by Matt Haviland
Part of the How to Be a Better Dad series
A friend of mine once said, regarding fatherhood,
“You know, when we’re gone it won’t be all the big vacations and trips to Disneyworld that our kids remember. It will be all of the little things we did along the way.”
I was young in my parenting journey when he said this, but I never forgot it.
Now, as a father to a teenager daughter, I can look back and recognize many times I was striving to be a perfect dad, rather than simply being her dad. I thought of all the challenges I had as a single father, the ways my parents fell short raising me, and my numerous unsuccessful attempts to keep up with the Joneses.
Today, I do push myself to be a better dad. Not in a way that sets me up for failure, but simply by taking it one day at a time and learning as I go.
And do you know what? It seems to be paying off in ways I could have never fashioned on my own. This past school year my daughter chose to write a paper about me as someone who has impacted her the most. She listed my ability to put a smile on her face, my continual support of her, and even the fact that our hard days bring us closer together. None of these require money or competition with others. They simply require love and time together.
I don’t say any of this to brag, quite the opposite really.
I have concluded that there are no perfect dads and that I’m not going to try to be one.
You shouldn’t either. Whether you have one child or several, are married or single, whether your children are young or nearly adults, there is one constant in all scenarios: you.
Dad, let me encourage you to take each day as an opportunity to invest in your relationship with your children. Look for and capitalize on the small, everyday moments that, over time, establish a foundation your children can build their lives on.
This may include getting down on their level to read a book, play a game, or even lay in the grass and look up at the sky. Instead of buying the latest and greatest gadgets, think outside the box and create something together from raw materials around the home.
Be quick to recognize and admit when you drop the ball and, in a timely matter, address and correct your shortcomings. We all fail in parenting. Sometimes our faults are bigger than others, but they all have a tremendous opportunity to teach life lessons to ourselves and our children. In fact, owning up to your mistakes is a tremendous example of teaching your kids how to take ownership when they mess up, too.
How will you be remembered by your children?
Will they see you as a father who wanted to give them the best of everything, but never gave the best of himself? Or will they hold on to those irreplaceable moments when, although it seemed like Dad did not have much, he gave his children all they ever needed?
It will be from memories such as these that hopefully one day our kids can say, “My dad wasn’t a perfect dad, but he was perfect for me.”
Matt Haviland is the director of a men’s center located in Grand Rapids, MI. He is married to his amazing wife, Christy, and is the father of a wonderful teenage daughter. He and Christy are currently in the adoption process as well. Matt has been working with fathers since 2008 and understands just how valuable dads are to their families and communities. A native of Grand Rapids, he enjoys family time, reading, playing golf, and almost all outdoor recreation.
Action Points & Discussion/Reflection Questions
- Is there a fathering or parenting saying or proverb that has stuck with you and helped to guide you as a dad? Share it with another dad this week.
- No dads are “perfect,” but we can all grow in certain ways. How are you trying to grow as a dad right now?
- What puts a smile on each of your kids’ faces? Do more of that!
- Think about your typical routine with your kids. Consider ways you can give more of yourself to them in your usual, everyday interactions.
- Then, come up with one new way you can be engaged in each of your kids’ everyday lives—something you can start doing together or something they’re already doing in which you can join them or be a better encourager for them.
- Often, being a better dad is about simply showing up and being engaged—not distracted. Make a conscious effort to put away your phone and other devices and give your child your full attention when you’re interacting.