My dad looked at my lip and turned to my mom and said, “He’s going to need stitches.” I was five years old and my upper lip was sliced open after I stumbled into a sharp corner. An hour later I’m lying on a gurney looking in my dad’s eyes while a doctor is stitching my lip. “Just focus your eyes on me” dad said, “I’m right by your side”. Fifty years later, I can still remember the bright lights, the smell of the hospital, the feel of the surgical garment over my face, and the calm and reassuring look in my dad’s eyes that made me feel safe.
What I felt as a child, I later experienced as a dad when my daughter severely cut her hand and needed stitches. However, this time while I did all the things I remember my father doing, I felt the powerlessness of a parent knowing that the fate of my daughter was out of my control. Fortunately, the doctor did an amazing job stitching her hand. And my daughter? She was such a brave little girl!
Parenting does not come with a manual. Most of us learn how to be a parent by watching how our parents did it. We learn what to do, and sometimes what not to do. But if we parent from the heart and use our heads we figure it out.
In my profession, I counsel, coach, write, and speak on the subject of parenting on a regular basis. I recently published a book on bringing respect back in families.click here
In this blog, I want to shift from a professional voice to a personal tone. I write as a struggling dad to fellow dads who struggle to fulfill our duty, knowing we don’t always get it right. I am well aware of my failures. Doing our best doesn’t guarantee we won’t make mistakes along the way. However, if we stick with it, we can give our kids some valuable assets.
So, in honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to share 3 key assets every dad can give to his kids.
Give them your heart
Most guys operate from their heads. This is how we are raised by our dads. We tend to be thinkers, doers, problem-solvers. Men process in the thinking stream of the brain and less of the feeling stream. This approach works well at work. Not so much at home. Thinking and feeling streams need to flow here. Our kids and spouses need to feel our hearts.
Giving your heart is expressing your feelings. Not anger or frustration. They see enough of that. I’m talking about feelings they can connect with. Happiness about life. Sadness over a movie. Silliness because you’re in a playful mood. Compassion for the suffering of others.
Giving your heart means speaking from your heart to your kids. Your head conveys facts, information, instruction. Your heart conveys sentiment, how you feel about a matter.
Kids often think they are loved and accepted when they do what their parents expect. When you give them your heart they will know they are loved unconditionally.
Give them your story
I used to love to sit at the kitchen table and listen to my dad tell me stories about his experiences in the navy. He wasn’t much of a talker, but when those moments came I was all ears.
Do your kids know your story? If not, I recommend you begin sharing it with them. The best way to tell it is in the moment, when it relates to something they are going through. It could be a story about what it felt like to be afraid.
Talk about your experiences trying something for the first time.
Successes you’ve had.
Failures you encountered.
Your first crush!
Telling your story is a part of your parent/child relationship and continues into adulthood. Do not edit out the parts of the story where you failed. These are lessons you can share with them.
With my kids, I talked about my challenges as a teenager. I shared what I did right and what I did wrong. I also talked about my spiritual journey and how it guides my life this very day. My kids witnessed me go through a career transition. They watched me return to school and sat on the front row when I gave the commencement speech. Talking to your kids about your career journey can also inspire and inform them as they transition into adulthood.
Give them your support
Think about this. What motivates kids more than anything is a parent who believes in them and backs it up. I’m talking about support. Support that comes from the heart. Spoken words that convey sentiments. “I have confidence in you.”
It is our duty as dads to instill two important messages in our kids: confidence and competence. Criticism or over-correcting can de-motivate kids.
When kids know you are in their corner, that you believe in them, and that you support them, they are more likely to succeed in life. Support is more than showing up at an event. It is listening well, tracking their dreams and aspirations. Support is stepping in to help, but not taking over. It is believing in your son or daughter’s ability to figure things out.
Last August (2013) I wrote an article,“When Your Kids Become Adults”. I talked about my relationship with my youngest son Jordan. Since our conversation he has taken a bold step in his life. At age 24, he moved to Arizona where he landed a job at Mayo Clinic. I took him to there when he was 15 years old and he told me then that his dream was to live in Arizona.
He arrived in Arizona the last week in May, while my wife and I were there for a vacation. “I am proud of you.” These were the words I conveyed to him. Jordan is following his passion. For me, it was my Father’s Day gift. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Three assets that make a powerful impact in our kids: hearts, stories, support.
Let’s Continue the Conversation
You heard some of my story. I would enjoy hearing yours. You can join the discussion by entering your comments below. I offer some starter questions. Feel free to answer any one.
Here are some starter questions:
What asset have you recently given your kid(s)?
Can you recall a time when you shared your story with your son or daughter? What was it like? How did they respond?
How do you show support to your kids? What do you do that works well?
What is the greatest memory you have of your dad?
What do you hope your kids will remember about you?