Even before our babies are born, we are teaching them about the world around us. We communicate our choices, our values, even without thinking about it. They hear our voices, smell our aromas, and they taste, remember, and prefer the foods we feed to their mother.
After they are born, they will continue to learn, day and night, from what we say and do. Within just a couple of years they will learn to speak and understand our language, just from listening to us speak and trying to imitate what we say. This is quite an accomplishment! (When was the last time you fluently learned a language? Imagine tackling another in the next two years.) Meanwhile, babies will also be learning the figurative language of our habits, our relationships, our emotions.
Over the years our children will be shaped by the decisions we make: how we spend money, how we eat, the ways we spend leisure time, the ways we respond when they are struggling, the ways we celebrate their accomplishments, the ways we handle stress and personal disappointment. What we do will shape their lives.
I know, because my father has shaped my life.
As a child I watched my father work hard. And yet he seemed to find time for me whenever I needed it. He was involved in major family decisions and day-to-day decisions. He was not only there for annual vacations to visit extended family, but was involved in planning the trips. He is an example of healthy eating and a preventative lifestyle.
His parenting didn’t end when I grew up. And we didn’t stop going through adventures together. The adventures just changed.
Last week I was driving across the Delaware Memorial Bridge in the middle of the night, retracing my old route from college to my childhood home for the first time in many years. The memory of the night my little orange car broke down on the bridge came flooding back. I called my Dad that night well after midnight, and he drove a couple of hours to pick me up and help me navigate getting my car repaired. He gave me both freedom and support, taught me acceptance and responsibility. What I learned from my father, I try to model for my own kids.
We teach, we provide, we protect. We are dads. And the chain continues …