Being a Good Dad: Give Your Kids Space to Dream

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When I was growing up, our grass was never in great shape, and that’s one more reason I appreciate my dad. The longer I’m around, the more reasons I seem to find to be thankful for him and my mom.

My dad let us basically destroy his front yard playing our neighborhood games. And I say “his front yard,” but it really stretched up and down most of the front yards on the block. We had to have that much space for our football grudge matches.

All of us guys in the neighborhood thought we were headed to the pros, so these were intense battles. We’d argue about the rules, who stepped on the invisible out-of-bounds line, and almost everything else. Do you have memories like that?

Football was the most common activity, but those yards saw their share of whiffleball games and just about any other sport or activity that we dreamed up. That grass was worn down to the dirt most of the time.

It’s kind of amazing my dad let us do that. How many of us would let our kids wear out the grass? I sure don’t want my son tearing up my lawn goofing with his friends. And I’ve seen other dads getting on their kids for messing something up or causing a minor inconvenience … but they’re really just being kids!

I don’t believe any dads truly value their grass over their children. But I wonder what message we’re sending to our kids on a day-to-day basis. Do they think we care about our grass, our cars, our carpet, and so on, more than we care about them?

Harmon Killebrew, the Hall-of-Fame hitter who played for the Minnesota Twins, told a story that makes the point well: “My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. One time, my mother came out the screen door and said, ‘You’re tearing up the grass.’ My dad lovingly replied, ‘Sweetheart, we’re not raising grass. We’re raising boys.’”

Now, there has to be some balance here. We can’t let our children to be completely careless with property; they need to learn responsibility. But we also need to make it very clear to them that their growth and development is more important to us than keeping our things just so. They need the space and opportunities to be kids and enjoy being kids.

As dads, we should embrace the fact that growing up comes with some accidents, some worn-out possessions, some dents and repairs. That attitude can help us relax a bit. The grass or the bushes will grow back. The window or car headlight can be replaced. But those childhood years are short and precious.

Find ways to allow your children to express their imagination and exuberance. It reflects your commitment to them and your desire to see them grow up with confidence and a sense of adventure.

I never made the pros in football, but the time spent playing and dreaming in my front yard led to a role of speaking in just about every NFL locker room over the years. And, dad, you need to make sure something like that could happen with your kids, too. You just never know where childhood dreams will lead.

ACTION POINTS for Dads on the Journey

  • Join your kids outside when they’re playing—whatever the sport or activity.
  • Expose your kids to a wide variety of experiences and pursuits, and jump in to that experience with them.
  • Help create opportunities for your child to take another step toward his dreams. Get a book on the topic, buy tickets to a local event that’s related, enroll her in a class, or get to know someone who’s currently living out that dream.
  • Ask your children about their dreams, and respond optimistically to what they say—even if they seem unrealistic or outlandish at first.
  • Be an enthusiastic encourager and cheerleader for whatever your child pursues. Promise your prayers and support.


Please join the discussion: How did your dad allow you to experiment and dream when you were a child? Please share your comments either below or on our Facebook page.



Carey CaseyCarey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.



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  1. Wow, amazing story! I remember growing up in the projects (fatherless) an great man in the community would let us play football in his yard. It had a brown dirt strip all year long. I was able to one day become the top school in our city quarterback. If it was not for him help to grow his and other neighborhood children I know that my life would have taken the bad road.Now I have children and I want to them to grow to live out thier dreams. Thanks for share the story:)

    It’s good to remember the past and all it has taught!

  2. The role of fathers is central to the development of every child. My father not only gave me the liberty to dream, he participated in building the dream. As a child, I had often called my self a lawyer. My dad not only deliberately exposed me to literature, a major foundation for a course in law, he went ahead to evaluate my abilities in comprehending the books and gave me great confidence in my abilities with his comments. I am a lawyer today.

  3. Wow, having a recreational activities with your kids this really sounds good.

  4. Thanks for the article. Very useful and inspiring. Maybe I will be a frequent visitor to your website to search for information. Thank you

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