Editor's note: This article was written with the help of 6 fantastic fathers and grandfathers, some of whom are pictured. They offered their advice and encouragement and the author compiled their answers into one, timely article.
Dear fathers of today,
Being a father has never been an easy job, but you are doing it so well. When we had our children, some of us could only look at them through the glass window of the hospital nursery. Today, you are there during, through and right after birth. You are a valued and loving partner from the very beginning. What a wonderful opportunity it is for us to see you so involved from the start of your children’s lives.
We love watching you change diapers, rock babies and comfort toddlers, so secure and competent in your role as father. You are masters at using your time wisely, somehow finishing work early enough to coach a ballgame and cheer at a dance recital. You make time for hobbies that keep you active and happy and you teach them to your children so you can enjoy things together. You find the time to keep in touch with friends, date your wives, serve in your church and communities, work out and stay healthy. All of this makes us so proud.
Watching you teach your children is a gift to us. We admire your patience and the way you give reasons for your actions and decisions. You are so good at saying sorry when you do something wrong; we weren’t always so humble. This world makes it difficult to teach common courtesy, manners, morals and values, but you are doing it anyway and we honor that in this difficult social climate.
Fathers today are much more creative and less rigid. You allow your children to explore all kinds of activities, supporting them in passions you never had. You have learned to do things that used to make us uncomfortable, such as playing dress-up, having tea parties, talking about drugs and sex, and just sitting and listening. You try to see life from your children’s perspectives, and we see stronger bonds because of it. You really are doing an incredible work.
Dads love to give advice, so we must caution you about a few things. Don’t let technology and media teach and train your children. If you allow this, you will miss out on relationships you will desperately crave later. It is so easy to turn on the TV or hand over an iPad, but resist that urge and instead do something with your children ... put together a puzzle, read, draw, shoot hoops, work, talk — anything that will bring you together.
Each child needs firm but loving discipline, and many children are missing that in their lives today. It is OK to set boundaries and enforce consequences. This will teach your children about integrity and honesty and allow them to develop into the types of adults our world needs. Teach your children about right and wrong. Make them work and earn money, even when no one else has to. Be the person you would want your children to emulate: Show respect, honesty, manners, courtesy and kindness in all your interactions.
Make sure there is time for family and play in your children’s lives. There are a million worthy things to be involved in, but each child does not need to do everything. Help them develop talents but don’t let the extracurricular take over the significant.
Do not define yourself by the amount of money you make. It is important to be able to provide for your family, but you are more than your paycheck. Money can create ease, but it does not create happiness; people do. As you evaluate your life and your success, do not compare it to another’s. You have a specific role in your family and on this earth; do your best to fulfill your own divine potential, whatever that may be.
Love, honor and respect your wife, and be sure your children know you are a team. Never put your relationship with her at risk for anything. If marriage is difficult, do what you can to fix it. Forgive, love more, go to counseling, get help.
If you are a single father, remember you are still a father. Cherish and hold on to that role even during the worst times. Support your children financially, emotionally and spiritually. Never let hatred, hurt or anger toward an adult cloud the way you feel about your kids. You can make the choice to be the kind of man your children will revere and love regardless of your marital status, how far away you live, or how often you see each other. This is a difficult spot, but you will forever be their father, so be a good one.
Take care of your parents. While this may seem to be a selfish request coming from this generation, you will find great joy and growth in yourself as you take time to love those who have loved you. It will not be easy, but soon, that opportunity will be gone, and you don’t want to live your life with regrets. Say all you wanted to say, express your love and gratitude often, and nurture that relationship until the end.
There are so many things we have learned along the way that we want to pass along to you, some things we have done right and others we would give anything to change. We wish we would have kept things a little lighter and had more fun with our kids. We wish we would have smiled more and reprimanded less. We should have slowed down and shared more of our time and our dreams with our family. We could have spoken more quietly and calmly, especially during discipline.
We hope that you will seek to understand those you love, especially when they are hard to love; remember that money is a means for living, not the reason for it; never confuse needs with wants; be generous with your resources, praise and time; value service and honesty above wealth and prestige. Be secure enough to not be disappointed when your children choose a different path; encourage humility in success and grace in defeat; allow your children to fail, and when they do, share in their pain.
Don’t ever give up on yourself or on your children. Different stages of child rearing and professional life can be extraordinarily stressful, but remember, they are stages. Keep loving and trying, and things do get better. One day, I promise, you will miss the chaos.
Try to have one-on-one time with each child. Tell them you love them; praise their talents, abilities and effort. Let them know what makes them special to you. Make memories with your kids. Nothing has to be grand or expensive; just be present.
Teach your children to solve their own problems, then trust them enough to let them deal with the outcome. Understand that each person has a different path and respect the one your kids choose. You cannot force faith, but you can teach your children about God, about service, about forgiveness, about love, about something bigger than themselves.
My dear sons, we are sure we didn’t do everything right, but we look at you and know that somehow, someone makes up for our shortcomings. Surely we don’t say it enough, but we are so proud of the men you have become. You were our little boys, then our friends, and now you are people we look up to. You are good, you are kind, you are strong and you are trying so hard every day.
There are times we wish we could swoop in and make it easier for you, that we could lighten your load and take away your burdens, but we would never rob you of those refining moments. We watch you, and you are becoming something greater than we had ever hoped.
So keep loving, keep trying, keep going. We are here for you, forever and always.
The dads of yesterday