Father's Day Owner's Manual

Wouldn't it be great to get a "How To" manual on Fatherhood when you pick up the baby from the hospital? Kind of like buying a car... My son and I have been together for 21 years. He's my constant companion who has lasted through two divorces and countless relationships. If you asked me what my greatest accomplishment is, I would say "My son." He has grown up to be a good friend as well as a great person with an agile mind and quick wit. His words of wisdom sound very familiar- usually my own words said with a grin. Yep- a Dad's self-help book might have come in handy for both of us on several occasions...

Being a father is the toughest job we will ever have or love. Some fathers realize this in an instant, others only after their child has grown, but sometimes it is never realized. There are no paid vacations, no financial reward at the end of a job well done, and it may seem that we get criticized more than appreciated… So why do many of us become Fathers? Maybe it's part of the divine plan to understand our Creator. A challenge sent to us so that we might begin to discover what it's like to give unconditional love and acceptance.

In my mind, a great Father is a part of his Child's life in every moment and lives by example. In the younger years, he uses any means available just to soak up time with his child- whether it's going to school functions, kids' parties, or the movies. He reminds himself every day that his child will only be that size on that day. Back then for me, it was all about going to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Stow Lake, Green Lake, Seattle Center, and many other West Coast child-friendly places…

In the teen years, he might be watching from afar and waiting for his child to return safely… Or spending lots of time just hanging out and making pizza, playing video games, or watching movies. All along, thinking of what his child needs, wants, and what's best while watching for clues on how to cultivate their new relationship. As good Father talks with and listens to his child, he reminds himself every day that his child is watching and learning from his example- even when it appears otherwise.

I know I watched my Father even though he created a very clear picture of what NOT to do. I've seen some Dads get paralyzed with fear and drown themselves in the bottle (or some other compulsive behavior), turn to being overly macho and competitive, or present an aloof sense of stoic calm. Can't we show our boys that they can be "manly" AND express feelings of fear, hurt, and sadness?

Thankfully, like the character Murphy Brown says to Jake in the movie Murphy's Romance, "…Take after him or not, it's up to you…" And Murphy's right- no matter how we came to the position of being a Father (whether it's a bit of a surprise or a long anticipated gift) we are the ones who get to decide how good we're going to be at it. And so will our children. What has your child seen you do or say in the last week? Month? Year? If it's something other than stellar (I know I've made my fair share of mistakes)- what would you teach him by admitting you screwed up, saying "I'm sorry…" or showing vulnerability? As a friend of mine says in those cases, "… I made a mistake. I'm sorry. I guess it's good I'm not perfect-that means you don't have to be either…"

Listening is one of the skills my son taught me at great expense to him. The wisdom he had as a child to this day still amazes me. If there is a skill that will serve you well your whole life it’s listening to others. Your children, the ones who know you best, are the ones most parents do not listen to as well as they should. How do you do that? It’s easy, close your mouth and listen with your heart, mind and soul. You may even find that this skill will work well with the other important people in your life. The way to test how well you listen is to give a confirming statement about what you heard. ‘OK what I heard you say is…’ Give this a try. It’s one of the best things about being a father. You can astonish your child and the woman you love by showing them you can listen.

So Fathers- May we have the courage to see ourselves through our child's eyes, the strength to admit when we're wrong, the humility to know that we'll need help along the way, and the integrity to be living examples in many (if not most) of those small yet defining moments. And may the Grandfathers and Grandmother Spirits bless each of us with all that we need but don't know to ask for… including directions.

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