For many years, the National Center co-sponsored essay contests around the country in which kids wrote about “What My Father Means to Me.” Every year the kids came up with some priceless nuggets about their dads.

For us at the Center, these essays have continued to inspire us and reaffirm the importance of the work we’re doing. Kids write about dads and father figures who are committed to them in heroic ways. And although the men would tell you they’re not that special, they represent the very best of fatherhood.

Just read these three excerpts from prize-winning essays:

From Lindsey, a 12th grader:

“When I was five, I would sit at our front door as my dad left for work. Every day, without fail, my dad would wave goodbye to me through the sunroof of his car. Although he probably doesn’t even remember, that small gesture was the highlight of my day. Even now, 13 years later, it’s the little things my dad does that make me smile.”

Here’s what Gabe, a 4th grader, wrote:

“My dad and I sometimes wrestle in my living room. I try to stop him, but he is an unstoppable beast that cannot be taken down…. When me and my dad go to the pool, sometimes he leaps out of the pool acting like an enormous, ferocious, dangerous shark.”

And Hunter, a 10th grade winner, wrote this:

“We were going to the zoo and he noticed a big family behind us in the ticket line. He paid their way into the zoo without any hesitation. Not because anyone was watching, but just because he knew it would be a nice thing to do. As long as I live, I will never forget that day.”

A larger lesson from these is simple:

Please don’t underestimate the importance of what you do—even the little things.

Go out of your way to say “Bye” to your kids as you leave for work each day—even if you’re still working at home—and greet them cheerfully when you return. Initiate fun and crazy times in the living room, in the back yard, or at the pool. Carry out gestures of kindness that your kids will notice … and never forget.

Dad, your acts of effective fathering are making a difference, and your children will appreciate you, even if it takes them years to express it.

What would your children or grandchildren write about you?

If they haven’t written an essay about you … and if you’re brave … ask them for one or two ideas on how you can be a better dad. You’ll be surprised at how insightful they are.

What is the “very best of fatherhood” to you? Share some wisdom with other dads (and learn from them) on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

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