I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to think of something good I did as a father and then hang my case on that: “Remember that amazing weekend we went skiing together? That was really fun, wasn’t it? Doesn’t that prove I’m a good dad?”
That series of questions has a logical answer, though your children may not dare to say it: “Yeah, Dad, that was a great weekend. Where were you the other 51 weekends of the year?”
You and I can’t get fatherhood right by doing it well a couple of times. Our goal is to develop a pattern of consistency.
Research by the National Center for Fathering has helped us find ways to measure how involved dads are in their children’s lives. If you want to see how you’re doing in this area, here are seven statements to consider. How well do they apply to you?
I often discuss things with my child.
Even before your child can understand, get used to talking to him or her in a conversational tone. You may discover your toddler will sit in rapt fascination as you describe the details of your work or the intricacies of the zone defense. The point is to help your child grow up thinking, Dad has always talked to me about stuff.
Be patient when your kids ask questions. When they’re very young, that may be all they seem to do! At that age they actually think you know all the answers, and you may be tempted to fool them as long as you can. But sometimes kids need to hear you say, “That’s a good question. I have no idea what the answer is!” Find out together.
My child and I often do things together.
Get comfortable in your kids’ world and welcome them into yours. Teach your child early the concept of “riding shotgun with Dad.” Be on the lookout for projects you can do together — or simple parts of larger tasks that a child can do with you. Play the time-honored game called “Hand Daddy the Tool.”
I schedule time to spend with my child.
Too often, family time isn’t protected against time requests from others. But you can “make appointments” on your schedule with each of your kids and your wife. If someone wants to claim that time, simply say, “I’ve already got an appointment then that I can’t break.” Every family needs some time that’s protected.
I teach my child skills.
Who taught you to ride a bike or shoot a basketball? What about flying a kite, changing a tire, driving a stick shift? Make a list of skills you learned as you grew up and decide which ones you’ll pass on to your kids. Spread these out over time and keep them age-appropriate. Don’t forget to be patient, too.
I take an active role in my child’s education.
Being married to a teacher, I can tell you that most dads could be much more involved in their children’s education. Do you know the teachers, coaches and administrators who have the biggest impact on your child? Meet them. Compare notes with your wife. It makes a good impression when both parents visit with the teacher.
I am involved in my child’s life.
This seems like a no-brainer, but for too many dads, it’s a no-clue. Can you name your child’s three closest friends? Where would you start looking if she was suddenly missing? What’s his favorite ice cream? What career does your child dream of having when he or she grows up? We need to continuously update our mental profiles of each of our children. We want our children to think, My dad really knows me.
My child and I often have fun together.
When our children are very young, we usually figure out what makes them laugh. A ticklefest, for instance, may send them (and us) into gales of laughter.
Do everything in your power to keep the laughter and fun in your relationship with your kids. Watch for activities that you and your child like — and enjoy them often. If you don’t know yet what you both like, experiment. At the very least, find out what your kids love to do and join them in the fun.