Given the opportunity, kids will raise themselves.
This was me, holding my son, Andon, who was just days old. I think this picture can represent the enormous responsibility we have as dads.
But it also speaks to the enormity of the gift and opportunity we’ve been handed.
Given the opportunity, kids will raise themselves. I’ve heard that saying throughout my life. Kids are resilient. Kids are tough. Kids are survivors. Kids will make it. Kids will find life’s windows and doors and even make exits of their own, and they will find their way through the worst of times and the best of times. They will be OK.
I actually don’t disagree with any of that. I have been constantly reminded of how amazing kids are – from the minute they are born. The miracle of being formed in the womb, the miracle of birth itself, and the miracle of a child developing into a person that walks, talks, thinks, knows right from wrong – it is truly amazing.
With all that said, I do believe it’s true – if you hand a child the opportunity, or rather, force them into it, they will raise themselves. What I do take issue with is that there are kids out there that actually have to consider this option. No kids should ever have to raise themselves. I understand that circumstances aren’t always perfect, or even close to perfect, and that things happen where there is no other option for a child. But speaking as a father, and having seen things that make me ashamed to be a man sometimes, I want to speak up about this.
Don’t ever underestimate your role as a dad. Don’t even think about underestimating it. Traditionally we saw dads going off to work and moms staying home to do housework and raise the children. I mean, there were even TV shows about that life. Those days are done. There is value to having a mom stay home and be a home-maker, no doubt, but the necessity to work is there for many reasons, and nobody can stand there and tell a woman she shouldn’t work. I appreciate all the moms out there that sacrifice themselves to join the dads in earning and making things work. Likewise, the days of the dad coming home from work, grunting to the wife and kids, sitting down on his easy chair, smoking his pipe and considering his work done are over too. Frankly those days should never have existed.
Dads have a huge role to play, and I’m going to tell you why I think so.
As a dad, you need to realize the impact you have on your children. Let me show you some of the ways that you have an impact on your kids – and consider this: you’re having an impact in this way, whether you are acting on that part of your role, or whether you’ve chosen to sit back and not do a thing about it. Either way, this is affecting your kids. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s important enough to make a difference.
You’re a leader. You’re the leader of the family. Again, there are traditionalists who argue that a man’s word is the final word in the house. This isn’t about that, and I’m not going to get into that debate. In terms of your kids, however, you are one of the two leaders and your children look up to you as that. So lead them! Lead them in every way possible. Lead them down the road of life, and help them where you can. Direct them, and make a difference.
You impact them as a moral compass. Regardless of how you act on this, your children are sponges. They soak up every word you say, every action they see. They will track how you speak to your wife. They will make mental notes when you hug and kiss your wife, but they’ll also take careful note when you hit your wife. They will see when you are honest at a store, even if the baby took something with by accident. Bring it back and tell the clerk about it. Your kids will notice. They will see how you treat others around you. They will hear you yelling at people, even if it’s within the confines of your car. And your kids will very likely use YOUR moral compass to find their own way some day. If you find yourself doing, saying or even thinking things that you wouldn’t want your kids to be doing, saying or thinking – maybe you should stop.
As a father, you have a major impact on your children’s ability to cope in life. Coping in life has never been more difficult, in my opinion. Yet, as dads, we have an incredible opportunity to guide our children. We have the chance to impart what we know to them. Give your kids information. Give them knowledge. Teach them everything you can, that will make them better people. Teach them right from wrong, and tell them why this is important. Teach them what you believe, but don’t force them to follow those beliefs. Live out your convictions, and if you’ve taught them good things, they’ll want to follow in your footsteps. Teach them how to make snowmen, and get the carrot nose just so. Teach them about paper airplanes. Teach them about walking the dog and picking up after it. Teach them about loving the people around them, even if they find them particularly unlovely. Guide them into the right direction, and marvel at their ability to follow through.
You will also have a lasting impact in how you make your children feel. You might not think about it very often, but consider this. Between you and your partner, you will likely form your children’s assessment of how safe and secure they are. And whether or not they are loved. They don’t need to get these things from anyone else, but if they feel safe, secure and unconditionally loved in their own home, by their own parents, we’ve already made one of the biggest differences we can as dads.
Don’t ever threaten a child’s security, even if you don’t mean it. Don’t ever attach strings to your love for your child – even if you don’t mean it. These aren’t things to toy with. These are matters of life and death to a little person. Remembering that, I would suggest we fathers take every single opportunity to reassure them in these matters. Ensure your babies know they are safe. Ensure they know that, whatever might come, whatever storms may gather and however dark the clouds may seem, their daddy would never let anything happen to them. Imagine the difference that will make to a little one. Knowing that daddy will always be there. You and I know daddy won’t always be there, and some day, the little one will realize that too. But until they are ready to strike out on their own, resting snugly in that security can mean the world to them.
Love them. I’ve already talked about unconditional love. It’s meant for your partner but it’s also meant for your kids. Don’t imply that your love hinges on something they need to do or achieve. Don’t hold things over their heads that might make them think that daddy’s love isn’t 100% there. Love them – like crazy! You can’t love your kids enough. You can’t spend too much time with them. You can’t tell them too many times that you love them.
I also think we fathers can have a big effect with how we support our kids. I want to ensure my children feel supported. I don’t always agree with what my kids do, or decide. And it is my job to tell them that. And why. But it is also my job to support them. It is my job to let them make their own decisions – and this will happen more and more as they get older. It is my job to let them make their own mistakes, and guide them back onto the right path if necessary.
As always, I will never claim to have the answers. I am just speaking from my very limited experience, and saying what I think. I’ve seen dads take a back seat to a) the amount of time their jobs require, b) the mom – don’t get me wrong – in our house, she’s an equal, but he should man up and do his part, or c) doing things the way their dad did it, even if they hated it and knew they’d never want to be that kind of dad.
What I do know is that when I speak of impact, it implies cause and effect. So when I say you will have an impact on your children and their lives, I’m not kidding. I’m not pulling this out of thin air. Your actions, however big or small, whether they exist and can be counted on or whether you’ve chosen to sit back and do nothing as a father, will be cause to the effect. And the effect is what your children, your flesh and blood (or perhaps not, but equally loved) will become. Therefore, what you choose to do today will impact tomorrow’s world. It might be a drop in the bucket, but I’m here to say I want to contribute my drop to make my kids’ lives, and their worlds, a better place.
I can’t imagine someone ever convincing me that I shouldn’t laugh with my kids, or dance with my kids, or cry with my kids, or teach my kids what I know, or tickle my kids, or play stupid games that make no sense with my kids. No one can ever take that away from me, and I’m hoping that my kids will remember that I was there for them. I’m not necessarily the best dad, but I do know that when my day comes to be accountable for what I’ve done here with my time, one thing I will be able to say is that I was there for my kids. I did what I could.
I want to say that I was raised by an amazing dad, who I’ve talked about many times before. I wish I could be half the dad he was, and I miss him so much. I truly do wish my kids and my wife could have met him to experience his unconditional love the way I did.
Yet I am surrounded by incredible dads to this day – my brother, my step-dad, my father-in-law, and many, many others. I am so thankful for the role models that I have been surrounded by – and that I can learn about being a great dad from them.
Being a dad is a blessing, whose proportions money or words can’t encompass, nor replace. Take that blessing, be thankful for it, and be a dad.
Don’t underestimate your role. For your kids’ sake, and for your own sake.
So yeah, given the opportunity, kids will raise themselves. But let’s not make them do that. Let’s raise them ourselves and see what an impact we can have.
By the way, that picture was one of many incredible pictures taken by one of the best photographers and one of the nicest guys in the world. Please check out Brian Buchsdruecker’s gifted work at absolutephotography.ca and at bookstrucker.com.