Guest Columnist: A great dad starts by showing up

Years ago I was chaplain to a county jail for juveniles in Michigan. Each spring all the young men anxiously wrote cards to their moms on Mother’s Day.

But a month later almost none of those young men wrote Father’s Day cards to their fathers.

Very few young men in jail were visited by their fathers. Friends? Yes. Girlfriends? Yes. Moms? Yes. Dads? Not so much. Dads simply were absent.

Being Dad is simultaneously about the most-important responsibility a man can have and sometimes the one that many men most neglect. If only men would take the effort to do the simple things needed to be a great dad. What a difference they could make.

I asked some friends what it would take to convert an ordinary dad into a great dad. What would he have to do to be great? Do you know — their answers are incredibly consistent — a great dad is just an average dad who consistently gives loving attention and respect to his children. It’s really very simple.

Try this list — see how many of these simple tasks you could do.

A great dad spends more time watching the kids than watching the computer or television.

Great dads go to the library on Saturday for books to read with their kids.

A great dad accepts his kids and tells them so each day. He is pleased when his kids respond with gratitude and love. When that happens you know your kids believe you.

A great dad washes dishes. Folds laundry. Holds doors. Goes to piano recitals, knows where the kids are and looks for them when he doesn’t.

A great dad finds something good in each child. Children who have little talent are loved as much as children who excel. A great dad always protects the weak, the injured, the hurt and uses his power for the benefit of the weak.

A great dad senses the phases of childhood. One day the kids cling to mom and the next they cling to dad and the third day the kids seem fiercely independent. A great dad recalibrates some of his expectations to match the daily needs of the kids.

Helping with homework is the bread and butter of a great father.

A great dad disciplines the children in a way that creates obedience and respect at the same time. He loves teaching and helping more than punishing. Great dads forgive their children and restore them to favor.

Great dads make mistakes. We all do. A great dad will honestly recognize his mistakes and apologize to the kids or to his wife. Then he will self-discipline to improve his behavior. A great dad never hides or denies his mistakes.

That was the simple list. Almost any father can accomplish the first list.

Let’s go on to the more challenging items.

A great dad is a blessing to his children. A few weeks ago I saw a step-father tell his step-daughter that he and the mom both loved and respected the young woman and would always be there for her. I believe that untold millions of young women and men would love to have the senior man in their family stop and express love and affection. It’s a life-changer for most kids. And you can be a great blessing to your kids that way.

A great dad deals with problems. We all have some kind of issue —a hurt, an insecurity, a shameful memory, an addiction, a bad habit, or selfishness — that’s all pretty common among men. “Issues” don’t make you a bad dad, not at all. What makes you a bad dad is ignoring or denying your issues. Your kids will admire you if you tell them you are going to get help with a personal problem. It’s quite simple: Great dads deal with their issues.

Great dads are safe. You know what I mean — great dads keep clear of all those things that poison life. Great dads are clean and sober and safe. Great dads are honest all the time. No secrets. Ever.

Great dads take responsibility and never make excuses. They choose dad-hood over rate, rank and raises.

Great dads have great beliefs and ideals. They think carefully and thoughtfully about their purpose and motivation. They discipline their speech. Great dads are all about character — integrity, honor, truth, faithfulness — and they passionately share these qualities with their kids.

Great dads take a spiritual role in their households. They demonstrate accountability to something or someone greater than themselves.

Great dads demonstrate spiritual depth and leadership. As it turns out, I am a Christian pastor of a local church and I have strong thoughts about what that spiritual role could be. But even if your thoughts are different from mine at least give leadership by demonstrating accountability to the highest standards of excellence you know. Your kids will respect a dad who respects a higher authority.

Dads, your kids don’t need the dad-equivalent of superhero Shaq or a John Wooden, they need you — their actual flesh-and-blood dad — to put down your distractions and spend time at the dinner table talking about their day, listening to their stories or triumph and tragedy. It’s simple.

An ordinary man who continually hits singles and doubles with his kids will always win this most important game.

And if you do the simple things your kids need, you can be a great dad in their eyes. And in their mother’s eyes. And in your own.

You get one chance. And you will be happy you took the time to do fatherhood well.

And your kids will be your biggest fans for generations to come. You might even get a Father’s Day card.

Rev. David Snapper is pastor of Anchor of Hope Church in Silverdale.

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