My father was raised in a foster home in the 1940s and ’50s. He didn’t have a father, and yet he became a father to me and a mentor to my peers. Because of this conundrum, he is an inspiration. How did he learn to parent so effectively without a true example growing up? Sure, he had a strong, wise male role model, but he had many disappointing men in his life as well. And yet somehow he made fatherhood seem so natural. Over the years, I’ve thought about the keys to his success as a father. It comes to these four things that every father – no matter his experience – would be wise to remember.
1. He knew the kind of man he was.
The basis of parenting is to know yourself. Parenting will consume as much time, money and effort as you are willing to invest in it. Know what your boundaries are as a person and a parent. My father understood what his values were, what he would do for me, and what he would accept from me. He also recognized his weaknesses and his strengths. He worked on both as a parent. My father has a big heart and a generous spirit. So, he knew it would be easy for me to be over indulged. Further, he also loved to be involved in everything I did. So, he was an active leader or volunteer in all aspects of my life. These things might not be true for you. That’s fine. Just know what is.
2. He studied what other people did and said.
If learning is a life-long pursuit, parenting is being a perpetual student and teacher. From birth to earth, you will be a parent. New situations and unpredictable challenges will confront you and your child as you go through life. Fortunately, other parents demonstrate successful and unsuccessful tactics and strategies. My father observed other parents of all kinds without judgment and listened to their experiences and advice. He was a student of the game. Fathering is a thinking man’s game. Other parents’ experiences facilitate perspective. Be open to learn from others because their failures and successes are good lessons.
3. He knew what he wanted me to experience as a child.
Our conversations about fathering always seem to include simple objectives that my father wanted to achieve. Often he has said, “I wanted you to have …” or “I never wanted you to feel ….” He thought about my childhood in a broad sense and he knew generally what he wanted to contribute to my life. He knew from his childhood what he lacked and he also anticipated what he believed I would need to compete in my adult life. He never tried to live through me but to help me live a full and complete life. You can help your child experience what you wanted to experience without overreaching. Think broadly about what opportunities you want to make available to your child, but remember that you are in the parent stage of life. Let them live a childhood while you live a parenthood.
4. He realized that his son would not be like him.
Parenting is a taxing pursuit because you and your child may be very dissimilar, or worse, very similar. My father knew that we were very different people. I would never measure up to some of his accomplishments, but would far surpass others. However, he could see where I was going before I made a move because he studied me as well. Therefore, he could guide me proactively and not restrict me retrospectively. Regardless of how you approach parenting, your child may not accept your values and beliefs. However, study your child and convey your values and beliefs with a persuasive explanation of why you believe them to be true. If you are understanding and respectful of your child, your child should have no reason but to be the same.
With that said, as a parent, your responsibility is to set the boundaries of what is acceptable within your household until your children are prepared to chart their own course and are accountable for the consequences of their actions. Knowing your beliefs and what you are willing to do and accept results in consistency, clear boundaries and proactive, thoughtful parenting. If you provide those things, your child will thank you some day.