Be Intentional About Legacy

by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

How do you want to be remembered, dad? What are you leaving behind for future generations?

I have two examples of legacy and then some questions to ask yourself as you consider the legacy you’re creating with your family.

First is Gary. He was driving home after working late when another vehicle crossed the center line, and in a moment his life ended, leaving a wife, two sons and two daughters to grieve and remember their dad.

Sometime after his death, Gary’s wife Ann told me story after story of his commitment to his children. This man left a powerful, memorable legacy that future generations will honor, and I was struck by three qualities as Ann described Gary’s commitment to fathering:

He had fun with his kids.

Humor was a big part of his fathering. He had the ability to not take himself too seriously, and he loved engaging and challenging his children in playful ways. The kids had plenty of memories laughing with their dad; his sense of humor brought a lot of light to their lives.

He was a hard worker.

He took seriously his role as a provider and set an example of integrity in his work ethic. Ann said the kids already showed signs of adopting that same approach in their lives.

Though he worked hard, it was important to him to be engaged at home.

Gary devoted lots of unstructured time to his kids, being available to meet a need or just have fun. He had a long commute to work, but he made a commitment to adjust his schedule and drive that distance—even if it was late at night—because he wanted to sleep in his own bed and see his children when he arrived home, or eat breakfast with them in the morning. He took every opportunity to be present with his kids.

My second example is about a dad named Leonard, the father of hall-of-fame second baseman Joe Morgan. Some years ago, after his dad died, Joe wrote a tribute that mentioned ways his father had transmitted values. Here’s some of what he wrote:

[My father] taught me how to be a man. He taught me responsibility. I inherited a great work ethic, and he taught me what it meant to be a Morgan. Sometimes I hear people say that their dad was their best friend. My father wasn’t my best friend—he was my dad. My friends didn’t teach me these life lessons, my dad did. Moreover, he always took time to tell each of his children that he loved us. And my dad and I would take time to say we loved each other.

Dads, leaving a legacy is about thinking beyond today, but being purposeful about today. It’s realizing that your actions, your habits, and the investments you make in your children will likely have an impact for many years to come, even when you become a grandfather, and even after you’re gone.

Researchers will tell you that the process of transferring a legacy of healthy values and positive ideals to your children and grandchildren is critical for family and societal well-being. So here are three questions all fathers would be wise to ponder as we consider our legacy:

1. What values are you seeking to transmit?

A fundamental role of fathers is to establish values that will help sons and daughters succeed in their own families some day.

2. How are you helping your children make a successful transition to adulthood?

Fathers play a pivotal role in supporting and helping their children implement their goals and dreams and, later, help them transition into adult members of society.

3. Is your fathering transformational?

How is your relationship impacting their lives? Is it transformational? Are you making a lasting difference?

So, dad, how do you want to be remembered? As a hard worker? A humorous dad? Someone who taught life lessons? A dad who easily said, “I love you” to his kids?

You may or may not choose those same qualities, but I urge you to be intentional about leaving a transformational legacy for your children and grandchildren. Spend time thinking about those three questions above. Identify the values and qualities you want to be part of your legacy, and focus on them. Keep them in front of you constantly, and do something every day to build that legacy. Starting today.

Are you intentional about leaving a strong legacy? What would you like to change about the legacy you’re building? Share your ideas with other dads and be encouraged on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • How do you want to be remembered when you are gone? What qualities or virtues come to mind? Are you currently living them out on a daily basis?
  • Imagine your funeral, whether in the near future or many years from now. What would people say about you? If your kids got up to talk, what would they say?
  • Do your kids consider you a “fun” dad? Plan some activities that will bring more laughter to your time together.
  • Sit down with your kids’ mother or someone else who knows you well and talk about the top 5 values you want to transmit to your children, and how you can build them into your life.
  • Plan a one-on-one outing or “daddy date” with each of your kids in the next month, simply to spend time together and invest in that relationship.

Watch the replay of the Fathering Breakthrough Event

Join Dr. Ken Canfield and a handful of friends and partners as we give an update about our efforts to inspire and equip fathers all over the world.

There may be no more important work than turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and that’s what this is all about. We’re seeking to repair, rebuild and restore effective fathering for the benefit of children and families everywhere.