Happy Fathers' Day!
While it is certainly a lesser cousin to Mothers' Day, I do feel that it deserves some recognition. For Mothers' Day, I composed a nice little poem of questionable merit, but I don't think that would work as well for fathers.
So in salute to the male mind, I instead put forward the 5 Rules of Fatherhood. I do not set them out as judgements passed or laws to be followed. These are my observations of good men who made great fathers, especially my own.
Rule #1: Show up.
Children do not understand block text, legal text, subtext, context, or the many texts that rule the adult world. They will not remember the whys and hows, only if you were there or not. The miracle of muddled mortal memory will erase most of the details of childhood events anyway. What will be remembered is if you were there during those formative moments in your children's lives.
Rule #2: Show up.
Worth another round, believe me. There is a little tradition we humans have that marks us as being among the dumbest of God's creatures: we wait. Somehow, our happiness and fulfillment always lay over the horizon. We put off what is "most important" for what is "important right now." So there is a constant static of little things we have to do before we get around to our true priorities. Have the courage to put all that noise aside when you are spending time with your kids. Focus. Engage. Be there.
Rule #3: Give them an example.
While it defines much of your personal life, your kids won't really see much of you at your job. Make sure that your life includes something else where you can show off a bit for your kids. Not every dad is going to be a rocket scientist or an Olympic athlete, but you can show your kids what it means to excel.
Build stuff, fix stuff, climb stuff, draw stuff, or whatever else you can do better than the next guy. Show your children your strengths so they can start looking for their own.
Rule #4: Give them something to believe in.
Like biting our own elbow, there are a few things that plain don't work, no matter how many times or methods you try. (You're trying it anyway, aren't you?) One of these things that simply doesn't work is trying to achieve happiness through selfishness.
It seems like it ought to work, which is why so many people keep trying it. They keep pushing for that next car/house/degree/job/winning lottery ticket/fling/vacation that will finally give them the fulfillment they so richly deserve. Problem is, it doesn't bloody work!
Take the time to show your kids the rewards that come from having a purpose in life. Show them that they can make a difference. Rather than trying to make them feel important by a million pats on the head, let them actually be important by being part of something larger than themselves. If you can get it to stick when they're young, they'll keep it their whole lives.
Rule #5: Show up.
Now I know this seems a lot like the first two, and heaven knows it bears repeating, but this one is different. While the first two were for general trends and behaviors, this one refers to a specific time in your life. I don't know what or when it will be, but there will come a moment when showing up becomes truly difficult.
This might be because of death, disability, divorce, or any number of life tragedies, but there will come a time when showing up for your kids and looking into their faces is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. Whatever happens, dad, don't fail in that moment. In the end, the ultimate truth of fatherhood is that your life doesn't belong to you. It belongs to those who depend on you.
So show up.
*Dedicated to the magnificent fathers who have shaped my life. Happy Fathers' Day!