I have a family member expecting her first child. My family’s joyful anticipation inspired me to write a little something for Father’s Day- for her husband, dads-to-be, new ones, and those fathers, who so admirably seek inspiration to constantly recalibrate their inner compass!
When I got married my mother asked family members to select a favorite meal and write out its recipe on a card. She collected and bundled them as a gift. There are no James Beard honorees in my family, and well, let’s just say the recipes are rich in tradition, pleasing in their familiarity, and beautiful in the way they preserve the handwritten notes that accompany them. It was a beautiful gift! I would carry forth only the most special, most cherished of cuisine tradition.
So this year for Father’s Day, I endeavor to offer a bit of the same in the form of 16 suggestions from real life, not a proverbial recipe, for that suggests there is a step by step right way to father - a paradigm I vehemently reject - but rather, just simple, practical and realistic parenting tips. To come to them, I reflected upon my most treasured of parenting traditions - those from my life experience, worthy of passing on to the next generation. My father, my husband, brothers, step father, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and life long friends gifted me with so many role models and traditions to draw from, making this list rich, and diverse. So here it goes…..
Starting the day your baby is born, change as many diapers as you can and feed, hold, talk and sing to him whenever possible.
Have make believe tea parties, and tumble, wrestle and roll aimlessly! Play cards, chess and board games, make art or music together, and throw or kick a ball often. The best of giggles and conversations flow from playing together!
Go on walks, rides, slopes and lakes- not for mastery or conditioning but for companionship and bonding!
Be your child’s best expert. Know his strengths, weaknesses, rhythms, and needs. When something out of the ordinary presents, such as learning gifts or challenges, read, listen and learn voraciously. Stay centered and with your parenting partner(s), lead the team of specialists!
When facing medical challenges, be your child’s best advocate. If he has food allergies, asthma, juvenile diabetes, or another illness, be fiercely skilled at responding to an emergency, reading labels and monitors or delivering medication. Join team meetings at schools, camps and extra-curricular activities to help him access all your community has to offer. Help him see himself as much more than his diagnosis and as empowered to live life fully!
Build things together- sandcastles, play-dough zoos, wooden derby cars, dollhouses, campfires and perhaps even a backyard pergola.
Know the drill! Manage the Saturday sleepover without instructions. No reminders needed to always bring her sheet music to clarinet lessons, cleats and a water bottle for soccer practice, and Epipen or Auvi-Q where ever you go. Make sure she brushes her teeth and can find her “lovey” before bedtime.
Set limits and follow through on them. Be honest and expect the same. These lay the foundation for respect, strength in character and healthy relationships.
Be loving, respectful and supportive of those you share this journey with - your baby is watching and you model the kind of relationships he will seek out later in life.
When you face a real problem- not the poop that spreads from diaper to armpits or the mean girl’s look that brings your daughter to tears type of problems- but rather, the kind that bring nausea, sleepless nights, vein popping screaming matches, or even raw terror- simply carry on. Don’t run away or to that which numbs. You won’t fix everything; parenting has many painful chapters too. You will often get it wrong. But remember, you are your child’s best father.
If you suffer divorce or loss, do everything possible to remain present and loving, even if distracted and vulnerable. Unconditional love and loyalty, the parent-child kind, nurtures mutual resilience.
Work to live, rather than live to work; but plan for security.
Practice gratitude daily, quietly and overtly and most especially with your child(ren).
Material goods ease and bring comfort, but memories and traditions feed the heart and soul and live on forever.
Be a father and if possible also a friend, but never the latter before the former. Forever.
Family is yours to create and define, and family comes first. Always!
I have so many reasons to be grateful for my own father and all the fathers in my family and friend circle. I hope they don’t mind that I have borrowed these 16 guiding principles from their unofficial parenting playbooks to create this list. Happy Father’s Day to you all!