Is Your Father an Example or a Lesson?

All fathers start out as sons. Many of us probably didn’t even think about becoming fathers until it was just a few years or months away. But once we did start imagining ourselves as fathers, the obvious and natural role models we thought of were our dads.

By that time, we knew our dads weren’t perfect. They all had qualities and habits that affected how they treated us and whether they gave us mostly reasons to smile or reasons to grimace. For some of us, our dads left a big question mark because they were absent or aloof. Maybe that meant other men stepped in as father figures, or maybe there’s still somewhat of a void there in our lives.

However our dads have influenced us—and whether or not we have processed or made peace with them and their influence—there’s one thing we should all admit:

Our fathers have a profound impact on how we father.

It’s important for each of us to take inventory of our dads, maybe even list out ways we are like him and unlike him, and develop a plan for what kind of father we want to be.

Some of us were blessed to have committed, engaged, encouraging dads. Sure, there are a few things we’ll want to do differently, but the overall picture is a good one, and there’s a lot we saw in our father that we want to continue with our own kids.

In this case, we view our dads mostly as an EXAMPLE to follow.

But there are many of us whose dads fell short in some significant ways, and the last thing we want to do is follow his example.

Maybe he was careless, harsh, inconsistent, hypercritical or unreliable. Maybe his anger got the best of him too often. Maybe he drank too much and was belligerent with everyone at home—or he was nearly comatose when he got home, or he didn’t even come home. Maybe he worked too much and he missed key events in your childhood, or he missed being there for the day-to-day interactions. Maybe your adult years have been one long recovery because of his abuse.

If that’s true for you, try to see your dad as LESSON you can use to make you stronger.

It’s never fun to learn life lessons the hard way, but those truths often become the most powerful and memorable. And avoiding something negative can be a great motivator to do your best with your children.

And no matter how negative your father’s influence might have been, don’t let things that weren’t your fault as a child continue to shackle you now. Find peace where you can. Figure out a way to keep him in your life at some level, if at all possible. Work toward the idea that forgiving him is the best option—even if he doesn’t deserve it—because you need to release yourself from whatever hold the past may have on you.

Do you see your dad’s life as an example to follow or a lesson to learn from? It’s rarely a black-or-white, yes-or-no issue. Some guys will view their dads as a pretty even mix of good and not-so-good. And as strange as it may sound, some of us may perceive our father very differently from how a brother or sister sees him.

If we’re going to be the dads our children need, we should use our experiences with our dads to help us, and use other men around us to assist and support along the way.

How have you grown as a dad because of your father’s influence? Share a thought and learn from other dads at our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • As you think about your dad, do all you can to find something good that’s worth emulating, even if it’s small and seems insignificant.
  • What do you know about your dad’s childhood? How positive was his father’s influence?
  • Even though it isn’t Father’s Day, thank your dad for one thing you appreciate about him. Also tell your kids about it.
  • What’s one thing you have learned in life because of your father’s weaknesses?
  • Honestly, do you see yourself even a little bit in the above list of negative father memories? What minor or major changes might you need to make to set a better example and build stronger connections with your kids?

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.

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