Over the weekend I received a nice message from a guy I grew up with. He told me that I was an “inspiration” to him because of the relationship I have with my daughter. He wants to establish the same sort of relationship with his son.
Now, keep in mind, a life conveyed on a social networking site is usually all candy-canes, butterflies and meadows filled with colorful flowers. Rarely, does a person show the more challenging aspects of life to a social network—especially since only 300 of your 1,000 “connections” are actually a real friend.
Though, in this case, he is right—my daughter and I do have a strong relationship and connection—and I hope he can build that with his son over time.
My response to him was one of gratitude. I told him that I appreciated his kind note, and that there are two main components to being a good parent.
- Love your child with all your might
- Try your hardest to be the best parent you can be
Literally, if you do those two things, you’re going to get it right most of the time. Any parent knows that being a mother or father is the most rewarding, yet sometimes most challenging privilege on the planet. At times I feel like a well-oiled parenting machine, and other times I feel like an old worn out engine that should be replaced.
I would need 100 hands and a Texas Instruments calculator to count how many mistakes I’ve made as a father—but I keep in mind that those mistakes happen, and will continue to occur because I’m putting in a lot of effort, and parenting is a “learn as you go” gig.
Do you know what my daughter sees? Yes, ok, she sees me do or say stupid things sometimes—especially in public places. Does that embarrass her? Of course it does. But you know what? She ends up laughing and says the line I’ve heard so many times: “it’s ok Daddy.” Usually that line is accompanied by a big, warm hug—which certainly does indicate that everything is “ok.”
Now back to my point.
Do you know what my daughter sees? She sees her father present and accounted for. She doesn’t question whether or not I will pick her up from school on the nights she stays with me—since daycare, I walk through that school door, look around for her, finder her, smile big, give her a hug, sign her out and hold her hand as we walk to the car.
“You cool with chicken nuggets for dinner?”
“Yeah, Dad, I am cool with that.”
She knows, like Keanu Reeves in the movie Hardball, my ability to “show up” is unsurpassed.
When Lila asks for an assist with her math homework—I sometimes look at her assignment and mumble “what the…..is this common core mess?” She doesn’t remember that I had to Youtube a “how to” on that lesson—she remembers that I took the time to research, understand and teach her how to work through the problem.
I don’t burn chocolate chip cookies, I just give milk an opportunity to shine every once in a while.
I don’t sleep in too late on weekends, I just get an extra hour of sleep to build up energy to do super awesome weekend activities.
Do I get frustrated sometimes? Yes, probably more than I should—but when I act out of character, I take accountability. I talk to Lila, I explain why I got frustrated:
“Lila, it was wrong for me to raise my voice yesterday while helping with your homework. I was frustrated because I had trouble figuring out second grade math. It was not your fault, and I need to do a better job. I am sorry.”
“Ok. I understand dad.”
Human beings make mistakes—and a very important character trait is the courage to take accountability, to admit when you are wrong and implement measures to remedy the issue. If I am in the wrong as a father, I speak to my daughter like I would speak to an adult in that situation…with respect and remorse, followed by one of those big, warm hugs.
Children are experts in the art of observing, and applying what they observe. The first place we need to look, as parents, if something isn’t going as planned, is in the mirror. What can I do differently?
That is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. Why? If I continue to 1) love my daughter with all of my might and; 2) try my hardest to be the best parent I can be—I will always see an area where I can improve, and an opportunity to become a better father.
Lila has never asked about my drinking habit—I suspect she doesn’t remember how much I drank, or how it impacted my last relationship—she was only four years old when I quit drinking. She does, however, notice that I don’t drink beer anymore—and I simply tell her that:
“Dad wants to be healthier and live longer so he can spend as much time as possible with you.”
When she gets older, I will be honest and open about my struggles with alcoholism—and what “would’ve been” if I didn’t quit when I did. I will tell her because I refuse to keep secrets from my daughter—but also because I want her to feel comfortable approaching me with any challenge, problem or issue she is having in life.