Since this is Father's Day, I thought it would be appropriate to devote today's column to the inestimably important role that fathers play in the lives of their children. Their performance as fathers has deep ramifications, not just for their children, but for all of society. Having never been a father and with slim to no chances of ever changing that, I called upon my good friend Mike Hattabaugh to share some thoughts with us today. I think you'll be glad I did. You'll also want to hear Mike's counsel tomorrow at 6 p.m. as he will be my guest on TWOgether as ONE on KLJH 107.1FM.
Fathers play a critical role
Way to go! If you are a dad and are reading this, you are already showing signs of a great father! For far too long we have not encouraged our good dads to be even better. This column is for you!
Do you know what a difference you are making in your child's life by just being there? According to many studies cited on fatherhood.org, an active father in a child's life means he/she is four times less likely to live in poverty. He or she will have a significantly less likelihood to do drugs, go to prison, become pregnant as a teenager or struggle with obesity. Your involvement in your child's life dad also means he or she is far more likely to go to college and get good grades. You really make a difference!
I want to dedicate this column to my friend, Tim, who is a single dad. Years ago, when he was granted custody of his two daughters, Tim called me and asked if I would hold him accountable to raise his girls well. He was determined to avoid the pitfalls of dating and possibly developing an unhealthy relationship that would hinder him from being the dad his daughters needed and deserved. I've had to help him a couple of times, but largely, he has done it on his own. He told me, "I know I'm not very good at picking mates, so help me get my daughters to adulthood before I choose a partner they might not like or need." Tim is getting married in three weeks, his daughters are grown and so has Tim. He has been the best dad I've known, and his girls, now beautiful young ladies, will tell you his sacrifice made them everything they are today. Tim is their hero, and mine, too.
Can you imagine what our nation would be like if we had more dads like Tim? What needs to change in our culture to make every dad their child's hero on Father's Day? First, we need to become a society that refuses to accept men who make babies but won't raise them. This simply is not acceptable. Regardless of the circumstances, there is no excuse for failing to support a child.
Visit any elementary school classroom and in a very short time you will identify the kids who are missing a dad. Fathers make a huge impact on the attitude and overall happiness of a child. The next time you dread facing the drama of a weekend custody exchange, or feel like your kid is not respecting you, remember that they need a dad, even, perhaps especially, when it gets hard.
Second, dads need to engage their kids at their level. As a college communication professor, I hear painful stories from students about fathers who only wanted to do things they were interested in, and if the kid didn't want to fish, boat or ride motorcycles, then he didn't have time for them. I'm not saying you have to let your girls put makeup on you and curl your hair, but it does make for funny family photo albums (like I know ...). Finding something you both like will improve your relationship in ways you may never fully grasp. Good dads sacrifice their time and energy to meet their kids where they are.
Third, show your humanity. When I was in junior high, I took a chainsaw and cut down a big tree in our back yard, just because my brain wasn't working well that day. If you have a 12-year-old boy, you get this. When my dad found out, he grounded me for life. LIFE. Really, those words came out of the smartest man I know — with a Ph.D. even. That's why I'm writing this in my 40s from my bedroom. Not really. He cooled off, came in and apologized, and gave me a more reasonable punishment.
We dads have all said "because I said so!" but have you ever said "I was wrong, would you please forgive me?" It isn't easy to backtrack, but trust me, you will be surprised how forgiving your kids can be when you are honest.
Last, have more fun! Don't let your fear or their words dictate how crazy you act. I recently saw my youngest daughter like a post on Facebook about dads who still kiss their wives, still give the kids hugs and sing Disney songs off key. Don't tell her I know, but take the tip and realize those kooky things you used to do will still be appreciated when they are older.
Last Christmas, my daughters told me how much they missed me coming into their bedrooms every night, putting my hand on their heads and praying for them. I stopped doing that when they got to high school because I thought they wanted me to. Don't miss the blessing of great memories for you and them because you're afraid to be a dork. If your kids don't think you are a dork, you aren't doing it right.
So, fathers, thanks for being a great dad. Now act happy when they give you that ugly tie. It's in the dad handbook.
Step into being a dad
I'm back and, oh, how I wish more dads would take Mike's words to heart and practice. And the good, make that great, news is that even if you have not yet stepped into your role as dad it is rarely, if ever, too late. Why not start today? Happy Father's Day, y'all.