Part of the First-Time Dads: Learning From Your Father's Mistakes Series
As sons, like it or not, we learn our approach to parenting from our parents – especially our dad. As we grow up, we mimic him in many ways. We watch him shave, and we shave like he did. We see him fixing a broken dryer, and we learn at his side about mechanical things. When we have kids of our own, we'll tend to be a lot like our dad – for the good and for the bad.
Consciously or not, you and I grab hold of our father's parenting style. It's what we use as a template for our own parenting. If there were good interactions and attitudes, we copied them and have those in our parenting toolbox. If Dad brought a thoughtful, calm and caring approach, I'll likely emulate him. If he took time to be with me, I'll likely do the same with my kids. If he yelled a lot, my children will probably often hear me raise my voice. If he was absent or angry or distant, I'll naturally be like that with my children. You and I receive a heritage from our father that we, in turn, incorporate into our own parenting.
My Own Life
My dad has many wonderful traits. He was fun, principled, and supportive. He was an advocate for his kids and stood up for us whenever there was a problem at school or in the neighborhood.
I recall one meeting he had with a music teacher who made disparaging comments about me – to the entire class. She really embarrassed me, and Dad took her to task.
Another time when I was about 9, Dad started a Little League alternative for boys who, like me, didn't qualify for a baseball team in the more competitive league. He watched out for me, and I've tried to emulate that value in my fathering journey.
Fortunately, I've not had to confront a teacher for unprofessional conduct, but I have had to talk with an adult for inappropriately criticizing one of my kids. That desire to protect and defend my children is inside me because I saw my own father model those values.
Nobody is Perfect
If good parenting values can be caught and taught, it makes sense that not-so-healthy habits might also become part of our routine.
I learned from my father to use my voice to express anger. Raise the volume, increase the intensity and be forceful … and you've got a common reaction to mistakes, irritations and such in our home.
Despite my best wishes, I found early in our marriage – and even more as a new dad – that whenever I was angry I sounded a lot like my father. Even mild irritation came out with a strong verbal barrage. It took a few years for me to recognize this pattern (despite my wife's best efforts) and to try to tone things down.
A colleague tells the story of his own father, a wonderful man but a guy with a very reserved, methodical manner. He was fun, but quiet. When my friend married a woman from a loud and spirited family, he was often ribbed for being too button-downed. But why shouldn't he be? To him, that was the definition of a good, responsible father. What he saw in his wife's family was zaniness. "I can't tell you how often I'm reminded to lighten up!" he says.
When it comes to inheriting parenting habits, the good will always come with the bad, and the bad will always come with the good. The secret is to make the right choices. Look back. Try to identify patterns. Take a piece of paper and write the top five good things your parents did – and then five things you didn't like. There's a good chance you'll do a little of both.
Especially if you need to break the chain, becoming self-aware is the ke