Here’s a copy of the article that Marc wrote for the local on-line paper that I blog with. I think it’s freaking fabulous – I wish he’d write more often
Ways for a Good Father to be a Great Dad
Some of the things that make a man a good father are just the basics: work hard to suport your children, make sure they get to school on time, make sure they go to the doctor and get their vaccinations. But how do you take it up a notch? What are the things that help a man tranform from being a father into being a Dad? My expertise comes entirely from having five children of my own, Lilli is thirteen, Sarah will be eleven at the end of the summer, Jessie is nine, Sam will be six next month and Julianna just turned two. I thought about some of the lessons I have learned over the years, and written a few of them down here.
1. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Make up silly songs. Use MILDLY inappropriate language. Act like a clown. They will laugh, they will love it, and you will love it too. For example my 2 year old daughter Julie and I have something we call the “Bum-Bum Dance”. I made up lyrics to a Bum-Bum Song we sing while doing the Bum-Bum Dance. To see her doing it, she is extremely cute. But for the other kids to see Daddy get up and sing and dance with her – well, that is about the funniest thing they have ever seen.
2. Wrestle! I don’t know why, but my kids have always loved a lot of horseplay with me. And I give it to them. For some reason, they all have always felt much more comfortable playing rough with me than they ever would with my wife, and vice versa. Obviously, you have to be aware of the age and comparative fragility of who you are rough-housing with. But at one time, this was a real salvation for me. When my nine-year-old daughter jessica was only 2, we really didn’t have much of a relationship. I was working a lot, she was home with my wife, and our relationship wasn’t where I felt it needed to be. My solution? A new game called “Fight on the Bed”. We would pose and posture at each other in exagerated imitation of a Bruce Lee movie, then she would scream “DO YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?” at me, and attack with a bed pillow. Chaos would ensue. Today all the kids love to participate, but “Fight on the Bed” will still forever be something I made up especially for Jessie and for our relationship together. It was the first thing we did together that was just us.
3. Quantity Time IS Quality Time. Don’t kid yourself. Your children need you. And to “be there” for them, you have to physically “BE THERE”. And yes, of course there are challenges. You have to work to earn a living. Maybe you face the challenge of having children from a previous marriage who don’t live with you full time. Those obtacles are very real. But the consequences for your children and yourself of you not doing what you have to do to overcome those obstacles – those are very real, too. And not every minute you spend with your kids has to be ‘doing” something. Its OK to have a lazy weekend afternoon where the kids play outside in the yard and you sit on the porch keeping an eye on them. I have taken my kids to a lot of parks, zoos, and science museums. But we have also spent a lot of time just playing, hanging around, relaxing, and having simple fun.
4. Be involved. This is different from spending time with your children. It means spending time with the people who ALSO spend time with your children. Go to teachers’ night at school, and get to know the teachers. Get involved with their sports, their religious school. Volunteer for the Boy Scout troup. Help coach the softball team. Their hobbies are your hobbies now. Get to know their friends. And get to know their friends’ parents.
5. Keep Mom happy. Sometimes this means your wife. Sometimes it means your ex-wife. And sometimes you are lucky enough to have one of each! Whatever situation you find yourself in, try very hard to maintain peace with the Mom. Often that will mean setting aside what you want or feel is right. So be it.
6. Be the “fun” house. Be the house your kids want to bring their friends to. Accept and embrace the chaos. Keep fun snacks in the cabinet, and make sure there is enough for everyone. Let the kids set up to fingerpaint. Give them Playdough, Give them buckets, access to an outside water faucet, and orders to use dirt and sidwalk chalk to make rainbow-mudpies. Let them use the rainbow-mudpies to face paint. Let them use the rainbow-mudpies to face-paint YOU. Let them take pictures of you with rainbow-mudpie-facepaint on. Tell their friends’ parents they can drop them off any time, and mean it. There is no better way to meet their friends and friends’ parents. There is no better way to keep an eye on your kids.
7. Foster their relationships with each other. You are their father. They are all your children, all brothers and sisters. Work hard at making them understand that. And use bribery! It works wonders. Tell your kids that you are going to be watching, and every time you catch them doing something nice for each other, you are going to put a quarter in a cup. When they do something mean, take a quarter out. Every day, make sure they all see how much money is in the cup. Make sure they understand that when there is enough money in the cup, you are going to take all of them out for ice cream.
8. Do the things you loved to do as a child, and do them with your own children. What did you really like when you were a kid? Hardy Boys Mysteries? Boy Scouts? Baseball? Whatever it is, tell your kids all about it, and how much fun you had. And tell them how much it would mean to you if they would do it with you. And so what if you have girls? There’s a law against girls playing baseball? One of the great pleasures of parenting is getting to enjoy all of the things you loved so much as a kid all over again, FOR THE FIRST TIME, because you can enjoy them through the eyes of your children.
9. Family dinner is important because you MAKE it important. So look – nobody says you have to do it like this. But my wife and I are Jewish, and what has worked for us is to follow the ancient jewish tradition of having a special ritual family dinner on Friday night to welcome in the Sabbath. Part of that tradition is that i take each of my children aside for a special blessing. If you ask the average American teenager when was the last time your father took you aside, placed his hands on your head, and asked God to bless you and watch over you, and then kissed you and told you he loved you, they would look at you like you were eating raw bugs. Because yes, it sounds a little corny and old fashioned. But if you asked my kids, they would say “Duh! Like, almost every Fiday night.” And there is value in that. Your children will learn a lesson about what is important from what YOU decide is important. If you set that time aside every week, whether its Friday night or Sunday afternoon, and turn off YOUR favorite TV show because it is time for something special together as a family, they will learn from your actions that the family has value, and they have value because they are a part of that family.
10. Give yourself a break. I knew precisely NONE of this when I was 25. I learned pretty much ALL of these important lessons by screwing up, and trying hard to learn from my mistakes.
11. Hug your kids. Tell them you love them, and that you are proud of them. Tell them all the time. There is no such thing as a bad time, and no such thing as too much.