  We get such precious little time with them (some of us less than others).  Can we not put the phone away, turn it off, or at least mute it when we are home or out with the kids?

What about you?  How do you think our phone-based culture is influencing the family?

Play It Safe . . . and Fun


Fathers and child safety.  Some people wonder if that is an oxymoron.  And with
good reason, I suppose.  I’ve seen videos of dads driving ATVs while pulling their youngsters in a Cozy Coup, jumping off a roof onto a trampoline, and starting a barbq with gasoline.  None of which turned out well.

Last summer we were at a park on Centre Island in Toronto and came across a perfect climbing tree.  I saw it.  My daughters saw it.  And we had to climb it.

Here are some things I learned that day.

1.  Dads want to see their kids challenge themselves.  It fired me up when my kids wanted to tackle that tree.  We get a rush from seeing our kids push their limits – whether it’s riding a bike, climbing a tree, or standing up to the schoolyard bully.

2.  Dads allow their kids to take risks.  Pushing the limits is all about risks.  Its about trying new things out.  In fact, dads tends to not just allow it, but encourage it.  When my girls were in that tree, I wanted to see if they could get just a little higher – to just one more branch.

3.  Dads allow kids to feel frustration.   There are always moments in life when we reach a hurdle – when the next branch feels just a little too far.  My youngest saw a branch she wanted to get to but felt a twinge of panic (as I did watching her).  But she steeled herself and took that step of faith onto it.  Dealing with their frustration and hurdles on their own, and with dad’s careful guidance, leads to better problem solving skills in our kids.

4.  Dads tend to be active with their kids.  And so our own safety is often in jeopardy.  There are many times where dad is the one injured and the kids come home scratch-free.

But the truth is most guys are acutely aware of their child’s safety.  We are thinking about the tightness of the car seat, getting those electric plug covers installed, and adjusting the training wheels to the right height.

But it never hurts to have a quick reminder of our role as a “safety guy”.

Be aware – know where your kids are and know what your kids are doing.  Awareness won’t get rid of accidents, but it will help you react when they are about to happen.

Be close – do things with them.  Keeping close gives you opportunity to intervene if necessary.  Being with them is also just a good thing for your relationship.  They need to know you are interested in them and what they do.

Be trusting – encourage them to try new things.  Let them push those limits and learn about their abilities.  You will see true satisfaction on their faces.

So, to use the tree climbing story, encourage your kids to climb, challenge them to reach new heights, – just be ready to catch them should they slip.

Bieber Fever, and it ain’t pretty

So, Justin Bieber has spoken out to fathers everywhere.

Interesting.

I have three daughters.  None have caught the “fever” – ever.  One of the reasons is that I don’t let it come into the house.  I guess I have inoculated them to the threat. In fact, when his name comes up in conversation or when they hear of how other girls around the world fall at the feet of this icon they usually roll their eyes, shake heads and say something like, “I just don’t get it”.  And I’m good with that.

When I first saw this message from Justin I was confused with my reaction.  Was I offended?  I have no hair (just check out the profile pic to the right).  But did that bother me?  No.  I can give it and take it when it comes to the (lack of) hair jokes.  Was it the sly reference that all 17 year old boys have one thing on their mind, and that I was that way, too?  Justin’s comment waters down what it means to be truly a man – we are more than the one-track mind he suggests here.  I think I was saddened initially.  Justin has a chance to influence a generation with some positive images of masculinity.  Instead, he is trying to influence girls with his own (narrow and immature) view of manhood and in the process giving boys a shallow example of how to treat girls.

But what bothered me most was his assertion that he is the saviour of dads everywhere.  Now we don’t have to bother with guarding our girls from the boys next door, we have the Bieber.  Now we don’t have to talk with them about boundaries or teach them about expectations and respect.  We don’t have to influence their choices in relationships.  This all comes from Justin.

Dads, if we let this be true, then we are killing our daughters.   No one protects my girls like I do.  I am the one who guides them.  I set expectations for them to follow.  I model what it means to be in a relationship with a man.  I show them they are captivating to me – that they have my total attention, care and love.  I will not surrender that role to anyone.  It is my responsibility.  It is my job.

Until I give them away in marriage, if I give my girls any reason whatsoever to look elsewhere for protection and warmth and love, I have failed them.  Straight up.  There is no middle ground.  My job is to keep them safe, from head to toe, from heart to mind.  I will relinquish this to no one.

And I pray you do the same for your girls.

Play is an all-time dad-favourite.

Play is one of the great ways dads connect with their kids.  We can be an entertainer, an observer, or a playmate.  We can get involved with the play, watch what’s happening, or help our kids learn.