I have only been a father for about 13 years and have only one kid, yet have loved every minute of it.
For many that I know, being a father was a scary thing. All of a sudden, just when one is about to take charge of one’s own life and become responsible, there is another fragile human life so precious and dear to take care of. And every father that I know is unprepared for this moment because no school or no other institution taught me what to do. I had very few life lessons of my own, and here were some more to learn.
Undoubtedly it is a unique experience, rewarding and yet challenging – a father has more to learn from his kids that a father ever has realized! Whether my own attempts so far have been better than average, I would never know – only time will tell. But as every other father, I would have liked to do the best I could.
Right from the beginning, my own thoughts were that my role wasnt to make the child grow into the person that I want him to be, but rather the person that he wants to be. My role I knew was limited to the support that I could give to help him realize his own potential in life. And this by itself, was a conflict with the idea of every parent wanting their child to be what they felt he should be.
I see a father as being a pillar of support and not a moulder of clay. May be to some that is unacceptable, but I have always felt it wasnt about modling a child into my or our idea of a perfect human being, but more to give him the love and support to grow into the human being that he already would like to be.
Yet the world we live in does not readily accept this. In this immensely competitive environment right from the percentages at school, there is the risk of being called a doting father who did not push, prod, instigate, persuade and perhaps even compel his son to perform all the left-brained activities at school optimally. Rather a father who spoilt his son.
So in this particular article, I restrict myself to just five simple lessons learnt over a period of time which may be universally acceptable as compared to others which may be viewed as being too radical.
The five lessons are –
Love Them and Care for Them
Be there for them. This is above all other duties. Of course, we need to keep them safe and fed and clothed and that’s important. What’s important is whether the child grows into an adult who is loved. Does he as a child learn not to bully but instead to have a level of caring, understanding and wisdom far beyond his years? This is trickier, because in our entitlement to having the child behave the way we want her to behave, become who we want her to become, we tend to push, to judge, to expect, to scold, to drive wedges between our heart and hers. But in the end, all of those things just get in the way of the main duty: to have him or her be loved.
If at the end of your life you can say that you were there for your child, and she or he felt loved, then you’ve succeeded.
Be a Role Model / Set an Example
It is incredible how often parents expect their children to be better and to do all those things that they dont do themselves. They have all the excuses in the world including lack of time, yet they expect their children to be perfect in every way. Our example is more important than our words. We often tell the child to be considerate as we yell at him, and so he doesn’t learn to be considerate but to yell. When we punish, they learn how to punish and not whatever other lesson we think we’re teaching. When we put them on restriction, they aren’t learning to share like we think they are.
If you want the kid to grow up healthy, exercise and eat healthy foods, do that yourself. If you want the kid to find work that he’s passionate about, do that yourself. If you want the kid to read, turn off the TV and read. If you want your kid to be tech-savvy, be that yourself.
The Hug is more Powerful than Punishment
A hug accomplishes our main duty (to love), while punishment is the example we’re setting for the kid (to punish when someone makes a mistake). When a child behaves badly, this is a mistake. Are we adults free from mistakes? Have we never been upset, never behaved badly, never given into temptation, never told a lie? If we have done any of these things, why are we judging our child for doing them, and punishing her for them?
What’s more important than judging and punishing, when a child makes a mistake and behaves badly, is understanding. Empathy. Put yourself in her shoes. What would help you in that situation? Have compassion. Give a hug. Show how a good person behaves, though the example of a hug. And yes, talk about the problem, get them to understand why the behavior wasn’t so great, get them to empathize with the person they’ve hurt, but learning to empathize must start with your example.
Let them take risks and fail, and show them that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to take risks. Don’t give them the neuroses of being afraid of every little risk, of worrying constantly about safety, of making a mistake and getting punished for it. They will fail, and your reaction to that failure is more important than the failure itself. You must show them that the failure is just a successful experiment, where you learned something valuable.
If you trust them, they will learn to trust themselves. They will grow up knowing that things can go badly but trust that all will turn out OK in the end. That’s a trust in life that’s incredibly valuable.
Let Them Be What They Want to Be
Wasnt this the biggest challenge in our own lives? Did we not end up doing what we have to do as compared to what we want to do? Is this what we want for our child? Should they do what we want to do or what we want them to do? Or should they be given the freedom and independence within the parameters set by society and laws?
Let them be who they’re going to be. You aren’t in control of that. You might care deeply about something but she doesn’t. You might think what she cares about is trivial, but that’s who you are, not who she is. Let her express herself in her way. Let her figure out things for herself. Let her make choices, mistakes, take care of her own emotional needs, become self-sufficient as early as she can.
Read with them. Include them in your ’mature’ discussions about money, investments, critical issues. They understand far more than you think they do. They realize the value of money by becoming a part of the family. Play with them. Take walks and have talks with them. Gaze up at the stars with them and wonder about the universe. Cook with them. Discuss philosophy with them. Greet them in the morning with a huge smile and a warm, tight embrace. Do puzzles together, build a robot together, get into their blanket forts, tell them stories you made up, and let them make up stories too.
Each moment you have with your child is a miracle, and then they grow up and move away and become their own person and figure out who they are and get hurt and need your shoulder to cry on but then don’t need you anymore. And so in the end, fatherhood is being there until they don’t need you to be there, until they do again. And it’s not a thankless task, because they will thank you every day with their love, their presence, their simple smiles. What a joyful thing, to be a dad!