I know that Father’s Day can raise a lot of different emotions in you, dads. Some of you may feel nervous or excited about becoming a dad for the first time. Others may feel exhausted because things are tough with the teens at home — and some of you may feel stressed or inadequate because you don’t feel like you’re doing a very good job with the little ones.
Pause. You, Dad, are hard-wired with everything you need to be a parent to a great kid.
In my new book, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need,” I go into depth on the vitally important role of you as a father. But don’t let that scare you. One of the main themes that run through my book is forgiveness.
Your kids want to forgive you when you've messed up — and you need to have grace for yourself. Every day is a new opportunity to make the right step toward your kids. So where do you start?
Here are my top top character traits of a hero dad.
1.) He’s engaged. This one may seem obvious, but it bears emphasizing. Your kids love having you around, and your presence alone is already a huge step in the right direction. We have an abundance of research proving that dads presence and engagement in the home improves a child’s confidence and that they are less likely to have behavioral or psychological difficulties. Whether you know it or not, dads carry an authority that their children are drawn to — they want to be seen by you, more than anything.
Here are a few things you can start doing to become more engaged with your kids:
When you get home at the end of the day, put down your briefcase/phone, and go to your kids. Get down to eye level with them. Ask them how their day was, hug them, tell them you love them (I know this can be hard to do - but practice makes it easier!) and take a few minutes to play with them. Any fatherly physical affection you give your kids builds their confidence and self-esteem.
Pro tip: if your spouse is in the same room, greet and kiss your spouse in front of your kids. This affirms in their minds what a healthy relationship looks like — and it will strongly influence them when they hit the dating years.
When your kids are older, you can engage in new ways:
- When your daughter starts dating, you meet the boy who is taking her out; shake his hand, look him in the eye and let him know that you’ll be waiting up for her to get home. This makes her feel safe, valued and protected(even if she’s embarrassed and says everything to the contrary).
- When your son hits his teen years, spend time doing things alongside each other. Do projects together, get outdoors, talk together — and praise his character (not just his achievements). He’s learning how to be a man by watching you. He can’t watch you if you aren’t there.
2.) He’s committed. Nothing says “I’m here to stay” like a calm, cool, and collected dad in the face of his screaming toddler, pre-teen or teenager.
When they yell, slam doors and exclaim how much they “hate” you, never respond in anger (take a few minutes and calm yourself down if need be). These situations are golden opportunities to affirm to your children that you love them and that no matter what they say or do, you’re not going anywhere. When you repeat this action, the message that your child receives is, “Dad really does loves me.”
Why do they even need this affirmation? Shouldn’t they already know that you love them unconditionally? (click on page 2 for the rest of the story)
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I have found that though children view Mom’s love as unconditional (because in their minds, she has to love them), a father’s love is negotiable. They believe they have to stay in your good graces so you’ll keep loving them. That’s why they will sometimes push you away again and again — they are testing your love.
Most teen minds think about it like this: “Does he really mean that he’ll love me no matter what? I’ll bet if I push enough of his buttons, he’ll give up on me.”
Prove them wrong — be steady and consistent — gently break down their walls by standing firm in your love for them.
3.) He’s honest. I talk about this in my new book, "Hero," so I’m just going to give you a little excerpt of that to explain this point.
Honesty is enormously important for children — and if you want your children’s trust, you need to be honest with them. I know that being honest can be hard, and many of us assume that indulging a small, white lie can be an act of kindness. But children never like being lied to, even if the lies seem trivial to parents.
Children instinctively believe, as Albert Einstein did, that “anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”
Nothing more endangers the trust your child places in you than dishonesty.
When you tell the truth, on the other hand, you teach that reality is nothing to fear. When they see you telling the truth, they see bravery and they learn that they, too, can confront any situation. But when they hear lies, they intuit that you don’t believe that they have what it takes to handle the truth, and they, as a consequence, become more fearful and insecure.
Trust, integrity, and truth are all part of being a hero, and all part of being a dad.
Be the man of integrity, be the man they can trust, and be the man who tells the truth.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book, "Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need"  (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources  and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.